Barely four months ahead of the assembly polls and weeks to go for elections to the Rajya Sabha, the Congress was dealt a big blow in Gujarat with veteran leader Shankersinh Vaghela on Friday announcing his exit from the party and the post of Leader of Opposition. Within hours of Vaghela’s announcement at the Gandhinagar town hall, before a large gathering of supporters to celebrate his 77th birthday, the BJP issued a statement to extend its wishes to the former chief minister on behalf of chief minster Vijay Rupani and state party chief Jitu Vaghani.
At least four non-BJP MLAs, including Raghavji Patel and Vaghela’s son Mahendrasinh Vaghela from the Congress, were present at the town hall event, which is being viewed as ‘a rebellion’ against the party. Ominously for the Congress, Vaghela indicated that his quitting would take a bigger toll on the party in the upcoming elections.
“Before coming here, I had gone to meet a few MLAs. I asked them not to come (to the birthday event). When I had organised a gathering in Gandhinagar a few days ago, I had asked them not to come… There are 15-20 people who have not come,” he said.
Sources said that the 11 Congress MLAs who voted for the NDA’s presidential candidate Ramnath Kovind last week could be from the Vaghela camp.
The other MLAs who greeted him publicly on stage included NCP state chief Jayant Patel and the party’s MLA from Porbandar Kandal Jadeja.
Switching between Gujarati and Hindi, Vaghela said he was freeing himself from ‘bonds of political parties’, by quitting the Congress and not joining the BJP or any other political party. But he did not elaborate on the future course of his political career.