His supporters fondly call him Bapu. But he’s no Mahatma of the Gandhi kind. He’s Shankersinh Vaghela, a dyed-in-the-wool politician who has proclaimed himself as the Congress’s “captain” in Gujarat in the match against Narendra Modi.
A BJP advertisement featuring a kabaddi match showed the Congress — whichhasn’t named a chief ministerial candidate — as a poor challenger to Modi’s team. That was provocation enough for the Kshatriya leader and former chief minister to assume his party’s captaincy in the poll-bound state.
The title created a buzz in Congress circles, the initial circumspection over Vaghela having violated the party line on the leadership question turning into admiration for the old warrior. “He hasn’t crossed any party line. He has shown Modi his limits,” said Vinayak Agnihotri, a close Vaghela aide.
“Captain, stand firm, bowl Modi out,” chanted a crowd as Vaghela emerged from Ahmed Patel’s ancestral house in Bharuch’s Ankleshwar constituency after a meeting with Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary. Introducing Vaghela as one who could “counter” Modi, Patel justified the captaincy tag: “He heads the Congress’s campaign committee. He’s the captain.”
Having arrived in a Bell 407 chopper that took off from a helipad at his sprawling Gandhinagar bungalow early on Sunday, Vaghela was on the trot until late in the night. His advancing years posed no encumbrance as he incessantly worked on the phone, shooting instructions and making last-minute changes in his schedule.
His talking points at election meetings focused on countering Modi’s claims of good governance. He matched the BJP mascot dart for dart, asking whether the tijori (treasure chest) in Gandhinagar that Modi accused Sonia of eyeing was bigger than the one in Delhi. “He should stop talking of tijoris. It smacks of an inclination to thievery,” he remarked to the crowd’s amusement in Somnath in Junagadh district.