A jittery Congress keeps Gujarat changes on hold till RS polls

The Congress hopes to win one of the three Rajya Sabha seats that will fall vacant in August but is suspicious of Shankarsinh Vagehla, who has demanded an overhaul of the party unit.

india Updated: Jul 15, 2017 11:27 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress,Gujarat,Gujarat assembly election
The Congress is suspicious of Shankersinh Vagehla who has risen in revolt against the party’s Gujarat chief .(HT file photo)

Wary of senior leader Shankersinh Vagehla’s moves, the Congress will wait for the Rajya Sabha elections before announcing changes in its state unit in poll-bound Gujarat.

Three Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, fall vacant in August and the Congress expects to win one, provided it can keep its flock together. The ruling BJP is comfortably placed on the other two seats.

The 76-year-old Vaghela has risen in revolt against state party chief Bharatsinh Solanki. He also wants to be named the chief ministerial candidate for the assembly election due in November-December and has threatened to quit the party if the demands are not accepted.

But the Congress leadership appears reluctant to oblige the former BJP strongman, who has been flirting with the BJP in the last few months.

In March his meeting with BJP chief Amit Shah triggered speculation that he might return to his old party.

Two months later, Vagehla, popularly known as Bapu, un-followed Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders on the micro-blogging site Twitter. The former Gujarat chief minister also deleted some of his anti-BJP posts.

A friend-turned-foe of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vagehla enjoys the support of 36 of the 57 Congress legislators. The BJP has 121 seats in the 182-member House.

Voting for the three Rajya Sabha seats was to be held on June 8 but the election commission put off the election in view of the July 17 presidential poll.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, whose term ends August 18, is expected to be re-nominated. If elected, it will be his fifth term in the Upper House.

Keen to retain that seat, the Congress leadership is keeping its cards close to its chest.

In a meeting with Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on July 8, Vaghela suggested a compromise formula to pull the faction-ridden party unit out of the mess its finds itself in, sources said.

Vagehla suggested he be removed as the Congress legislature party leader and Solanki be replaced with his confidante. He is believed to have agreed to drop his demand to be the chief ministerial candidate.

The Congress, sources said, assured him all his “reasonable” demands would be met but with the rejig would happen only after the Rajya Sabha elections.

But Vaghela’s supporters say it will be difficult to extract anything from the leadership after the polls and are insisting changes be made immediately.

The Gujarat election will be a matter of prestige for the BJP, which has been ruling the state for 19 years, as both Modi and party chief Amit Shah come from the western state.

The BJP has had two chief ministers ever since Modi moved to Delhi after he was elected the prime minister in May 2014.

Last year, the Congress, which once dominated the state, managed to make inroads in rural areas in the local body polls. After many years, the BJP is looking a bit vulnerable in the state that has been pivotal to its rise at the Centre.

Land-owning Patidars, the support base of the party, have being rallying against the BJP over their demand for quota in government jobs and colleges. There is also anger against the party among the Dalit community which has been targeted repeatedly by cow vigilantes.

First Published: Jul 15, 2017 11:27 IST