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3-min read

Bapu the Rebel: Shankersinh Vaghela doing to Congress what he once did to BJP?

Veteran Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela is believed to have been telling his close aides in the last one month that his “silence shouldn’t be seen as his weakness”.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18_pallavighosh

Updated:July 21, 2017, 7:11 PM IST
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Bapu the Rebel: Shankersinh Vaghela doing to Congress what he once did to BJP?
A section in the Congress feels that Vaghela’s demand — that he be made CM candidate - are unjustified. (Network18/ TV Grab)
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New Delhi: In Gujarat politics, Shankersinh Vaghela’s poha popularity has acquired legendary proportions. If one were to meet Bapu — as he is called by his supporters — he couldn’t leave without having his favorite snack. There are no questions asked nor any choices offered by him or his well-trained staff.

In his politics as well, Bapu is generally not known for offering too many choices. So, it is tough for Vaghela, his aides say, to accept ‘inhospitality of the Congress leaders, especially Rahul Gandhi’ which has grown over the last one year.

Once, the former chief minister did not blink before breaking the BJP and lodging his supporters in a resort even as he sought a larger pie in the power politics. Since then many chief ministers have emulated his model to survive the floor test.

It was not the battle that Vaghela fought against the then CM Keshubhai Patel. It was a direct fight with the then BJP in-charge of Gujarat on deputation from the RSS — Narendra Modi.

It was in many ways a watershed moment for BJP politics. It was a moment which shattered BJP’s assiduously cultivated narrative of being a party ‘with a difference’. It was a moment which brought tears to the eyes of LK Advani. Vaghela, the swayamsewak in politics, had decided to chart his own course.

He broke away from the BJP and became the CM with outside support from the Congress in 1996, a party he later joined with all his followers and supporters. Two decades later, there’s speculation again whether Vaghela will do a ghar waapsi. Not happy in the Congress, he’s met BJP president Amit Shah twice.

A section in the Congress feels that Vaghela’s demand — that he be made CM candidate - are unjustified. Congress has all these years recognized Bapu’s importance as the only tall leader who could match up to the might of Modi. Vaghela was made cabinet minister for textiles when the UPA was in power. Even in state politics, he had his chances, when ahead of the 2012 Gujarat polls, he was made chief of campaign committee and then leader of opposition when Congress lost the elections.

But things began to fall apart with the rise of Rahul Gandhi in the party and his insistence on a complete overhaul. When Bharatsinh Solanki was made Gujarat chief in 2015, it was just a matter of time before Bapu would rebel.

And it all started as a poster war earlier this year when Vaghela’s supporters began to put up posters demanding he be made the CM face of the Congress. All this fell on deaf ears as Rahul was determined not to name anyone. A senior aide did caution Rahul “you cannot even hope of doing well in Gujarat if you sideline Vaghela,” but the Congress VP was adamant.

In his typical understated style, Vaghela sent messages across to Rahul and Congress high command. He unfollowed Rahul Gandhi and some other congress leaders on Twitter.

Vaghela is believed to have been telling his close aides in the last one month that his “silence shouldn’t be seen as his weakness”.

The old guards did try to reach out to him. Rahul, sources say, was coaxed by Sonia to reconcile. Rapprochement was in sight when Bapu and his supporters sent in a reminder once again in the President elections.

At 77, Bapu is not as fit and active he was in 1997 when he divided the BJP right down the middle. But he’s not retiring yet from active politics for sure. When asked recently whether he would quit Congress to join BJP or retire, he retorted with his inimitable one liner ‘ba retires, not bapu”.

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| Edited by: Swati Sharma
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