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For Vaghela sleep is luxury

A General, a thespian, and now a Congressman Shankersinh Vaghela wants to sleep. But seems a luxury for him.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2002 01:58 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis

ShankerSinh Vaghela: A General, a thespian, and now a Congressman
Shankersinh Vaghela wants to sleep. At least that’s what he says and the fatigue that clouds his eyes from time to time hints the same.

“Give me a chair on one side and a palang (bed) on the other and I will go for the bed. I want to sleep for a long time,” Vaghela says, casually resting his back on the leathered seat of the Bell 407 helicopter on Friday.

But for Vaghela sleep is one luxury that he cannot afford till December 15. The helicopter has just left the Ahmedabad airport and is on its way to Shehra, about 200 km from Ahmedabad and about 40 km from Godhra, once Vaghela’s Lok Sabha constituency. He is accompanied by his confidant of 22 years, Harshad Brahmbhatt. Brahmbhatt is Vaghela’s man Friday, friend, trouble-shooter and public relations man, everything rolled and tightly packed into a five feet something frame.

Now and then, Vaghela leans aside and converses with him in colloquial Gujarati, getting right all the details of the day’s schedule.

Like on the other campaigning days, the former chief minister’s day started a little before six in the morning on Friday. “I wake up before six every morning. I wake up in the a.m. but also go to sleep in the a.m. Invariably, by the time I sleep, it is well after one in the morning. In the past few weeks, I have only been able to get four to five hours sleep daily,” Vaghela says.

Half hour to Shivji

The point-man for Congress, and the probable chief minister if the party comes to power in Gujarat, maintains a daily schedule which is well planned out. Within about an hour of waking up, and after a breakfast of bajra ka dhokla and a glass of milk, the 62-year-old is ready for his grueling public life.

“In between, I read four newspapers, three Gujarati dailies and one English. Sometimes, I have to take the newspapers to the bathroom,’’ Vaghela adds with an embarrassed smile. In between, he is also in front of the family deity Shivji for around 30 minutes, sending up prayers.

Since he has no time to do it himself, Vaghela has instructed his office to maintain cuttings of articles related to Gujarat and the various political parties. “It is always good to refer back to some informative article whenever required,’’ he says.

By 8 a.m., Vaghela has ceased to be the private man he would love to be. He is ready to meet people and go out for the half a dozen public meetings and rallies he has been addressing daily for the past few weeks. The trickle of early morning visitors, largely comprising party workers, soon turns into a surge. And yes, his Nokia cell phone, the number of which is supposed to be available only to a chosen few, is ringing incessantly.

After leaving home on Friday, he first rushes to the Jama Masjid to offer namaz on Eid. Soon, he is at a plush hotel in the city to record for a television channel. From there, he goes to the party office for a quick meeting with Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) members before taking a ride in a green Ikon to the airport.

Villages from a helicopter

It’s 30-odd minute helicopter ride to Shehara, and Vaghela, who is lovingly called Bapu by his party workers, is looking down at the match box houses and cauliflower trees with the wonder of a schoolkid in his eyes. “If it’s your first helicopter ride, you will enjoy and always remember it. Isn’t it beautiful?” he asks.

Soon, he is talking about his ancestral village Vasan in Mehsana and his humble middle class farmer family. “My brother is still a farmer and lives at Vasan with my mother. I barely get to visit my mother six or seven times every year. My wife, who is a housewife, and three sons are settled in Gandhinagar. Only one of my sons, Mahendra, has joined politics while the other two, Bharat and Vijay, are running businesses. One is running a small paper mill,’’ Vaghela informs, with some stress on the adjective ‘small’.

His sons can well accuse him of not spending much time with them during their growing up years. Since his initiation into politics and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1968 by RSS leader, and his guru, Narottam Patel, Vaghela’s life has revolved in and around the intricacies of Gujarat politics.

How did his parents take his joining politics? “They had to allow me to join public life because earlier, when I wanted to join the army, they did not allow me to do so. I had been preparing to join the army. I was in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and had even got the C certificate. In fact, I was preparing for the Short Service Commission (SSC) as well,’’ Vaghela says, adding that he would have become a General by now had he been allowed to join the army.

The other career option he had in mind was acting. “I was part of a theatre group and was a regular actor on the stage and had done plays like kya tha aur kya ho gaya and ek se soya ek.’’ That option also fizzled out after he joined the real life drama of the absurd.

It’s late in the afternoon now. Three public meetings later, Vaghela is on his way back to Ahmedabad. Lunch is two rotis and some curd on the copter. He is happy as the rallies are well attended and the Congress seems to be on a roll. During the ride from Shehar, he has picked up the candidate, Chattar Singh Chauhan, for campaigning at the next stop at Balashinore. As the copter takes off, Vaghela guides Chauhan on how to wave at the crowds below.

The public life

He reaches Ahmedabad late evening. The day is hardly over though. There are a series of political meetings to be held. A number of candidates are waiting at the GPCC office to meet him. Some more are waiting at his Gandhinagar residence. He also has to coordinate with other senior Congress leaders who have come down from other parts of the country to campaign for the party.

What keeps him going? Vaghela says he gets the spirit of carrying on the fight from his supporters and the books on philosophy, time, and ahimsa that he tries to catch up on from time to time. “My big problem is that I do not have any private life. But at the same time, it is through my public life and daily experiences that I get the zeal to carry on.”

First Published: Dec 11, 2002 01:58 IST