Shankersinh Vaghela is determined to extract his revenge from the Congress and has the full support of BJP chief Amit Shah in targeting the Congress's most experienced trouble-shooter, Ahmed Patel, and preventing his Rajya Sabha re-election.
If Balvantsinh Rajput, MLA and chief whip of the Congress party in the Gujarat assembly and samdhi
(related by marriage) to Vaghela contests the Rajya Sabha election as an independent against Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary could struggle to get re-elected for a fifth term in the Upper House.
Rajput has not filed his nomination papers (Friday is the deadline) for the election that's due on August 8, but speculation about him flew through parliament's Central Hall today. Rajput, who owns a massive edible oil brand and has interests in real estate and education, has so far been perceived as extremely close to Ahmed Patel despite his family relations with Vaghela.
In case Rajput does not oblige, Vaghela has a Plan B, said sources: C K Raolji, a veteran leader who was a minister in Vaghela's government in the 1990s, will then contest the election against Patel. Vaghela, who dramatically said "Bapus
don't retire" when he quit the Congress last week (while claiming he was expelled), today reiterated that he will support the Congress and Patel. But sources close to him say he is out to do maximum damage to the party and that Amit Shah has endorsed the plan to employ Rajput against Patel.
That sort of move would add the icing to the birthday cake baked by Vaghela when he ensured that 11 Congress MLAs cross-voted in the election for President of India earlier this month. If the Congress's own chief whip rebels as a candidate against Patel, it shows that the high command - the Gandhis and their aides - have no influence on the party in Gujarat.
Congress sources confirmed that today's efforts focus on persuading Rajput not to run. Defeating Patel would amount to "the stuff legends are made of," said a senior Congress leader to me. With grudging admiration, he said Shah really thinks big when it comes to conspiring against opponents. If Rajput contests, it will be an audacious gamble that will, at the very least, psychologically defeat the party without needing to engineer a split.
And that's precisely what Shah's plan is: to use Vaghela, who wanted to the chief ministerial candidate, to destroy the Gujarat state unit of the Congress with internal dissension. Gujarat has a solid two-party polity and Shah is ensuring that an anti-incumbency against 20 years of BJP rule, and the Patidar, Dalit and GST agitations, are rendered irrelevant as the Congress self-destructs.
Sensing the danger, Patel said publicly today, "Vaghela has promised to vote for me." Vaghela, enjoying the trouble he has created, promptly retorted "I promised to vote for Patel but, only if Ashok Gehlot (Gujarat General Secretary in-charge) takes back his words against me". Gehlot had said that Vaghela, worried about an earlier corruption case, is siding with the BJP under pressure.
His predicament is something that Patel, even with his 40 years of solid experience in politics, could not have bargained for. Patel has worked with four generations of the Gandhi family and is widely considered the most experienced trouble-shooter of the party, forever pulling chestnuts out of the fire. This is the first time that one of the quietest and smoothest operators of Indian politics is facing public embarrassment.
Shah's "Mission 150" seems to on course with a little help from old friend Vaghela, but, as an Ahmedabad politician observed, "What has happened to the Congress? It seems like it is in a coma."
He has a point since the Congress leadership seems to no longer feel the pain of defeat after defeat. Comprehensively check-mated by Shah and Modi.(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.