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Gujarat RS poll: No matter who wins, Vaghela will have the last laugh

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 4 August 2017, 18:22 IST
(Arya Sharma)

This is perhaps the trickiest Rajya Sabha election Gujarat has ever witnessed. But whether Congress leader Ahmed Patel wins or loses, the real winner will be Shankersinh Vaghela. As the wily leader sits in the no man’s land between Congress and BJP, the two parties are engaged in a bitter tussle in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

While the BJP is trying to ensure that Patel, the political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, loses this election, the Congress is trying fighting for its prestige. The Grand Old Party knows that Patel’s loss will have an impact on the morale of the party across the country.  

Meanwhile Vaghela is enjoying being in a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ situation. The present scenario is an ideal for him, presenting him with various possibilities to reap political dividends from the confusion on the ground.

Having lost six MLAs including Vaghela's relative Balwantsinh Rajput, who has emerged as the challenger to Ahmed Patel, the Congress tried to keep its flock together by herding the remaining legislators to a resort on the outskirts of Bangalore.

But what would still be troubling the party is that a large number of those taken away to Karnataka owe their allegiance to Vaghela.


Vaghela holds all the cards

“At least six of them are known Vaghela supporters and you never know what they will do when it comes to voting. The Supreme Court decision on NOTA has come as a blow to the Congress. It depends what Vaghela would want them to do. He can ask them to cross vote, cast their vote in favour of the party candidate for which a whip has already been issued or maybe exercise the NOTA option,” disclosed a senior journalist based in Gandhinagar.

A large section of political observers believe that Vaghela might ensure Ahmed Patel's victory.

“He wanted to bring Ahmed Patel to his knees which he has successfully done. He has compelled the Congress candidate to seek support from every MLA in his own party with folded hands. He wanted to show his power which everyone has seen including the Congress high command,” pointed out an observer.  

Elaborating further, the observer said, “Now if he ensures a victory for the Congress candidate, he would have a distinct advantage. Firstly, he can claim the moral high ground. Secondly, keeping the future in mind, it would be wise for him not to burn bridges with the party”.

It is being commonly discussed that Vaghela was very careful in not attacking Sonia in his speech on his birthday where he announced his departure from the Congress. It is yet to be seen whether he will form a new political party or join a smaller force like NCP in the state. He will be bargaining with the Congress in the times to come. It is because of this that he is not burning bridges with the party.

No gharwapsi as yet

The possibility of Vaghela joining hands with Muslim groups, Patels and Dalits in the days to come, is not being ruled out. All these sections of the society are at present annoyed with the BJP. A leader like Vaghela with a pan-Gujarat acceptance has the capacity to bring them together on a platform.

Observers are skeptical about Vaghela joining the BJP in the near future. “Everyone knows his differences with Narendra Modi ever since the time they worked together in the BJP over two decades back. Secondly he is not the kind of leader who would accept the seniority of Modi or BJP national president Amit Shah. He just cannot play the second fiddle. He knows what the BJP has done to the senior leaders from the Congress who jumped ship before the last Assembly or Lok Sabha polls. Look at the case of Narhari Amin, who has been reduced from a high profile Congress leader to a nobody in the BJP,” points out a senior media person who has been covering Gujarat for more than three decades.

It is being pointed that Vaghela need not toe the BJP line at this point of time at all. It is true that Balwantsinh Rajput is his relative and his loyalists have resigned from Congress and joined BJP.

At this point of time the icing on the cake is that three of Vaghela’s loyalists sit entrenched in the BJP camp. Though he has maintained his relations with several people in the Sangh Parivar over the years, these new entries further increase his influence within the BJP.

He sits with the unique advantage of having his supporters embedded in both the Congress and the BJP while he calculates his future course of action. This shrewd political veteran has nothing to lose and much to gain in this chess board of Gujarat politics.

The voting on Tuesday will decide whether Amit Shah manages to settle his personal score with Ahmed Patel or whether the Congress manages to counter the BJP's 'ruthless and vindictive' politics. It is a common perception in Gujarat that Shah holds Ahmed Patel responsible for his arrest and the court ordering his subsequent ouster from Gujarat for a while. The state will not witness a battle of prestige but also one of nerves. The result, of course, will have a long term bearing on politics across the country.

First published: 4 August 2017, 18:22 IST