With at least seven Congress MLAs in attendance, former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela and ex-state president Arjun Modhwadia on Thursday addressed a joint rally here, straight after attending a court hearing on the alleged Dudhsagar Dairy scam.
Extending support to Vipul Chaudhary, the former Dudhsagar Dairy chairman held on charges of alleged financial irregularities to the tune of Rs 800 crore at the dairy, the two urged the influential Anjana Chaudhary community to help oust the BJP from power in the coming Assembly elections.
More than the support to Chaudhary, a BJP leader, Thursday’s ‘Sakshi Hunkar Rally’ held significance for all the signs that Vaghela may be on his way back to the depleted Congress in the state. The veteran Gujarat politician who has worked across all the big parties in the state will be a boost for the Congress at a time when it has seen a string of exits from its ranks.
Asked about this, Vaghela told mediapersons: “Talks are on and, once the formalities are finished, an announcement will be made at an appropriate time.” Ruling out any possibility of rejoining the BJP, he said: “I have nothing to gain from the Congress, I intend to give to the party.”
Modhwadia said earlier that the way back to the Congress for Vaghela is “open”.
Apart from the optics of his return, Vaghela would fill a crucial vacancy in the Congress which is missing the presence of a strategist like the late Ahmed Patel. The party’s silence both on Vaghela’s indication that he was not averse to a return, and to Modhwadia’s offer, shows that the ground may be ready for this.
Vaghela and Modhwadia held the rally after appearing in court as “witnesses” in the case involving Chaudhary, at a ground located adjacent to Dudhsagar Dairy.
Referring to Vaghela by his reverential moniker of ‘Bapu’, Modhwadia questioned the case against Chaudhary, who left the Congress to join the BJP in 2007. Pointing out that the latter was appointed by the UPA government at the Centre despite him being a BJP leader, Modhwadia said they picked Chaudhary because they believed he could help expand the network of Amul across the country. “Vipulbhai did not come to us (for the job), nor did anyone else,” he said.
Modhwadia said Chaudhary had run foul of the BJP as he had not sought the mandate of the party for fighting the milk cooperatives polls. “Let’s not discuss which party he belongs to. It is a fight of self-respect that we have to fight together,” he said.
A realignment of Chaudhary community votes in North Gujarat towards the Congress can help the party’s fortunes substantially.
The seven Congress MLAs present at Thursday’s rally were C J Chavda (MLA from Gandhinagar North), Baldevsinh Thakor (Kalol), Raghu Desai (Chanasma), Nathabhai Chaudhary (Dhanera), Bharat Thakor (Becharaji), Govabhai Rabari (Deesa) and Chandanji Thakor (Sidhpur).
Vaghela spoke about how Chaudhary was a home minister in his government in 1996. “The coming days are testing times for Gujarat. Do you want to get out of fear, slavery, corruption and inflation?” he said, asking people to vote carefully.
Chavda, who spoke on the occasion, heaped praises on Vaghela, who incidentally left the Congress in shock last time when he quit just days before the Rajya Sabha polls of 2017. The Leader of Opposition at the time, Vaghela’s resignation had been followed by that of more than a dozen MLAs, leaving the Congress shaky over the re-election of Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha.
While Patel had pulled through eventually, the Congress had that year managed to win the most seats in the Assembly after 1995, when the BJP formed its first government in the state.