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HomePolitical History of IndiaThe Resort Politics OG: When Shankersinh Vaghela in Gujarat pulled off the biggest coup...

The Resort Politics OG: When Shankersinh Vaghela in Gujarat pulled off the biggest coup with help from Congress

When the first ever 'Resort Politics' in Gujarat marked the end of Congress rule in the state for over 24 years now and counting.

On June 20, Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra Urban Development Minister Eknath Shinde was reported missing along with several other Sena MLAs. The reports of him being unreachable came after the unsatisfactory performance of the legislative council elections on Monday. Soon, it was revealed that Shinde, alongside his group of supporting MLAs had fled to Surat. Since then, the rebel MLAs have now been flown to Guwahati, Assam.

On Tuesday, a day after the Maharashtra MLC polls, nation woke up to the news of Shiv Sena’s powerful leader from Thane, Eknath Shinde stationing a rebellion camp at Le Meridian Hotel in Surat. As per reports, nearly 25-30 Shiv Sena MLAs are with Shinde, out of Shiv Sena’s total tally of 55 assembly members. Political analysts and observers have suggested that Shinde, a supremo from Thane was miffed with Uddhav Thackeray’s lacklustre attitude in challenging the NCP, which was enjoying all the perks of the power – while Shiv Sena leaders didn’t get enough share.

Shinde’s political suffocation motivated him to lead a major rebellion within the Shiv Sena, the undercurrents of which have tattered the fate of the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP alliance in the state. Meanwhile, there have been talks of BJP leaders including Devendra Fadnavis likely to meet the Shinde faction soon, to work out an equation for a probable alliance to form the government in the state. Questions are also being raised over the rebel Sena leader’s stay in Surat, a state where BJP has an incumbent government.

The episode is only the newest entrant in the long legacy of ‘resort politics’ – hoarding one’s own MLAs amidst fear of detraction. Looking inside the annals of India’s political history, “Resort Politics” is not a new phenomenon and emerged out of a coup attempt from Gujarat itself. Incidentally, it was pioneered by the Congress party back in 1995 when they allegedly conspired with Shankersinh Vaghela and toppled the BJP government in Gujarat.

The OG ‘resort politics’ game ft Shankersinh Vaghela

It all started with Shankersinh Vaghela who had felt sidelined in the BJP because of Keshubhai Patel’s immense popularity as the chief minister of Gujarat. After the demolition of the disputed structure called Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992, there was a saffron undercurrent in Gujarat. It was in 1995, when the BJP won a majority in Gujarat for the first time by winning 121 out of 182 seats. While Keshubhai Patel became the Chief Minister, Vaghela who was considered the ‘real architect’ of the victory felt left out in the cabinet. Vaghela felt that Patel, along with the then BJP General Secretary Narendra Modi were keeping ‘their people’ in the government.

In September same year, when Keshubhai Patel was a tour to America to get appeal to NRIs to invest in Gujarat, Ashok Bhatt was in charge CM. Before he left for the US, Patel had asked Vaghela if he had any issues with Narendra Modi, who was then the General Secretary of BJP. It is widely reported that Vaghela said, “I have problem with you and there are chances that by the time you return from the US, you may not remain the chief minister.”

Soon after Patel left for US, Vaghela took his supporting MLAs to his village in Vasan and told them that if they want to stay with him, they would have to leave the government. Slowly, he managed to get support of 55 MLAs. From Vasan, the supporting MLAs were taken to Charda village of Manasa Taluka where Haribhai Chaudhary, a Congress supporter stayed. Here, Mansukh Vasava escaped from the village. Vaghela had claimed that BJP workers even pelted stones on the ‘rebel MLAs’, but Choudhary’s wife and other villagers shooed them away.

At that time, all three neighbouring states of Gujarat – Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh had Congress governments. Over and above that, Vaghela had also considered taking his supporting MLAs to Delhi. But eventually they zeroed in on Madhya Pradesh, where Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was the chief minister. All the ‘rebel MLAs’ were to be flown in to Madhya Pradesh in one chartered flight on one afternoon. But it took so long to convince them all that it was evening by the time they all were ready.

In the evening, when all the rebel MLAs reached Ahmedabad airport, they found that the tyres of the aircraft were punctured. Vaghela still considers it was a Gujarat government conspiracy. When the tyres were fixed, it dawned on everyone that the Khajuraho airport at that time did not have facility for landing flights in night. Eventually, a request was put in to the civil aviation minister and special permission was sought for the aircraft carrying MLAs to land. Finally, lanterns were placed on the runway to facilitate landing for the airplane. When the flight finally took off from Ahmedabad airport, Vaghela heaved a sigh of relief.

Vaghela himself had stayed back in Gandhinagar. To speak to Vaghela, the BJP sent top leadership – Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Rajasthan chief minister Bhairosinh Shekhawat. Vaghela put his one condition that Narendra Modi be exiled from Gujarat. Meanwhile, BJP leaders like Uma Bharati and Kushabhai Thakre went to meet the rebel MLAs in Khajuraho but came back empty-handed.

To pass their time, the rebel MLAs would play table tennis, listen to music and swim in the luxury resort. Since there were no mobile phones and even 24 hour news channels were not around, the rebel MLAs truly had a whale of a time relaxing. Each room that time cost about Rs 2-2.5 thousand and all MLAs stayed in twin-sharing. Vaghela had said that the total cost of the entire operation was about Rs 10 lakh. Meanwhile, the talks between Vaghela and Vajpayee continued in Gandhinagar. Finally, the rebel MLAs were directed to return to Gandhinagar one fine day by 6 PM.

Later, after a middle ground was reached that neither Keshubhai Patel nor Shankersinh Vaghela would be the chief minister. Suresh Mehta and Kashiram Rana were two names that were suggested. Eventually Mehta was sworn in as the chief minister of Gujarat in October 1995. Six supporting MLAs of Vaghela were included in the Mehta government but there was still discontent. BJP leaders were looking down upon Vaghela and his supporters. Those who had gone to Khajuraho were given nickname ‘Khajuria’ and those who supported Patel were called ‘Hajuria’ and those who stayed loyal to the party were given monicker ‘Majuria’.

In 1996 when a function was held to felicitate Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the ‘Khajurias’ and ‘Hajurias’ engaged in hand to hand combat. In the fight that ensued, some people undid the dhoti of Atmaram Patel, an MLA and a staunch supporter of Vaghela. While veteran BJP leader Dattaji Chirandas almost got burned. This was the final straw for Vaghela.

In 1996, Vaghela contested from Godhra constituency in Lok Sabha elections and lost. BJP expelled him for anti-party activities. So then he floated his own political party, Rashtriay Janata Party (RJP). And with external support of Congress, formed government in Gujarat in 1996. This mixed-bag government did not even last one full year. He had a fallout with Congress over creation of new districts and he resigned after making Dilip Parikh the chief minister. In March 1998, Parikh recommended dissolution of Assembly and submitted his resignation to the governor.

Fresh elections were held and Vaghela’s RJP won four seats. By end of 1998, his party was absorbed in the Congress. BJP under Keshubhai Patel won 115 seats and formed the government. Since then, Gujarat has only had BJP government.

Vaghela broke the BJP for his power lust but he could not enjoy it. He was chief minister of the state for less than a year. However, he was indeed rewarded for this by the UPA and he was made Union Minister of Textile in Manmohan Singh government from 2004 to 2009. However, after this coup, Congress has failed to form a government in Gujarat, where now an entire generation has grown up in just BJP-ruled state.

Note: Some portion of this was first published in Gujarati. You can read the full article in Gujarati here.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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