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HomeSpecialsInterviewsAmid Maharashtra political crisis, OpIndia speaks to Shankersinh Vaghela, one time friend and confidante...

Amid Maharashtra political crisis, OpIndia speaks to Shankersinh Vaghela, one time friend and confidante of Narendra Modi who introduced ‘resort politics’

Political opponents are not enemies, says Shankersinh Vaghela in a freewheeling interview with OpIndia

As the unholy alliance of Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra is on the brink of collapse, rebel Shiv Sena MLAs have parked themselves in Guwahati, Assam. This kind of movement of ‘supporting MLAs’ has been seen in recent past where they are whisked off to resorts in another states to keep them in party and discourage them from defecting. It is often referred to as ‘Resort Politics. However, the first time a successful coup was carried out was by rebel BJP leader in Gujarat, Shankarsinh Vaghela back in 1995 when he took supporting MLAs to resort in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh that was under Congress rule.

OpIndia Gujarati Editor Siddharth Chhaya spoke to Shankersinh Vaghela at his Gandhinagar residence where, in a freewheeling chat, he spoke about the politics in Gujarat including Narendra Modi, his one time friend and adversary.

OpIndia: Bapu, what are you doing now?

Shankersinh Vaghela: These days I am doing farming and spending time with my family. I help the needy, meet old friends, engage in social and political work and keep myself engaged through the day. From 6 am to 8 am I exercise and spend time with nature where I get to see and meet parrots, peacocks, sparrows and sometimes even monkeys. In short, I am enjoying life.

OpIndia: Do you stay away from politics?

Shankersinh Vaghela: Political work is ongoing only. Some meetings keep happening. Since I am a political soul, it will continue at least till 2022.

OpIndia: What is happening in Maharashtra today is not new for you. What are your views on it?

Shankersinh Vaghela: People say all this is happening because of political differences. But it is all humbug. Till 1965 there was existence of political ideology. First country, then party and last self was always the motto. Now everyone is putting self first. Everyone wishes the party does something for them in return but when one does not get what one hopes, then personal ego take precedence and such situations arise.

What is happening in Shiv Sena has not happened overnight. You should not be in politics if you are armtwisted easily. The Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP alliance was not compatible to begin with. Now the matter is in Supreme Court. But in reality such things should not have gone to the court. It should be rare cases like when Indira Gandhi was accused of rigging elections and matter reached Allahabad High Court. Shiv Sena people were always ambitious.

The way things are going it seems Gujarat and Maharashtra may go to elections at same time. In that, all this is turning out to be entertainment for people. I foresee Maharashtra going to polls this December.

OpIndia: Gujarat is also not new to the ‘Resort Politics’ of Maharashtra. We have seen the Khajuraho coup here. At what point does the leader think that he has majority supporters with him?

Shankersinh Vaghela: It all depends on who is sponsoring it. When my MLAs had complained to me that no one listens to them in the party and no one was listening to me, the one who had worked at grassroot level to establish the party in state, as well, that was the tipping point. When I realised that the in-party politics had increased, the MLAs themselves became the sponsors.

Wouldn’t one be angry if no one listens to the person who had contributed a lot for the party’s victory? The rebelling MLAs themselves did this and it was no coup so to say to grab power. There is only one chief minister but government is a collective effort. When no work was being done, what would MLAs tell the people who elected them? That was the only issue.

I had not met Congress leaders back then. Neither did Congress extend support to me. We all had come to power after defeating Congress. Then why would they support us? Out of 120 MLAs, 105 had come on one side. There was no chance of forming government with support of Congress. It was just that politics cannot be done by sidelining self respect.

We were treated like outsiders within party. Since it came on our self-respect, the Khajuraho incident happened.

OpIndia: Why Khajuraho?

Shankersinh Vaghela: Oh, we were here only, in my village. No MLA was put under any pressure. All were open to come and go as they wish. But when police started using strong arm, the MLAs had asked to be shifted outside of Gujarat because they did not feel safe.

So where to go, was the question. We decided to go to a non-BJP ruled state. That time only Madhya Pradesh had Congress ruled government. So we called up the Central Union Minister (Congress was in power in Centre too) and asked to let us use the Khajuraho airstrip for night landing. Since it was a chartered flight and of political importance, they agreed.

We went to Khajuraho because its name came up first. We would have gone elsewhere if any other place name would have come up. We had not even booked hotels. Dilip Parikh helped with the same and payment was also made by one of his friend.

