Vaghela jolts Congress, quits party on B'day

Shankersinh Vaghela jolts Congress, quits party on B'day

In a jolt to the Congress in poll-bound Gujarat, Vaghela quit the party, but made it clear that he had no plans to join the BJP or any other political party.
NEW DELHI: Veteran Congress leader Shanekersinh Vaeghla on Friday said that he was expelled from the party 24 hours ago and announced that he would take retirement from active politics.

However, the Congress said it has not expelled or initiated any disciplinary action against Vaghela.

Vaghela was speaking at at his 77th birthday celebration event in Gandhinagar, Gujarat where talked of his old association with the RSS.

The former Congress leader, said he wouldn't BJP or any other party about which he had told Sonia Gandhi in person a couple of days ago. He said he will neither float a new party.

He had severed ties with the  Congress party after his rebellious acts over the past few months failed to fetch the desired results.

Vaghela, who was a minister in the first UPA government, came to Delhi to meet Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi in a last-ditch attempt to extract something favourable on Thursday.

He claimed he was a victim of intra-party conspiracy, due to which the party had shown him the door.

He said the party did not even wait to hear what he would say at Friday's event before taking the decision to throw him out. Vaghela termed it a case of "vinashkale vipareet budhdhi".

Appealing to his supporters, he said that the "final high command" are the people.

"It is my destiny (being expelled), but I am not the one to retire. Bapus never retire. Fighting against injustice is my nature, even if it means losing everything in the process," he said.

"I became a victim of intra-party conspiracy, be it BJP, be it Congress.

"Sacking someone may satisfy your ego, but nothing beyond that. Behave like a statesman, not a politician," he said.

"There was a conspiracy to get me expelled. I told Rahul Gandhi about this, he said this must be to accommodate someone else.

"I had told Soniaji mein aapka bharosa nahi todunga (I will not break your trust). I went to meet her, told her thanks a lot Madam for everything. I may not remain with the party after sometime but don't worry I am not going anywhere. I am not joining BJP," Vaghela said.

"I am going to resign today as Leader of Opposition. I am a free bird, I am relieving the Congress of me, and I release myself from the Congress," he told his supporters.

On Thursday evening, the Gujarat Congress issued a warning to Vaghela not to "play any politics" under the guise of his birthday celebrations with his supporters and legislators.

He was also told that his public utterances would not be tolerated by the party any further.

The maverick Vaghela, who had snapped ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the late nineties to set up his own party that later merged with the Congress, has been telling the party high command to hand over reins of the December election battle to him.


To join Third Front in Gujarat?

Vaghela, 76, met NCP leader Praful Patel. Sources to The Telegraph said Vaghela might join a third front that Nitish Kumar's JDU and Sharad Pawar's NCP are trying to form in Gujarat instead of directly returning to the BJP. If such a front is formed, it is bound to cut into the secular votes commanded by the Congress.

The third front has never been successful in Gujarat but the idea can make an impact this time with a face like Vaghela. As around 11 Congress MLAs from Gujarat voted for BJP presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, it is expected they will go with Vaghela.


Association with BJP

Vaghela was earlier with the BJP and had become chief minister of Gujarat by staging a coup against the party in 1996.

Negative vibes to Rahul and Sonia

Vaghela had conveyed to the Congress high command that he should at least be made the Gujarat unit chief if not the chief ministerial face in the elections later this year.

The central leadership, unhappy with his public tantrums and suspicious of his intentions after he met BJP chief Amit Shah, clearly told him to work for securing the Congress's victory in the elections instead of bargaining for a personal position.

Vaghela had gradually withdrawn from Congress activities and continued to send negative vibes to Sonia and Rahul through oblique critical references. Gujarat Congress leaders tried to persuade him but he was not ready to settle for anything less than state Congress chief, replacing the incumbent Bharatsinh Solanki whose hard work has impressed the high command.

Finally, Congress leaders from Gujarat met Vaghela on Tuesday and confronted him on his plans for Friday's birthday show. He asked them to convince the high command to make him the face of the party and salvage the situation as there were still two days in hand. The Congress leaders asked him about his plans for the presidential election but he did not reveal his mind.

The Gujarat Congress coordination committee met in Ahmedabad on Thursday and decided not to participate in Vaghela's birthday show.


Cross-voting in Prez poll

A source said: "After reports of cross-voting in the presidential election, we realised he is not inclined to remain in the Congress. There was no point in succumbing to his pressure and a line had to be drawn sooner or later. We thought internal sabotage by him would be more damaging than an external threat. We are prepared for his exit now."

Although Vaghela's departure will create bad atmospherics ahead of the Assembly elections, what lifted the spirits of Congress leaders was the fact that Hardik Patel's Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leaders openly approached them today for the first time.

The PAAS leaders, animated by the passion to teach the BJP a lesson, offered all kinds of support to the Congress, giving the party some confidence to overcome the impending shock from Vaghela.

(With additional information from IANS and The Telegraph, Calcutta)