The political scenario in Gujarat is getting worse with each passing day. The immediate ‘provocation’ is the Rajya Sabha elections to be held on Tuesday (August 8) and the next is state assembly elections to be held at the end of the year. The Income Tax department searched offices and home of Karnataka Energy Minister DK Shivakumar, who is hosting Gujarat Congress’s 44 MLAs in a resort near Bengaluru. Ahmed Patel, Congress candidate and Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, alleged,” BJP is on an unprecedented witch-hunt just to win one Rajya Sabha seat.” The scenario is not good for democracy.
Surprisingly, for the first time, the option of None of the Above (NOTA) is introduced for the Rajya Sabha elections. Congress has challenged the Election Commission’s notification allowing NOTA option and the Supreme Court of India will hear the case on Thursday. It is significant in the sense that in the Presidential elections, 11 Congress MLAs cross voted in favour of BJP’s candidate Ram Nath Kovind. Congress alleged that BJP is offering Rs 15 crore to each of their Gujarat MLAs to quit the party, they are also threatened. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said,”The BJP wants to win the Gujarat Rajya Sabha election using ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed’ (by hook or crook). But the truth will win. Ahmed Patel will win. The Congress earlier fought the white British, it will now win against the dark British.” The issue was raised in both the houses of Parliament.
All of this is happening against the background of Shankersinh Vaghela’s resignation from the Congress on July 21 on his 77th birthday. Following his resignation, six more Congress MLAs have quit Legislative assembly and joined BJP. It is a major blow to Congress and the party is in panic. A few more also may resign. Each and every vote is important for the Rajya Sabha elections. The victory of Ahmed Patel is a prestigious issue for Congress and his defeat is important for the BJP. BJP President Amit Shah and Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani are also contesting Rajya Sabha elections from Gujarat. BJP is expected to support a rebel Congress leader to defeat Patel.
The reality is Vaghela is a mass leader. He and Keshubhai Patel were the founder leaders of the BJP in Gujarat. Keshubhai left the BJP in 2012 following differences with then CM and PM Narendra Modi and formed Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). In February 2014, GPP merged into the BJP. Before that Vaghela had split BJP in 1998 and became CM. Now, Keshubhai is a persona non-grata in BJP.
Vaghela has made it clear that he will not join BJP. He is popularly called as ‘Bapu’. He said,” Bapus never retire. Fighting against injustice is my nature, even if it means losing everything in the process. I have become a victim of intra-party conspiracy, be it BJP or Congress”. For some time, Vaghela was not comfortable in the Congress. He had issues with state leadership of the party and especially with state party president Bharatsinh Solanki. The question is whether Vaghela’s decision will help BJP in its ‘mission 150’. Gujarat has 182 assembly seats. The MLAs who resigned are close to Vaghela. In 1985 elections, Congress under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki had won 149 seats and that is a record.
The Congress high command never seriously tried to prevent Vaghela from leaving the party. They should have done it as he was the only Congress leader with a mass base. It was known for some time that Vaghela is likely to quit the party. He should have been stopped from leaving the party. It seems Congress high command has lost self-confidence in persuading their leaders from quitting the party. Ahmed Patel is a major leader of Gujarat Congress but, he has hardly any base in the state. He goes to Parliament via Rajya Sabha. He is a four time Rajya Sabha member. Vaghela has resigned from the post of opposition leader but he will resign from the assembly after Rajya Sabha elections. It indicates that he and his colleagues in Congress may vote against Ahmed Patel.
Vaghela originally belongs to RSS. He along with Keshubhai and Modi made the party popular in Gujarat. The split in anti-BJP votes, because of Vaghela, will help BJP in a big way. Keshubhai won assembly elections in 2012 against BJP and Congress. But, his party failed miserably. Keshubhai had won from Visavadar but resigned in 2014 due to ill health. In 2012, GPP had won two seats merely. But, Vaghela is not Keshubhai. He has his own base. Vaghela wanted Congress to announce his name as Chief Ministerial candidate. Congress leadership was reluctant, primarily, because of his RSS background and expressed more faith in Bharatsinh Solanki. It made Vaghela unhappy.
Vaghela has made it clear that he will not join BJP. It means he will have his own party. It will be regional. It is believed that he will have an alliance with NCP and form the third front. NCP has two MLAs but, the history of the third front in Gujarat is not inspiring. The state has only two major political parties i.e. BJP and Congress. Left parties do not exist.
I travel to Gujarat frequently. The resentment against BJP and state government is quite visible. The common people are suffering. The Gujarat model of development has not benefitted the common people.
The farmers, fishermen, tribals, Dalits are suffering. The Patel community is fighting against BJP government and so are Dalits. Saurashtra is facing a serious water crisis. Unfortunately, neither Congress nor any other opposition parties, are raising these issues. Opposition parties need to bring people on the streets against anti-people policies. In such a situation, a split in the Congress will benefit BJP in a big way. Opposition parties need to mobilise common people and win their confidence. Thanks to Vaghela and Congress, it is an advantage for the BJP in the upcoming assembly elections.