Rebel Shankarsinh Vaghela's Birthday Plans Keep Congress On Edge

Shankarsinh Vaghela has made it known to the party and public alike that this function, billed as a show of strength, could see him unveil his plans for the future.

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Shankersinh Vaghela's event will be held at the public lawns near the Town Hall in Gandhinagar (file)


GANDHINAGAR:  The day after 11 Congress lawmakers in Gujarat are believed to have voted for the NDA's presidential candidate, a much bigger challenge awaits the party today when its senior most leader Shankarsinh Vaghela starts to speak at a public event to celebrate his 77th birthday at Gandhinagar's town hall. Mr Vaghela has made it known to the party and public alike that this function, billed as a show of strength, could see him unveil his plans for the future.

It is not clear how far he will go.

But the Congress leader who has been isolated within the party did travel to all the way to Delhi on Thursday to meet party leaders before he announces the move. Sources said a meeting with senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel that he had hoped for did not materialise.

There is a view that the former Chief Minister may have already gone far enough.

In the presidential election won by Ram Nath Kovind, Gujarat Congress leaders have suggested that the dozen-odd lawmakers who did not vote for the party's presidential candidate Meira Kumar could have been Mr Vaghela's supporters. When he had lobbied to be named the party's presumptive Chief Ministerial candidate for the assembly elections, there were reports that about a dozen legislators had backed his claim.

In Gujarat, senior party leaders including party observer Ashok Gehlot and Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki were closeted in meetings at the circuit house. "We are trying to analyse as to how this happened and corrective measures are taken so that such things don't repeat in future,'' Mr Solanki told NDTV.

The cross voting in the presidential poll presents a bleak picture for the party ahead of the voting on August 8 for three Rajya Sabha seats, one held by senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel.

On Mr Vaghela's birthday event, the Gujarat Congress president said there was no unease in the party about it since it was "just a social gathering" and "our wishes are with Mr Vaghela on his birthday".

"But if the event turns political and there is anti-party activity, we will see what course of action needs to be taken," he said. Sources said the party's 56 lawmakers had been told to stay away from the event.

Mr Vaghela, who has repeatedly hinted that the doors were open for him to walk out, has always stopped short of opening talking about his exit. At a meeting of supporters last month, he did, however, launch a frontal attack on the party claiming it was not moving in the right direction to take the BJP head-on for the forthcoming assembly elections. The Leader of Opposition in the state assembly had added that "if the party wishes to concede defeat even before the fight has begun, I would not commit suicide with it."


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