Vaghela jolts Congress, quits party on B’day

Gandhinagar, Jul 21 (PTI) In a body blow to the Congress in Gujarat, one of its tallest leaders Shankarsinh Vaghela, today announced he was quitting the party but ruled out joining BJP.

The dramatic announcement By Vaghela, a former RSS and BJP member, was made at a public event organised to celebrate his 77th birthday. It came a day after the disunity in the state Congress came out in the open when it transpired that at least eight of its 57 MLAs had not voted for the joint opposition’s presidential Meira Kumar.

Vaghela, the Kshatriya strongman whom his supporters fondly address as ‘Bapu’, said: “I am not going to join BJP. I will not join any political party”.

He, however, said he was not going to retire from politics, triggering speculation he may float his own party and then cobble together an anti-Congress, anti-BJP front ahead of the Assembly elections likely in November or December.

“Today, I free myself from Congress and I set Congress free,” he said.

Vaghela’s decision to quit the Congress is a cause of concern for the party, which has been out of power in the state for close to two decades. He enjoys considerable support in North Gujarat

Congress would, however, draw some comfort from the fact that only two of its MLAs, including Vaghela’s son, Mahendrasinh, attended the event.

Vaghela is reported to be upset with the party high command for not being declared the chief ministerial candidate for the Assembly elections.

He had stopped attending state Congress meetings for some time, and had even unfollowed Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on Twitter to register his protest.

Vaghela said he was left with no option, claiming that state Congress leaders “got together to push me out of the party” after he told them to do their homework to take on the BJP in the upcoming polls.

He also accused the party of taking “supari”, a common term in some states for contract killing, from the BJP to let it win Gujarat, once dubbed the BJP’s laboratory for testing its Hindutva politics.

“You don’t fight the BJP and won’t allow those who do to fight them”, said Vaghela who had a long association with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his RSS days.

The elections will also be seen as a prestige fight for Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.

Vaghela also claimed that Congress had expelled him yesterday. But the party denied that it had expelled Vaghela or initiated disciplinary action against him.

“Both these claims are entirely incorrect,” Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in New Delhi.

Surjewala said the party respected Vaghela which was reflected in him being given important responsibilities and positions. He hoped Vaghela would continue to work for the party despite quitting his posts.

“Vaghela wanted that present PCC president (Bharatsinh Solanki) should be replaced and he be appointed in his place.

This is a decision of the party and its leadership and no individual can decide it.

Vaghela, currently the leader of the opposition in the Assembly, had quit BJP over 20 years ago and formed Rashtriya Janata Party. He headed the RJP government in 1996 before merging his party with Congress.

“Party is bigger than individuals. Each one of us needs to understand that interests of the party and its ideals are bigger than the ambition of one person”, Surjewala said.

Vaghela, a former Union minister, claimed some Congress leaders had issued a “diktat” to partymen to not attend his birthday celebrations.

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