To un­der­stand Modi saga, look at the Vaghela story

The Jai-veeru friend­ship of the two lead­ers ended decades ago. The com­pletely dif­fer­ent paths pol­i­tics has taken them on is a study in the va­garies of luck and tim­ing

Governance Now - - ANALYSIS - Ashish Me­hta

Back in the early 1990s, shankarsinh vaghela was (or at least per­ceived to be) more pop­u­lar of the two peo­ple run­ning the BJP show in Gu­jarat. To­day, the other man is the prime min­is­ter, and vaghela is re­duced to a foot­note – al­beit an im­por­tant one – in the naren­dra modi saga.

on July 21, at a grand meet­ing in Gand­hi­na­gar to cel­e­brate his birth­day, vaghela an­nounced that the congress had ex­pelled him. (The party has a dif­fer­ent ver­sion.) This was widely ex­pected, af­ter he gave a se­ries of loud hints in re­cent months. he was un­happy be­cause of his ri­valry within the party with Bharatsinh solanki, pres­i­dent of the state unit and son of former chief min­is­ter mad­havs­inh solanki. For the past cou­ple of decades, the Gu­jarat congress has had three to four power cen­tres, each lead­ing a fac­tion of his own. he is now widely ex­pected to re­turn to the BJP. he would, thus, be com­plet­ing a full cir­cle.

There are two as­pects of vaghela’s story over the last 22 years. one, it con­trasts sharply with the rise and rise of his erst­while friend, modi. Two, it is the best il­lus­tra­tion of the adage that in pol­i­tics, luck and tim­ing mat­ter above all else.

as the BJP started mak­ing its pres­ence felt in Gu­jarat (in 1984 one of its only two seats in Lok Sabha was from Gu­jarat, and it won ahmed­abad municipal elec­tions in 1985), vaghela was its most dy­namic leader. Leg­end has it that he and modi – both orig­i­nally from the rss, and lent to the BJP – were a pair like Jay and Veeru. That fits the im­age of vaghela on his Bul­let, with modi pil­lion-rid­ing, and mov­ing the in­te­rior parts of Gu­jarat on party work. In 1989, Vaghela won the Lok Sabha elec­tions from Gand­hi­na­gar (which in­cludes much of ahmed­abad ac­tu­ally), gra­ciously va­cat­ing that seat for LK ad­vani later and turn­ing it into a vvip con­stituency for decades. vaghela thus was the pop­u­lar face, whereas modi was the man of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, work­ing be­hind the scenes.

as the party came to power in the state in 1995, he was a con­tender for the post of chief min­is­ter, but ap­par­ently he didn’t con­tend openly. modi, the or­gan­i­sa­tional sec­re­tary of Gu­jarat BJP, be­came the king­maker and the most vet­eran leader of the lot, Keshub­hai pa­tel be­came the chief min­is­ter. vaghela ex­pected at least some fruits of power for his fol­low­ers but none of them was in­cluded in the cab­i­net. in the fol­low­ing months, vaghela waited for ap­point­ments to state boards and cor­po­ra­tions, but noth­ing came his way. ac­cord­ing to one ver­sion of the events, vaghela re­peat­edly met ad­vani but modi was not reined in.

in septem­ber 1995, vaghela led an open re­bel­lion – the first in the ‘cadrebased, dis­ci­plined’ party and one of the very few so far, tak­ing 47 MLAS sup­port­ing him to a re­sort in Kha­ju­raho. (The vaghela fac­tion earned the moniker of ‘Kha­juria’, and in re­sponse the rest were called ‘ha­juria’ or yes-men.)

The high drama ended with a com­pro­mise. suresh me­hta, soft-speak­ing fi­nance min­is­ter who was not ex­actly fond of power, be­came chief min­is­ter as neu­tral can­di­date. and modi was banished from Gu­jarat, to serve the party in hi­machal pradesh and else­where in the north. vaghela’s ap­petite for power grew in the mean­while, and he finally broke away from the party (the only other lead­ers who split BJP later were uma Bharati and Kalyan Singh). His floated his own out­fit, Rashtriya Janata party, and be­came chief min­is­ter – with the congress sup­port. This was a pe­riod when he could have proved his met­tle, and con­sol­i­dated his power. he could have seized the op­por­tu­nity – the way modi did (in 2001 or 2002, de­pend­ing on your view­point). he could not. it has been a down­hill jour­ney ever since, which was pre­cip­i­tated when he merged his party with the congress by the late 1990s.

Yes, as chief min­is­ter, he did win from rad­han­pur against the col­lec­tive might of Bjp-rss. Yes, he could put pravin To­ga­dia be­hind bars and end the fa­ble that any ac­tion against that vhp leader would set the state on fire. Vaghela had guts, and like to be called the lion of Gu­jarat. The last time that ep­i­thet was used was when he chal­lenged modi in the af­ter­math of the 2002 ri­ots, with his sup­port­ers wav­ing plac­ards say­ing ‘Bhago Bhago Kaun aaya, Gu­jarat ka Sher Aaya’. Like To­ga­dia be­fore him, he too turned out to be a pa­per tiger.

he failed to turn to his ad­van­tage a stint in the union cab­i­net, as tex­tile min­is­ter, dur­ing the upa1. The BJP can­di­dates who de­feated him in the Lok sabha polls in 2009 and 2014 were no longer feted as gi­ant killers. he failed to de­feat ju­nior ri­vals in the Gu­jarat congress. in con­trast, modi has not met a chal­lenger who sur­vived in the party.

The two of them share many traits, from mas­tery in or­gan­i­sa­tion skills to a way with words and down to mega­lo­ma­nia, but luck is not one of them. To ap­pre­ci­ate modi’s deft strate­gies, vaghela pro­vides the best study in con­trast.


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