Shankarsinh Vaghela’s exit is good news for Congress in Gujarat

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Last week the polls to elect the new President of India received unprecedented media attention as political pundits watched with utmost attention the phenomenon called cross-voting.

vaghela's exit good news

Ram Nath Kovind, who won decisively against the Opposition candidate Meira Kumar, managed to secure many votes even from the MLAs belonging to Congress and other non-BJP parties in several states.

However, what became a topic of intense conversation was how the Congress legislators had voted in poll-bound Gujarat. Of the 57 MLAs Congress has in Gujarat, only 49 voted for Kumar making it abundantly clear that the MLAs loyal to Shankarsinh Vaghela had clearly voted in favour of the BJP nominee.

Many concluded that the development last week was bad news for the Congress party in general and the political secretary to the Congress president, Ahmed Patel, whose Rajya Sabha term is coming to an end in August.

Just couple of days after the results for the presidential elections were out, Vaghela announced he was quitting the Congress party. Although, sources close to Congress top leadership said that the former Gujarat chief minister had been shown the door because of his alleged role in ensuring cross-voting on 20 July.

Vaghela, truth be told, has been one of the key reasons Congress hasn’t been able to gain lost ground in Gujarat. Voters, who were disenchanted with the BJP, could not see a party led by a former BJP chief minister as a credible alternative. Vaghela had past his prime many years ago and the Congress party needed a charismatic leader, having risen through its own ranks, who was capable of weaving a distinctive and alternative narrative in its campaign.

Vaghela’s departure and Ahmed Patel

Contrary to many assertions that Vaghela’s departure may adversely affect Patel’s chances of re-election to the Rajya Sabha, the truth is that the latter has emerged as the all powerful Congress leader in the coastal state.

One senior leader close to Patel brilliantly summed it up when he said, “While Vaghela was with us, our party always had two power centres between him and AP (Patel) sir in Gujarat. Now that he’s gone, there’s just one power centre with AP sir calling all the shots. Not only does it make the decision making process smooth, the party will also benefit considerably from the years of experience of AP sir.”

The Rajya Sabha polls for three vacant seats in Gujarat will take place on 8 August. In the 182 seat Gujarat assembly, Congress has 57 seats. Patel needs just 46 MLAs’ support to be elected to the Upper House for the fifth time. Even if all eight MLAs (understandably belonging to Vaghela camp), who voted for Kovind in the presidential polls, either choose to abstain from the Rajys Sabha polls or support rival candidates, Patel will easily sail through.

But, Patel loyalists are confident that he will secure more than 46 votes, required for his election.

One local MLA, wishing to remain anonymous told Janta Ka Reporter, “Now that MLAs know who the boss is in the state, we are confident that at least four out of eight MLAs who voted for Kovind will support AP. We’ve also received support from at least 10 BJP MLAs who Amit Shah (the BJP’s national president) has decided not to field in the next assembly elections.”

Under the Rajya Sabha election rules, if there are only three candidates for the three seats in Gujarat, then all three including Patel will be elected without MLAs having to cast their votes.

Is Vaghela a history?

By publicly sponsoring cross-voting in favour of Kovind, Vaghela had ensured his expulsion from the party. According to some BJP insiders close to Shah, Vaghela had made desperate attempts to join hands with the BJP if ‘four’ of his ‘conditions’ were met.

One local BJP leader in Ahmedabad said, “Basically Vaghela ji wanted the deputy chief minister’s post for his son if the BJP returned to power. His other demands included at least 14 seats for his loyalists and ‘ a lot of money’ to fight elections. He also wanted to be appointed governor of a state. While Vaghela ji was assured a home ministry portfolio for his son and even 14 tickets for his loyalists, the remaining two conditions were not acceptable to our leader.”

The BJP MLA, who did not want to be identified, said that money was not an issue for his party, but the BJP did not think it was worth investing in Vaghela.

Vaghela, therefore, finds himself at a crossroad of his political career. Out of Congress and no takers in the BJP, he runs the risk of personally slipping into political wilderness. As for Congress, with Patel, a known strategist and contacts in the rival parties, it suddenly sees light at the end of a dark tunnel.

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