Shankersinh Vaghela is one of Gujarat’s most senior politicians, but no one seems to have any clue about his whereabouts.
Since the Congress leader and leader of opposition in the state assembly ‘unfollowed’ several of his followers, including party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, on the micro-blogging site Twitter, speculations have swirled over what the wily politician is up to.
The mystery has further deepened with Vaghela virtually vanishing from the public spotlight. His personal staff says he is on a tour and is “unavailable.”
Vaghela’s vanishing act has fuelled rumours that the former chief minister, once a close associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is upset with the Congress leadership for refusing to name him the chief ministerial candidate and may ditch the party for greener pastures.
His son, Mahendrasinh, is a Congress MLA and there is talk that he too may be exploring political options.
Crucial assembly elections in Gujarat are due by year-end, but speculations over the Vaghelas have already infused some excitement in the poll-bound state.
For the moment, the Congress is pretending that nothing is amiss within its ranks. “Vaghela has been a Congress leader for 20 years and would remain so. Media should stop worrying about the issue,” said Congress unit chief Bharatsinh Solanki.
But it has failed to scotch the rumours and many believe that Vaghela is set to quit the Congress. “His game plan is to become the chief minister. He also seems to be weighing the option of going back to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” pointed out political analyst Hari Desai.
Vaghela had set the rumour mills agog after he met BJP president Amit Shah in Ahmedabad some months ago. Some say he has been under pressure since the CBI registered a case against him over a land scam during his tenure as the Union textile minister.
But the more pressing reason for his present unhappiness is said to be his desire to be the chief ministerial face in the next elections.
Some posters calling for him to be made the chief minister surfaced in the city of Vadodara only a few days ago. He is also said to have met ‘unhappy’ Congress MLAs at his sprawling Vasant Vagdo mansion in Gandhinagar to pile pressure on the Congress leadership.
Those close to him say the Congress has not given Bapu – as he is affectionately known – his due. “It was in 1998 that he joined the Congress by dissolving his Rashtriya Janata Party created after he quit the BJP in 1996. Two decades later, he is still waiting for his due,” pointed out a Congress legislator.
A one-time ally of Modi during his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) days, Vaghela is one of the most-seasoned politicians with a wide network of contacts across the state. He believes the Congress stands a good chance to win the elections in Gujarat which has been ruled by the BJP uninterruptedly since 1998.
His optimism is not shared by many. But his loyalists say he is the only who can match Modi in political astuteness. However, to Vaghela’s dismay, the Congress leadership does not seem to subscribe to the view.
Ashok Gehlot, the Congress in-charge of the state, reiterated last month that the party would fight the elections sans a CM face, something that might have prompted Vaghela to do the vanishing act.