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'Vaghela impact' in Gujarat

Vaghela impact in Gujarat

At a time when Congress was riding high on the 'anti-incumbency' factor in Gujarat, the unprecedented resignation of its old horse Shankarsinh Vaghela appears shattering to the poll prospects of the grand old party. Of course, following the resignation – there is much abuzz in Gujarat. While some political observers say that it was BJP president Amit Shah, who choreographed Vaghela's exit as he is facing a CBI and an ED case for actions taken as Union Textile Minister when he sold prime land in Mumbai belonging to the National Textiles Corporation (NTC), allegedly at an off the cuff price causing more than Rs. 709 crore losses to the exchequer; several others think that he would be in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) after forming an outfit of his own as a third front. Of course, the departure of Vaghela is a big setback for the Congress whose fortunes were reviving in Gujarat due to the dipping popularity of the ruling BJP in its bastion. As a result, it would give a boost to the ambitions of BJP, who are looking to win 150 out of the 182 seats in the Assembly polls slated for December this year. It may be noted that with uneasiness in the ranks of Patidars (Patels) – who hitherto were the strongest supporters of the BJP till the emergence of Hardik Patel – the BJP was looking a little rickety. Other sections like the OBCs and Dalits were also upset with the BJP in Gujarat. And, those were the factors which fertilised Vaghela's ambitions to be named the Congress's Chief Ministerial candidate. But, since Congress betted on Bharat Solanki, Vaghela not only allegedly designed cross-voting in favour of BJP nominee Ram Nath Kovind in the Presidential poll a few days ago but also preferred to quit the party on his birthday before he could be sacked. Always an odd ball in the Congress due to his proximity with RSS, Vaghela is said to be a once upon a time close associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

When Keshubhai Patel became the first BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had Modi's support. But with some eventual ego-clashes, Vaghela broke away from the BJP and formed a new party, the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), and succeeded in becoming Chief Minister. After that, when his RJP government was tumbled, Vaghela gravitated to the Congress and merged his party. But with his RSS background and his special ire for Congress president Sonia Gandhi's 'blue-eyed' boy Ahmed Patel, he always remained a 'far-fetched' name for the Congress. Vaghela has now quit as leader of opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, but he doesn't appear quitting the Assembly before casting his vote against Ahmed Patel, a four-time Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat who is seeking re-election this fortnight. Though Vaghela has repeatedly claimed that he won't join the BJP, the 'dimmer' prospects of his third front may result in dividing the opposition vote, thus putting the ruling party at an advantage. However, no one can deny the fact that his sudden move to quit the Congress has the potential to alter political equations in the home-turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where he is likely to pitch himself as a third alternative ahead of the Assembly polls.
At a time, when the BJP in Gujarat needs a leader with mass connect, especially after Modi and BJP president Amit Shah left the state to regulate the party's national leadership and the Congress facing the similar situation after Vaghela's exit, no one can turn their back on the political heft of this Kshatriya strongman, who wields a considerable influence in North Gujarat. Perhaps, this is the reason that BJP didn't go scathing while making a remark on Vaghela's exit. One of the BJP spokespersons said, "Now when Vaghela has made himself 'Congress-mukt' (free), the BJP expects he will support the development agenda of the party." Nonetheless, with the recent moves by this 77-year-old former Chief Minister of Gujarat, it appears that he would pitch himself as an 'anti-Congress' and 'anti-BJP' alternative in the Gujarat elections as he feels that the situation is ripe for him to make the last attempt for the coveted Chief Minister's post, which he held for nearly one year in the 1990s. The forthcoming state election seems the last chance for this septuagenarian leader to give a shot at power. Perhaps, that's why he took the risk of quitting Congress after 20 years of association.

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