‘No plans to join BJP, I’m apo­lit­i­cal for now’

India Today - - STATES -

Vet­eran Gu­jarat politi­cian SHANKERSINH VAGHELA quit the Congress last week, end­ing an 18-year-old as­so­ci­a­tion with the party he had joined af­ter ex­it­ing his par­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion, the BJP, in 1996. With Gu­jarat slated to go to polls this year, spec­u­la­tion over Vaghela’s next move is rife. Deputy Ed­i­tor Uday Mahurkar caught up with the leader to try and gauge what’s on his mind. Ex­cerpts

Q. Why did you leave the Congress?

A. Some Congress lead­ers in Gu­jarat didn’t agree with my stand that the party should pre­pare for the assem­bly elec­tions well in ad­vance, as per the A.K. Antony com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion that can­di­dates should be short­listed a year ahead of elec­tions. Rahul Gandhi agreed with me that the Antony panel’s re­port should be im­ple­mented, but noth­ing hap­pened. Per­haps these lead­ers had de­cided to deny me a role in the assem­bly polls. Had they not taken a stand against me and waited, I my­self would have de­clared state Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki the party’s chief min­is­te­rial can­di­date and set­tled for chair­man­ship of the cam­paign com­mit­tee.

Q. Congress lead­ers say you shouldn’t have arm-twisted the party since it gave you so much de­spite your BJP back­ground.

A. I, too, have given much to the Congress. I dis­charged the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties given to me faith­fully and tried to ex­pand the par-

ty’s base. This de­spite some lead­ers plot­ting against me since the day I joined the Congress in 1998-1999. Even in the lat­est in­stance, they asked par­ty­men and MLAs to skip my birth­day party. Is this the way you treat se­nior lead­ers?

Q. Many Congress lead­ers claim the cross-vot­ing by eight to 11 party MLAs in favour of Ram Nath Kovind was at your be­hest.

A. This is to­tally false. I have never en­gaged in anti-party ac­tiv­ity. It is the state Congress lead­er­ship’s duty to find out who voted against Meira Ku­mar. I can­not be blamed for their man­age­ment fail­ures.

Q. Why did you write an ex­plana­tory let­ter to So­nia Gandhi af­ter leav­ing the party?

A. I had to clar­ify my po­si­tion to guard against any mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign by my de­trac­tors. Q. You also had com­plaints about the party man­i­festo not be­ing con­sid­ered while plan­ning party pro­grammes.

A. Yes, there should be syn­ergy be­tween the party’s pro­grammes and its man­i­festo, which was miss­ing in many cases. But my main com­plaint was that can­di­dates were not be­ing se­lected well ahead of elec­tions.

Q. What’s your plan now? A. Wait and watch.

Q. Could you be join­ing the BJP? A. No, nei­ther the BJP nor NCP. I will re­main apo­lit­i­cal for now.

“PARTY MLAs WERE ASKED TO SKIP MY BIRTH­DAY. IS THIS THE WAY TO TREAT SE­NIOR LEAD­ERS?”

DOU­BLE-EDGED SWORD Shankersinh Vaghela at his July 21 rally in Gand­hi­na­gar

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