Shankarsinh Vaghela today said that he was not joining the BJP
Isolated in his party, the Congress' most senior leader in Gujarat, Shankarsinh Vaghela, did not do the expected and announce his exit today. He instead called his supporters to gather in Gandhinagar later this week in a show of strength and ruled out a return to the BJP, which he had quit 21 years ago.
"All matters will be settled on the 24th...I am not going to join the BJP," said Mr Vaghela, saying he would "consult friends and colleagues" on Friday, June 24, before revealing his future plans. But when asked whether he would reconsider his decision on a return to the BJP if advised by supporters, Mr Vaghela seemed to leave some doors open by only stating, "I don't think they will say that."
Friday's show of strength is being seen as a last effort to pressure the Congress into projecting Mr Vaghela as its candidate for chief minister in assembly elections to be held later this year. There has been speculation that the 77-year-old could split the Congress and form his own outfit and many thought that was the announcement he planned at today's press briefing.
To prevent a split and amid reports that about 15 of its 57 legislators in the state were considering joining the BJP, the Congress has said that it will field all its sitting MLAs in the assembly elections. Party leaders also appeared in public with the rumoured rebels to show that they were going nowhere.
Mr Vaghela, who is a former Gujarat Chief Minister, said today that he is not angling to be projected for the top post. "I am not unhappy with the leadership. I only demand that homework must be done," Mr Vaghela said.
Though Mr Vaghela belongs to upper caste Rajput caste but has enjoyed considerable clout in north Gujarat, which has about 30 odd assembly segments
The BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for the last two decades, has started an early campaign in the state with party chief Amit Shah, who is also a state legislator, declaring a "Mission 150" as a target for the number of seats that the party must win. The Gujarat assembly has 182 seats and the BJP had won 115 in the last election in 2012 as it was led to another big win by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Amit Shah will be in Gujarat again this week and Mr Vaghela's next political move is being watched keenly in that context too. The Congress leader had met Mr Shah for tea in March this year, triggering the first wave of speculation that the veteran leader could be contemplating a "ghar wapsi" or return to his old party.