'People are ready to have a Congress government in Gujarat'

'There is inflation and unemployment. Small traders, businessmen are in distress. Tribals, Dalits and farmers are unhappy. But Modi has built a personality cult at huge cost to the public exchequer'

Shankarsinh Vaghela
Shankarsinh Vaghela

RK Misra

Former Gujarat chief minister and a former colleague of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the RSS, Shankarsinh Vaghela, is campaigning against the ‘movers and fakers’ of the BJP in the state.

Last week, the outspoken leader caused a sensation by saying that in 2002, Muslims at Godhra had no way of knowing in which coach of Sabarmati Express the karsevaks were returning. “Before Godhra the then chief minister had nothing to show. What happened after Godhra is history and it is repeating itself, often before elections,” says the former RSS pracharak. Excerpts:

Is there any anti-incumbency in Gujarat?

Of course, there is. Why else did the BJP have to sack all ministers under Vijay Rupani, merely days after the PM had praised their work in public? There are strong undercurrents against the BJP and people are clamouring for change.

I think people are ready to have a Congress government in the state. The question is whether some of the leaders in the Congress are ready for the Congress to come to power.

Why are people seeking a change, as you claim?

Well, corruption in the state is at an all-time high. Governance is at an all-time low. A hundred thousand people died of Covid in the state but the state government stubbornly claimed the figure was ten thousand. It took a Supreme Court intervention for them to admit the actual figure.

There is inflation and there is unemployment. Small traders and businessmen are in distress. Tribals, Dalits and farmers are far from happy. One can go on and on…

Could you elaborate on what you mean when you say that some Congress leaders may not be ready to come to power?

Congress should and could have come to power in 2017. But it shot itself in the foot by some wrong selection of candidates. This time too I believe it could have fielded better candidates in some of the constituencies, though by and large, it has done a better job this time.

The media has projected AAP as the primary challenger to the BJP this time. Do you agree?

I don’t see AAP making a major dent. I don’t see it coming to power and certainly not on its own. It does serve to deflect attention from the Congress, which remains the main opposition in the state. Will it play the spoiler in some constituencies, and who it will damage the most, I can’t say

There is also this belief that the BJP, riding on Narendra Modi’s popularity, is invincible in Gujarat. What is your take?

There is no denying that there is a personality cult around Narendra Modi, built at enormous cost to the public exchequer. But the cult, corporatisation of the party and the five-star culture are all going to cost the Sangh and the BJP dearly.

Till recently, the Sangh chief did not require any security. But today, many of the leaders cannot venture out without security. The politics of negativity, hounding of opposition parties and opposition-ruled states, abuse of central agencies may create an aura of invincibility but cannot last long.

Already, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh are arraigned against the BJP government at the centre. Old-timers in the Sangh are also unhappy at the “attached bathroom” culture.

Rahul Gandhi is not campaigning much in Gujarat this time. Will it impact the outcome?

As I said in an interview (to Newslaundry), Rahul Gandhi is not a politician; he is a statesman. He feels for the country and is not dishonest to himself or to others. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is timely and necessary. How can you unite a nation by sowing seeds of discord and dividing people? But what can Rahul Gandhi do if elected Congress MLAs defect?

Strangely, the BJP is not held responsible for luring defectors, but it is held out as a weakness of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. I myself had planned to lead a peaceful retired life. But I cannot.

I am campaigning against the BJP because the present dispensation is undoing the work of the founding fathers who sought to unite a caste-ridden and divided society. Only the election result will tell if Rahul Gandhi’s engagement with the Bharat Jodo Yatra will have an impact.

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