The Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee with the backing of its national leadership appears to have closed in on its legislature party leader Shankersinh Vaghela in a bid to contain him ahead of the crucial Rajya Sabha elections where the party has one seat from the state.
According to sources, Vaghela — reported to be unhappy over not being declared Congress’s chief ministerial candidate — was creating controversy over non-issues and hurting the interest of the party when both the Rajya Sabha elections (already once post-poned by the Election Commission) and the Assembly polls were near.
“Either Vaghela should silence himself, or the party would be forced to take some surgical action to implement discipline,” said a senior Congress leader.
All eyes, however, have been fixed on Vaghela’s next move, which he may announce at a press conference in at his Assembly office on Tuesday.
The timing of his press conference coincided with the presence of BJP president Amit Shah in Ahmedabad. Shah, a few months ago, had visited Vaghela at his Assembly office, triggering speculation about the Congress leader shifting his loyalty to BJP. But Vaghela described the meeting as a “courtesy call’’ by the BJP president.
He once had also claimed that many Congress MLAs could shift loyalty to BJP.
Following Vaghela’s statements and a meeting of his loyalist MLAs with the then state party affairs in-charge Gurudas Kamat over the issue of chief ministerial candidate, the Congress high command not only immediately replaced Kamat with Ashok Gehlot, considered to be close to Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, but also declared that all 57 sitting MLAs would be given ticket in the Assembly elections, thus pre-empting any move by the CLP leader to engineer a rebellion.
The unity of MLAs was important for winning one of the three Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant due to expiry of the term of Ahmed Patel, BJP’s Smriti Irani and Dilip Pandya.
Congress sources said that the party would be re-fielding Patel from Gujarat.
Vaghela going public about some MLAs being approached by BJP was also interpreted by the party leaders as a bid to prevent re-election of Patel.
Vaghela’s later moves — unfollowing everyone, including top Congress leaders on Twitter, and going away on “leave” abroad for a week — further raised suspicion on his plans.
While Vaghela has become incommunicado for the last few days, his media co-ordinator Nikhil Desai refuted reports in a section of the press about Vaghela having written a letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Desai alleged that Vaghela’s rivals were “planting fake news’’ to tarnish his image in the party.