Congress legislature party leader Shankersinh Vaghela — reportedly unhappy over not being declared the party’s chief ministerial candidate ahead of the Gujarat Assembly elections — would skip a key Youth Congress convention on June 9 and June 10. Vaghela’s decision was transpired to the media by state Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki, who met him on Wednesday morning. According to Solanki, he shared details with Vaghela about his recent meeting with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
The Wednesday’s meeting also came in the backdrop of Congress promising poll tickets to all its 57 MLAs in the state — a move, according to sources, was to preempt any damage to the party in case Vaghela returns to BJP. It has been speculated that if Vaghela quits Congress, a section of sitting MLAs afraid of being denied ticket this year may also leave the party and join BJP.
“I met Bapu (Vaghela) at his residence in Gandhinagar this morning and invited him to attend the Youth Congress meeting. But, he expressed his inability to attend the function saying that he has to attend another event in Ahmedabad,” Solanki told The Indian Express. Vaghela has agreed to meet Congress’s Gujarat affairs in-charge Ashok Gehlot on June 9.
Vaghela has been skipping important Congress programmes for the last few weeks, reportedly to exert pressure on the party to declare him as its CM candidate.
Vaghela had been invited to attend a meeting with Rahul, along with Solanki, on Monday, but he avoided it. He had met Rahul about a week ago in Delhi and according to sources, the Congress vice-president assured him of the party “keeping his interests in mind”, but also asked him not to press for announcing him as the CM candidate because it could create a rift in the party at the time of elections. After meeting Rahul, Vaghela, however, had told reporters that the party should declare a CM candidate before the polls. There are reports of a rift between Vaghela and Solanki over the issue.
The Congress’s decision to give election tickets to all its sitting 57 MLAs is also being interpreted as an effort by the party to put up a united face. More than a dozen MLAs, who were not sure of getting party ticket this time, were said to be with Vaghela and ready to cross over to BJP. It were these MLAs who during meeting with then Congress’s Gujarat in-charge Gurudas Kamat in April this year had demanded that Vaghela be declared the party’s CM face.
“The party announced to give tickets to all the sitting MLAs to ensure that Vaghela’s plans of engineering a defection don’t succeed,” said a senior party leader.
Following the decision, one of the MLAs from the Vaghela camp, said : “The move would prevent defection to BJP. The talk of crossing over to BJP was primarily discussed in case there was no certainty of getting a Congress ticket.”
With this development, Solanki’s hold over the party affairs in the state too appeared to have become firm and he might dominate allotment of tickets for the other seats. In this situation, the sources said, Vaghela’s grip over the party MLAs and leaders would be weakened and he would not be able to mobilise MLAs in his favour in case the party won the majority in the Assembly polls.