Former Union minister and Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela, who quit the Congress ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections in July 2017, joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) here on Tuesday in presence of party chief Sharad Pawar. He has been made the party’s national general secretary.
Welcoming him to the party, Pawar said that the NCP will use Vaghela’s political experience and mass following in Gujarat as well as for strengthening the party at the national stage.
“Shankersinh Vaghela is a popular leader with a mass base. I have been telling him for a long time to join the NCP. He has finally agreed. I welcome him to the party. The party will immensely benefit from his vast political experience…. The NCP will use his experience at the national level, besides Gujarat, to facilitate strengthening and consolidating of the anti-BJP political forces to oust the BJP from power at the Centre,” Pawar said at the event which was also attended by senior NCP leader Praful Patel, Gujarat NCP chief Jayant Patel and NCP MLA from Kutiyana Kandhal Jadeja.
“In view of the present political scenario, we are considering how to work with non-BJP parties to give people a political alternative at the national level,” Pawar added.
Stating that his agenda was to remove the BJP and not Narendra Modi from the power, 78-year-old Vaghela said the BJP government at the Centre is “cruel, corrupt and conspirator”.
“Our country’s democracy is in danger under this government. All the constitutional bodies, including Parliament, Reserve Bank of India, Central Bureau of Investigation, Election Commission of India and Central Vigilance Commission among others are being destroyed under this government. Even few Supreme Court judges openly said that everything is not well in the apex court. This BJP government is cruel, corrupt and conspirator. People are in great difficulty. Youth have no jobs. There is agriculture crisis. Everybody is facing problem… Under these conditions and to save people from BJP’s misrule, I decided not to sit at home but join NCP to lessen the woes of the public,” Vaghela said.
He said that even before joining the NCP, he had supported the Congress candidate in Jasdan Assembly bypoll to “strengthen anti-BJP political parties”. “From my political experience, I foresee a UPA-III government in the country,” he added.
When asked if he would contest the Lok Sabha elections from Gujarat, Vaghela said it was for his party to decide. Pawar, on the other hand, said, “We have yet not decided on contesting Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat.”
Vaghela has won Lok Sabha elections twice — in 1999 and 2004 when he was elected from Kapadvanj seat.
His entry into the NCP, a constituent of the UPA-I and UPA-II government at the Centre, comes at a time when there is speculation of Congress forming an alliance with Pawar’s party.
Known for introducing “aaya Ram, gaya Ram’’ culture of politics in Gujarat, Vaghela began his political career with the BJP and RSS. He toppled the BJP government of Suresh Mehta by engineering defection in 1995 and formed his own government with the outside support of the Congress.
When Congress withdrew its support after a year, Vaghela floated Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), but managed to win only four Assembly seats in 1998 state elections. He subsequently joined the Congress and served as Union textile minister in the Manmohan Singh government at the Centre. He was also Gujarat Congress president and Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly.
However, on the eve of Rajya Sabha elections in August 2017, Vaghela quit the party and engineered defection of Congress MLAs, resulting in a narrow win for senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel. He later floated Jan Vikalp Manch and fielded candidates from several seats in the 2017 Assembly elections, all of whom lost.
Vaghela is currently facing a CBI probe in connection with the sale of land belonging to National Textile Mills in Mumbai to a private developer. He recently toured various places, including Delhi, declaring that he would work for the defeat of the BJP-led government at the Centre.