AAP leader and former BJP MLA Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria is set to join the Congress after a meeting with party president Rahul Gandhi. Rahul is likely to visit the state on July 16-17 to meet farmers in Bhavnagar and Amreli districts of Saurashtra region.
Speaking to The Indian Express, 63-year-old Kalsaria, a surgeon by profession, said he was having discussions with state Congress leaders, including party president Amit Chavda. “I will meet Rahul Gandhi during his tour of Saurashtra and hold talks on joining the party,” he said. “I will certainly join the Congress if everything works out well. It is my final decision.”
Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi, when contacted, said, “Talks are on with Kalsaria and he may be taken in the party during Rahul Gandhi’s visit or after it.”
Kalsaria, who won Mahuva seat as a BJP candidate in 1998, 2002 and 2007, went against the decision of the BJP and the then chief minister Narendra Modi to allow Nirma’s proposed cement plant near Mahuva in 2008-09. He strongly supported farmers of the area, who opposed the proposed plant as it was being built on water bodies. Kalsaria had contended that it would destroy the local environment and contaminate the groundwater due to mining of lime from nearby coastal areas (lime being one of the main ingredients of cement). The matter ultimately reached the Gujarat High Court and the Nirma plant was shelved. But it also resulted in Kalsaria’s quitting the BJP.
Subsequently, he formed Sabhavna Manch after he could not manage to enter the Congress. In 2012 Assembly elections, he fielded four Sadbhavna Manch candidates in Bhavnagar and Amreli districts, and himself entered the fray from Gariyadhar seat. However, all his candidates lost. He also lost Gariyadhar, coming third after the Congress, with the BJP candidate emerging victorious.
Later, he joined AAP and became its state convener. He contested Lok Sabha elections from Bhavnagar seat in 2014 on an AAP ticket but lost again. Kalsaria then tried to join the Congress, but was not successful. In 2017 Assembly elections, while he was still in AAP, he contested as an independent from Mahuva seat, in the hope that the Congress would extend support to him. He also met Rahul in this connection, but the party did not agree. The Congress, sources said, wanted Kalsaria to quit AAP and contest as an independent or a Congress candidate.
The Congress was then fighting a bitter battle with AAP in Delhi. Both Congress and Kalsaria lost Mahuva, and the BJP won. With no third viable political option in the state, sources said, Kalsaria has now decided to join the Congress. Congress sources said the party too wanted to induct Kalsaria to offset the loss of Congress MLA Kunwarji Bavaliya crossing over to the BJP. Congress leaders reportedly feel that the entry of Kalsaria, hailing from the OBC Ahir community, will bring OBC, particularly Ahir, votes to the party in the Bhavnagar-Amreli belt as well as Kutch region.