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Parked in no man's land Vaghela keeps Congress and BJP on tenterhooks in Gujarat

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 27 July 2017, 18:21 IST

Shankaersinh Vaghela has, for now at least, emerged as the king in a no man's land as developments carry on in the Gujarat Congress. Parked in that space, Vaghela has been keeping both the Congress and the BJP on tenterhooks.

Politically speaking, the BJP has not achieved as much as it would have wanted to from his departure from the Congress. Achieving the 150 plus target that it has marked for itself in the forthcoming Assembly polls still remains a tough task for the BJP.

Vaghela's departure did make a major dent in the Congress' prospects but the grand old party is looking towards some positive outcome from these developments in the long run.

By announcing that he has no intentions to join the BJP while not burning his bridges entirely with the Congress, Bapu – as Vaghela is known to his followers – has kept the political situation fluid as he sits calculating what to do next at what point of time.

With several probable scenarios having Vaghela at the centre stage in the offing, he will surely keep the BJP and the Congress think tanks busy as he plots his next move.

Best of both worlds?

Observers say that Vaghela with a pan-Gujarat following remains a threat for both the parties after having broken away from the shackles of the Congress to once again emerge as a loose cannon that can go anywhere.

“The only thing that the BJP has succeeded in is that it has managed to wean away the most popular leader out of the Congress by its moves over the last several months to generate an atmosphere of suspicion in the party. But the fact remains that Vaghela has his loyalists in both these parties which remains a worry for both the parties. Even when he announced his departure from the Congress, he did not ask his loyalists to follow suit and they remain well entrenched there. The BJP leaders also know that he still commands respect and loyalty even among the lower rung RSS workers on account of his personal rapport with them,” pointed out veteran political observer RK Mishra.

Observers say that Vaghela has left political pundits foxed and they are now contemplating the outcome of his moves amidst the various political scenarios.

The first thing is very clear that there is no future for him in the BJP with the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah disposition at the top. His opposition to Modi that goes back to the time when the first BJP government was established in the state under Keshubhai Patel and this is very well known. His temperament will also not allow him to take orders from either Modi or Shah.

Second, he was never allowed to function freely while being in the Congress into which he had merged his Rashtriya Janta Party (RJP). He was always seen as an import from the Sangh in the squabbling between the various factions of the party.

Observers also point out that it has been Ahmed Patel, senior party leader and political advisor to party president Sonia Gandhi, who has never ever allowed Vaghela to have a free hand in his quest to remain the most powerful Congress leader in Gujarat.

And today Patel's own re-election to Rajya Sabha is under threat and this threat was triggered by Congress MLAs cross voting in the presidential elections recently.

“Patel has told the media that Vaghela has promised to cast his vote in his favour. Vaghela said so while asking the Gujarat Congress in-charge Ashok Gehlot to take back the words uttered against him since he announced his departure. But he has made no such promise on behalf of around a dozen Congress MLAs who are his loyalists,” disclosed Mishra.

Adding to the chaos

To make matters worse two Congress MLAs Balwantsinh Rajput and Tejashreeben Patel quit the party on Thursday afternoon amidst reports that Rajput, the Congress chief whip will possibly be fielded as a Rajya Sabha candidate with the support of the BJP.

While both these MLAs are Vaghela loyalists, Rajput is even related to Vaghela. Speculations are rife about their joining the BJP by late evening today (Thursday).

Gujarat sends 11 members to the Rajya Sabha of which three seats are falling vacant in September. With the latest developments, the chances of Ahmed Patel getting re-elected are further dimmed.

Sources said the plan is that the BJP will transfer its extra votes besides those meant for ensuring the victory of its own candidates – BJP national president Amit Shah and union minister Smriti Irani – towards Rajput.

“The strategy is that with Vaghela gone from the Congress, finish off Ahmed Patel and make it a completely a Congress-mukt Gujarat,” points out a senior media person.

Planning ahead

Coming back to Vaghela, there is a section that believes that having got rid of him, the Congress will lose in the short run but gain in the long run.

“As of now, the departure has spelt a psychological advantage for the BJP. But there are many in the Congress who disapprove of Vaghela's tactics 'to get himself declared as a face of the Congress campaign, the decision maker for allotting tickets and the state unit chief'.

The party has experienced leaders like Bharatsinh Solanki and Arjun Modhwadia who have the ability to overcome this handicap.

Observers say that till now there is no grouping within the Congress to make use of the disenchantment of the Patels, Dalits and OBCs with the BJP. It remains to be seen if Vaghela can bring these groups together under his umbrella in whatever political move he makes next.

Without the support coming from these groups, the BJP will find it tough to achieve the 150 target. This target has become a prestige for the BJP because, despite Modi's popularity, it is yet to break the record set by Congress stalwart Madhavsinh Solanki who had gone on to win 149 of the 182 seats for the Congress in 1985 Assembly polls.

Observers are also not ruling out the probability of his joining the NCP as it is well known that both the top NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel want to spread their base in Gujarat.

“In such a scenario where NCP is an ally of the Congress, it will be Vaghela extracting more seats to contest from the Congress. He will be the one dealing with Sonia Gandhi and that is why that he probably refrained from attacking Sonia at the public function where he announced his departure,” points out an analyst.

The situation remains fluid and lots of action is expected from here onwards on the political turf of Gujarat which is the laboratory of Hindutva and the home ground of Modi and Amit Shah. For now, Vaghela sits back as the king of no man's land testing the waters.

First published: 27 July 2017, 18:21 IST