Shankarsinh Vaghela quits Congress. But where will he go?

In what has come as huge blow to Gujarat Congress, veteran party leader Shankarsinh Vaghela on Friday formally announced his resignation ahead of the crucial Assembly elections in Gujarat.

“I have resigned as Leader of Opposition in Gujarat. I will resign as Congress MLA after the Rajya Sabha election. I am not a bonded labourer. I am a free bird now,” Vaghela said addressing a rally of his supporters. The rally was organised for showcasing a show of strength on the occasion of his 77th birthday.

In wake of Congress MLAs from Gujarat indulged in cross-voting in the just-concluded presidential polls, Vaghela claimed that the Congress has expelled him “out of fear” and the party has been “perturbed”.

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Vaghela outrightly rejected reports about his political retirement. Reports suggest that Vaghela is unhappy with Congress over as it turned down his demand to declare him as the face for 2017 Assembly elections. His last-ditch meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi failed to yield any result.

Vaghela, once an active member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), started his political career from the Jan Sangh, which later evolved as the BJP. He was jailed during Emergency. After the Emergency was lifted, he was elected to 6th Lok Sabha on a Janata Party ticket. Later he joined the BJP and worked as the general secretary and the president of Gujarat unit of BJP. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1984 to 1989. In 1989, Vaghela was elected to the 9th Lok Sabha from Gandhinagar constituency and subsequently elected to 10th, 13th and 14th Lok Sabhas.

In 1995 Gujarat Assembly elections, the BJP won a majority and Keshubhai Patel was installed as the Chief Minister. This is when Vaghela started revolting against the party. In 1996, he broke away from the BJP and floated the Rashtriya Janata Party. Vaghela clinched the Gujarat Chief Minister’s post by staging a coup against the BJP with the help of the Congress. But he had to resign from the post of Chief Minister in October 1997 in the wake of political turmoil in Gujarat. Later he merged his party with the Congress.

Vaghela was elected to 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabhas from Kapadvanj. He was made Union Cabinet Minister of Textiles in Manmohan Singh Cabinet in 2004. Kapadvanj Lok Sabha constituency was reconstituted as Panchmahal, and Vaghela lost the seat to BJP in 2009 general elections (not as a result of renaming). Ahead of the 2012 Gujarat Legislative Assembly election, Vaghela was appointed as the Chairman of Campaign Committee. Till date, Vaghela was serving as the leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly.

There are speculations that Vaghela may do a ghar wapsi to the BJP in the run up to Assembly elections scheduled for later this year. In May, he had met BJP president Amit Shah. The meeting raised many eyebrows. However, both the BJP and Vaghela had termed the 10-minue meeting a “courtesy call.”

Reports suggest that while some of his loyal MLAs in Congress are keen on joining the BJP, Vaghela is also exploring plans to spearhead a “third front” in Gujarat. With AAP having virtually given up, and forces like Hardik Patel looking to play a role, a space for third front could indeed be possible. Gujarat assembly elections will take place towards end of the year.

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