Ahmedabad: There’s nothing subtle about the Congress’ strategy to ward off a split in the party ahead of the election in Gujarat that must be held by December. All its current law-makers will be granted the chance to run for office again.
- Vaghela left BJP for Congress in 1996
- He wants to be Chief Minister candidate
- Has support of most Congress legislators, could split the party
“I am presently with the Congress, you should not worry if am going here or there,” said Shankersinh Vaghela, the party’s most senior leader in Gujarat and a former Chief Minister who left the BJP in 1996. His emphasis on “presently” gives away what is, in any case, no secret. Mr Vaghela has made it clear that he expects to be named the presumptive Chief Minister. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has not agreed yet.
In retaliation, Mr Vaghela, 77, has pointedly been absent from strategy meetings and has held large gatherings of Congress law-makers at his home which have called for him to be named the party’s choice for Chief Minister.
A summit that was scheduled for tomorrow with Ahmed Patel, who is the top aide to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, has been postponed. The party says it’s because it’s preoccupied with farmer protests, but sources say the cancellation seeks to avoid the ignominy of Mr Vaghela not showing up.
The Congress says it’s not in danger of fissuring. “I met Shankersinh Vaghela. We had a great meeting, he offered me tea and mangoes,” said Bharatsinh Solanki, who heads the Congress in Gujarat, a state that has not wavered from its support for the BJP since 1995.
But signalling its concerns, the Congress has agreed that all 57 incumbent legislators will be fielded as candidates. The Gujarat Assembly has 182 seats. BJP chief Amit Shah, who is also a state legislator, has already declared “Mission 150” as his party’s target and has begun campaigning in the state. Last month, Mr Shah toured the state, covering the few Congress strongholds in the state like the tribal region of Chhota Udeipur, where he lunched at the home of a Dalit party worker.