Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s preparations for Election 2014 are already in full swing. And on Friday, it entailed welcoming into the BJP fold a controversial former Congress leader who has several criminal cases to his name but is also a powerful mass leader.
The induction of Vithal Radadia, former MP from Porbandar, and his son Jayesh, a former MLA, is being seen as an attempt by Modi to win more than 20 of Gujarat’s 26 parliamentary seats in the general elections — to match the 20 the BJP won in 1999, when Keshubhai Patel was CM.
A powerful Leuva Patel community leader from Saurashtra, Radadia hit the headlines just before the assembly polls in December when he was caught on camera brandishing a gun at a toll booth near Vadodara. The BJP had then condemned the incident.
But on Friday, presenting Radadia with a saffron scarf at a rally in the ex-MP’s native Dhoraji, Modi hailed him as a “fighter and a mass leader” and said he was welcoming him with an “open heart”.
Radadia said he had been working for the Congress for 18 years but was now “mentally tired”. He had contested and won from Dhoraji in the assembly polls, after which he had resigned as Porbander MP and subsequently from the Congress, apparently upset at not being made leader of the opposition in the House.
Radadia has a lot of clout over cooperative institutions like the Rajkot district cooperative bank, dairy and agriculture produce marketing committee and runs a string of educational institutions. Facing over two dozen criminal cases, he is also said to have a highhanded approach while it comes to dealing with government servants.
“Vithalbhai has been coerced into joining the saffron party because government authorities have threatened him with an inquiry into alleged irregularities in his educational institutes,” Congress MLA Raghavji Patel claimed.
With Radadia by his side, the chief minister once again tore into the Congress at Friday’s rally. Hitting back at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his speech in Parliament, he said, “I listened to the speech of the PM and I remembered the saying ‘empty vessels make the most noise’.”