Stunning the Congress, its Gujarat unit working president Kunwarji Bavaliya quit the party Tuesday to join the BJP which, within hours, made him a cabinet minister in the Vijay Rupani government.
Bavaliya’s decision to resign as MLA from Jasdan in Rajkot and cross over to the BJP is considered a setback for the Congress since he is also president of the Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj, and Kolis constitute a sizeable chunk of the OBC votebase.
The BJP moved swiftly to give pride of place to 63-year-old Bavaliya — the ailing Parshottam Solanki, minister of state for fisheries, has been its only Koli face.
Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda said the party had done all it could for Bavaliya but the “temptation of a ministerial berth” made the MLA join the BJP. Bavaliya, he said, had “betrayed the trust of the people’’ and “people will respond by defeating him in the Jasdan bypoll’’.
In a counter move, the Congress welcomed back to its fold Bholabhai Gohel who had joined the BJP last year after the Rajya Sabha elections in the state. The Congress said Gohel will be fielded against Bavaliya whenever the Jasdan bypoll is held.
A former Congress MLA from Jasdan, Gohel was a trusted aide of Bavaliya but they parted ways during the Rajya Sabha elections when he voted against Congress candidate Ahmed Patel — the votes of Gohel and another Congress MLA, Raghavji Patel, were invalidated by the Election Commission because they allegedly showed their ballot to BJP poll agents.
Ahmed Patel went on to win the election and Bavaliya called Gohel a “traitor’’. But Gohel soon regretted his decision to join the BJP. He was not given a ticket in the 2017 assembly elections which saw Bavaliya being elected from Jasdan.
At the BJP office Tuesday, Bavaliya slammed Congress president Rahul Gandhi: “I have been watching the way Rahul Gandhiji… has been playing a casteist game… we got the feeling that if we wanted to work, it could not be here (in the Congress).”
“When our Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister and I an MLA, we connected with each other. He would tell me, ‘we too need people like you to serve the people’. I took note of the way Narendra Modi was taking measures for the economic progress of the country,” he said.
Before he switched loyalties, Bavaliya was a vocal critic of the BJP. In Rajkot, he was one of the Congress leaders who took the lead in protesting Modi’s demonetisation move. He was even detained by police for trying to stop public transport as part of the protest.
In June 2017, a week before Modi was to visit Rajkot to inaugurate a link of the SAUNI pipeline project, Bavaliya called a press conference to criticise preparations for the PM’s visit. “The entire administration has been engaged in preparations for the PM’s visit. It is working like a machinery of the BJP, planning a roadshow for Modi while completely ignoring the people,” he had said then.— (With Syed Khalique Ahmed in Ahmedabad)