Gujarat polls: Vaghela wants Congress to declare CM face. Party still in a bind
A day after Congress decided to fight the upcoming Assembly elections in Karnataka under the leadership of incumbent chief minister K Siddaramaiah, the Gujarat unit of the party is still debating whether announcing a chief ministerial candidate prior to elections would help the party return to power after a hiatus of 22 years.
Earlier on Wednesday, legislature party leader Shankersinh Vaghela met Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi and pitched for announcing a chief ministerial candidate before the assembly elections likely to be held later this year. But the Gandhi scion has not given to much weightage to Vaghela's suggestion. He is said to have told the veteran Gujarat leader that the party should put up a united front, defeat BJP and then think about a consensus candidate for the post of chief minister.
In fact, he has relayed the same message to the other factions including the one led by state party president Bharatsinh Solanki who is at loggerheads with Vaghela. Considered as one of the front runners for Congress' chief minister's post, Vaghela is reportedly upset with the central leadership for not announcing a candidate.
A senior Congress leader from Gujarat is of the opinion that announcing a CM candidate would not only help the party politically but would also unite the warring factions. Though Vaghela had on multiple occasions, including publicly, ruled himself out of the race, but many in the party do not believe it to be true.
The senior leader pointed that Vaghela's claims are justified considering his seniority and popularity, but criticised his arm twisting tactics which have not been appreciated by the central leadership.
“He is just blackmailing the leadership to announce the name of the chief ministerial candidate and cited the Punjab experiment wherein the party under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh won the elections with a considerable margin. But he is not Captain and lacks the political acumen and popularity of the Punjab chief minister,” he said.
Moreover, Vaghela has also pitched the need for bringing poll strategist Prashant Kishor to Gujarat to design a campaign similar to the one adopted in Punjab. Vaghela believes that an election campaign built around a chief ministerial face can turn the tide in favour of the grand old party.
“If he deserves it like Captain then why not, but is he deserving? He goes and meets BJP President Amit Shah then he unfollows senior Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi on Twitter, giving rise to rumours. These are not the signs of a leader who wants to take all sections together and win elections,” the Congress leader said.
Moreover, there are also reports that Congress leader and Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel, who has considerable influence in Gujarat politics, is not in favour of Vaghela and wants his own man to either be announced as the CM candidate or the chief minister in case the party manages to win the elections. Another section of the leadership believes that if Vaghela name is announced, it will lead to factionalism within the party which could lead to a loss of nearly 20 seats.
“If he gets what he wants then many in the party would silently revolt and work towards defeating candidates considered close to Vaghela. This is not in party's interests and therefore it would be better to wait before making any such commitment. Anyways, we have never announced chief ministerial candidates prior to elections with Punjab being an exception,” said a senior Congress functionary from Gujarat.
Differences between Vaghela and Solanki over chief ministerial candidate has been the reason for the rift within the state unit. Earlier this week, posters bearing Vaghela's photo were removed from Ahmedabad, fueling speculation of him leaving the party. These posters were replaced with one bearing images of Solanki, former state unit president Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel, Shaktisinh Gohil, among others. This led to Vagehla camp accusing the Congress leadership of ignoring him.
Ridiculing these allegations, Modhwadia blamed BJP of fuelling rumors of a rift between within the party. The former Gujarat Congress president reiterated Vaghela's stand that he is not in the race to be the chief minister and has clearly specified time and again that he is not joining the BJP.
Modhwadia said, “He has said it from public platforms and still there are rumors of him arm-twisting the leadership. Our main aim is to defeat BJP with or without a chief ministerial face. Ultimately, it is the prerogative of the party and the high command to take a decision on whether we need to make such announcement. However, I believe that the decision should be made after the elections.”
Another senior Congress functionary, who is closely monitoring the developments in Gujarat, pointed that there is still a lot of time left for the elections and the decision should be three months before the elections. “By then we would know how things unfold in the state. Moreover, the state unit has to stop all the infighting and collectively decide whether they want to rally behind a face or without it. Once that decision is made, it will be easy for the high command to take a call,” he said.
In these circumstances, it is unlikely that the Congress will announce a CM candidate for Gujarat anytime soon. They are likely to wait for the time being to see whether Vaghela throws any surprise considering the desperation he has been showing in the last couple of months. For the time being, the Congress leadership is more concerned about how to make full use of Modi and Shah's absence in the state.