Shankersinh Vaghela is back in news with his move to quit the Congress Party on his 77th birthday. The old warhorse of Gujarati politics is being billed by the media as the man who has put a stop to the Congress’ chances of returning to power in the state.
Well, Vaghela has been a tall Congress leader in Gujarat since he joined it in 1998 after quitting his the BJP, his first political love, in 1996. He was even projected as the Congress chief ministerial nominee during the run-up to one of the recent state Assembly polls. But the Khatriya leader failed to deliver much both for himself as well as for the Congress.
Shankersinh Vaghela proved to be no match for Narendra Modi as long as Modi remained in Gujarat. His stewardship of the Congress hardly proved beneficial to the Congress either. Vaghela could neither lead Congress back to victory nor did he shine as an Opposition leader. “He is a spent force now,” a Gujarati political analyst told NH from Ahmedabad.
Vaghela was said to be under pressure from BJP president Amit Shah reportedly for his “misdeeds to amass wealth and property,” a Gujarat political source told NH. Vaghela in turn tried to arm-twist the Congress leadership to declare him the party’s next chief ministerial candidate for the 2107 Assembly elections. The party refused to buckle virtually forcing him to quit which he did.
Vaghela’s exit from the Congress would hardly make much difference to the party’s prospects in the Assembly election scheduled to be held in 2017. But it does not mean that all is well with the Congress in Gujarat. The party has been out of power for over two decades.
Modi’s tenure of 12 long years as the state chief minister has virtually turned Gujarat into a ‘model Hindu state’ where Congress secular politics has become almost redundant. The Gujarat party unit is suffering both from dearth of ideas and leaders of stature. It does not know how to reinvent itself. The BJP continues to survive in the vacuum.
It does not mean that all is well with BJP in Gujarat either. The Saffron party has been under severe stress since Modi shifted base to Delhi. Modi’s successor Anandi Ben Patel had to step down paving the way for Vijay Rupani as the new Chief Minister of Gujarat. He has no political base of himself except for BJP chief Amit Shah’s blessings.
Gujarat after Modi is suffering from a huge political vacuum. The result is growing mass churning against the ruling establishment. There have been massive peoples’ upsurge against the government in the last three years. Patidar Patels under Hardik Patel’s leadership have taken to streets in lakhs demanding reservation for the Patel community.
The OBCs under Alpesh Kumar’s leadership are also on the war path. Alpesh is basically a Khatriya who are listed as backward in Gujarat. Incidentally, Vaghela too comes from the same community. Alpesh seem to have replaced Vaghela as the OBC leader in Gujarat as he has led massive rallies of his community during the last two years.
Besides, Dalits too are on warpath against the BJP government since the Una incident. Massive Dalit marches under new community leader Jignesh Mevani point to their alienation from the BJP.
Traders and textile manufacturers, once the BJP’s backbone in Gujarat, are seething with anger over the Modi government’s move to introduce GST. They were already upset with demonetisation as their businesses suffered with the paucity of cash. The GST, according to them, has crippled the oldest Gujarati business of textile now.
Surat, the textile capital of Gujarat, witnessed a march of over one lakh traders and manufacturers of cloth industry last fortnight. The entire textile industry of Gujarat is paralysed now with ongoing strike against GST which has alienated Gujarat BJP’s core constituency of traders from the party.
So, all is not well with the Gujarat BJP either. It is vulnerable and can de defeated at the hustings. But it requires tremendous efforts on the part of the Congress to weave an alliance of various social segments of the Gujarati society that walked out of the BJP and are looking for a new platform.
There seems to be no visible move on the Gujarat Congress part so far to build a grand alliance of Opposition forces as it did in Bihar. If the drift continues, elements like Vaghela may damage the Congress’ prospects even in the next round of Assembly polls. If Gujarat goes again into Modi’s kitty, his prospects of returning to power at the Centre in 2019 will surely brighten which will be a blow for liberal India.
The Gujarat Congress need to put its house in order first and then quickly work to carve a united Opposition platform to take on the BJP in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly polls. Else, the BJP may have the last laugh in Gujarat.