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Adding to Gujarat Congress troubles, a marriage gone bad

Ex-state chief, Koli Kshatriya leader Bharatsinh Solanki takes 'a break from public life', after dispute with wife worsens

Written by Vaibhav Jha | Ahmedabad |
Updated: June 6, 2022 7:23:32 am
Bharatsinh Solanki with Rahul Gandhi. Solanki was Gujarat chief in 2017, when Cong put up its best performance in state in 30 years.

When he was discharged from hospital in October 2020 after more than 100 days recovering from the coronavirus, the authorities called his stay the “longest in Asia” by a Covid patient.

Senior Congress leader Bharatsinh Solanki perhaps thought the worst was past him. On Friday, there was more. As leaked videos plunged his long-standing dispute with his wife to a new low, the former Union minister held a press conference to announce that he was disturbed and was taking “a small break from public life”.

For the Congress, fighting what right now seems like an impossible battle against the BJP, and digesting the loss of Hardik Patel to the other side, this is more bad news. The 68-year-old Solanki is a former state unit of the party and, as the son of the late party stalwart Madhavsinh Solanki, the flagbearer of what remains of the Congress’s once invincible KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) vote combination in Gujarat.

Solanki and his wife’s acrimonious relationship has been playing out over the past two years in public, with both publishing notices against each other in local vernacular newspapers. Solanki had declared that he had broken ties with his wife and warned people against her misusing his name. Patel issued a statement through her lawyer that she had taken care of Solanki when he was infected with the coronavirus, but that he had started mistreating her soon after.

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At the press conference, Solanki said: “I am not here to make personal attacks against my estranged wife in a public place. A lot of things have been said against me so I decided to clear the air today. I am currently in a legal tussle with my wife and I will be presenting my evidence against her in court.”

On his “break”, Solanki said it could be of one month or six, but he would “return” for the Gujarat Assembly elections slated in December this year. “During this time, I will be mobilising ground support for the party by talking to people of different communities across Gujarat and uniting them.” He said it was an entirely personal decision, “taken in the context of recent incidents”, and nothing to do with the party. “I am very much a part of the Congress.”

Solanki’s father Madhavsinh was a three-time chief minister of Gujarat and a celebrated Koli Kshatriya leader who introduced the KHAM formula, which is believed to have given the Congress much success as well as a thumping majority of 149 of 182 seats in the 1985 Assembly polls.

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As CM, Madhavsinh pushed for reservation quota for OBCs which, in turn, created discontent among other communities of Gujarat, and led to the 1985 anti-reservation riots and much later, the Hardik Patel-led 2015 Patidar reservation agitation.

Bharatsinh Solanki started his political career in 1992, riding on Madhavsinh’s name to lay claim as a Koli Kshatriya leader. In the past 30 years, he has held many positions in the Congress – as an MLA for three terms, MP twice, Gujarat PCC chief twice, secretary of the state unit as well as AICC, and as Union minister under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government from 2009 to 2014 handling three different portfolios.

Solanki headed the Congress when in the last Assembly polls, in 2017, it won 77 seats, its best performance in the state in three decades. A big factor in that was Solanki’s success in winning the Patidar community’s support for the Congress, notwithstanding the Madhavsinh OBC quota history.

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Since then though, the Congress has been on the decline, losing both senior leaders and as many as 13 MLAs to desertions. It is also contending this time with an aggressive Aam Aadmi Party.

Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said that while Solanki was taking a step back from public life, it did not mean he would not be associated with the party. “Bharatbhai is still a very important part of the party, and he will be continuing to work for the people of Gujarat. We are optimistic that we will see a fresh and enthusiastic Solanki before the elections,” Doshi said.

Solanki agrees with the view that the leaking of the videos on his personal life could be a political conspiracy to silence him. “In the past 30 years of my public life, I have served in various crucial posts in the Congress and Union government. I have not faced any allegations of corruption or of misuse of posts, nor do I have any criminal cases against me. The manner in which these allegations have come up right before the elections is suspicious.”

Invoking his family’s legacy, the Congress leader added: “My grandfather, father and I have received a lot of love and blessings from the Dalit, underprivileged communities in Gujarat. This is a fight for the survival of OBC Kshatriyas. They (his rivals) must have thought that by putting down Solanki, they could automatically kill the movement. But there is awareness among the people, be it OBCs, Thakors, Kshatriyas, Adivasis or Muslims in Gujarat, regarding the issues of unemployment, inflation, rising fuel prices, among others. Hence, the attack on people who can unite these communities on such common issues.”

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First published on: 05-06-2022 at 03:24:11 pm

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