OpIndia: If such kind of stay in resort goes for a long time, like in your case it went beyond a week, what is the mental status of the MLAs. Do they feel homesick?

Shankersinh Vaghela: No, nothing like that. Till aim is achieved, it does not make sense to leave. Even then Uma Bharati and Kashubhau Thackeray had come to meet. But every MLA said they would not like to return. Later when we got unconditional support from Congress and we made a group. Not a single Congress MLA was made a minister.

OpIndia: Was Khajuraho incident one of the first such political instances? Now ‘resort politics’ seems to have become a norm. Will this continue or you see an end to this?

Shankersinh Vaghela: No, Khajuraho wasn’t the first. Prior to that in 1967 Madhya Pradesh had formed a Samyukta Vidhayak Dal for the government which had laid the foundation for such fragile governments. Everyone knows Haryana’s Ayaram-Gayaram. When even was an Opposition in earlier times? Opposition started coming together in 1969 as Indicated Syndicate. It is a process and part of democracy. People should not run away from it. Chimanbhai Patel also took supporting MLAs to his farmhouse.

You need isolation to safeguard your MLAs. Whenever there is a border-case in Rajya Sabha, this only would happen. In fact, I believe there should not be any elections in Rajya Sabha. Each party should have pro-rata seats and they should just file nomination forms.

OpIndia: Why isn’t Opposition strong in Gujarat since past three decades?

Shankersinh Vaghela: Whenever there is match-fixing such situation arises. Now there is no match-fixing in Congress. During Ahmed Patel’s election, no one had asked me whether to give him vote or not except Mansingh Chauhan. But when the party itself is flawed and lacks human touch such kind of situation would arise. This is when you need to take care of your MLAs.

Right now Congress is showing the fire to win in Gujarat. But there is no one in Congress who can guide them properly. They lack experience as well as human touch, which is a big concern.

OpIndia: Your and Narendra Modi’s friendship has been quite talked about. When he became the Prime Minister you exuded a lot of warmth as the leader of opposition in Gujarat Assembly.

Shankersinh Vaghela: Whenever you are a public person, you must always maintain decorum and be respectful towards others. When I was the leader of opposition I never used insulting words. When I was in Jan Sangha and BJP, I always referred to Indira Gandhi as Indira ji. They are ideological opponents, not enemies.

Back then Congress leaders were going to protest against the fact that Modi was married. I was in Sabarkantha then and media friends asked me my comments and I said that I am a witness that Narendra Modi never really enjoyed marital bliss (despite being legally wedded). I had said raking this up will not bring in votes. It was his personal matter. Whatever he would have told me in confidence in the past has remained with me only till now.

We were quite close back then. Would go places on the motorcycle and jeep together. I have left BJP since past 25 years and in these 25 years we have not met even 5 times (socially). I have not met him even once in Delhi in past 7-8 years. In politics, one can have opposing views, but should not have ill-will.

OpIndia: It is said that during Khajuraho, one of your conditions was that Modi leaves Gujarat.

Shankersinh Vaghela: See, in reality, Keshubhai Patel had told me Narendra Modi was a ‘problem’. I had told back then that that is what his views are. When I returned from Khajuraho even then there were internal party politics in Gujarat. Hence, at that time I suggested Vajpayee that Modi be given a bigger post in the party and sent out of Gujarat. He had then suggested that in place of Keshubhai, either Kanshiram Rana or Suresh Mehta be made chief minister.

OpIndia: What after 2022? Retirement?

Shankersinh Vaghela: Right now cannot say but I want to pave the way for Delhi in 2024 through Gujarat.

Who is Shankersinh Vaghela

80 year old Vaghela started his political career with Jana Sangh which later merged into Janata Party in 1977. He was jailed during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. He then became senior leader of BJP. In 1996, he floated his own political outfit Rashtriya Janata Party and formed government in Gujarat after toppling Keshubhai Patel’s BJP government with support of Congress when he was CM of state between 1996-97. In 1998, after fresh elections in Gujarat BJP again came to power.

His party later merged with Congress. In 2017, he left Congress and floated another political outfit, Jan Vikalp Morcha from which he contested 2017 elections but lost. Between 2019 and 2020 he was member of NCP. He quit NCP in June 2020.

This interview was originally published in Gujarati. You can read it here.

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