KARNATAKA Governor Vajubhai Vala, 80, who could hold the key once the state Assembly results are out Tuesday, is among the few BJP leaders to have survived the party transition in home state Gujarat from Keshubhai Patel to Narendra Modi. One reason could be that it was Vala, then state finance minister, who had vacated his Rajkot-II seat for Modi to win his first Assembly election from Gujarat, in 2001.
The son of a Rajkot businessman who sold grinding wheels for flour mills, Vala enrolled with the RSS as a volunteer while still in school. At age 26, with degrees in both law and science, he joined the Jana Sangh and soon grew closer to Keshubhai, among other leaders of the party. Vala is credited with having helped the Jana Sangh (which later became the BJP) make inroads in then Congress-dominated Rajkot Nagrik Sahkari Bank in 1971, eventually becoming its president. In 1975, he was elected to Rajkot Municipal Corporation, and in 1983, he became Rajkot mayor.
In the 1985 Assembly elections, Vala was fielded by the BJP for the first time, from Rajkot-II, which he would go on to win seven times. While Modi contested from here in a bypoll to take over as CM, the constituency was returned to Vala in the 2002 Assembly elections. Vala was still an MLA from Rajkot-II (now renamed Rajkot West) and serving as Speaker when he was made the governor of Congress-ruled Karnataka by Modi in 2014, soon after becoming Prime Minister.
During Modi’s 13 years as Gujarat CM (2001-14), Vala was finance minister for nine years. For a year in the middle, 2005-2006, Vala was the state BJP chief. As finance minister, he set a record by presenting the state budget 18 times.
Allegations were raised about Vala’s growing real-estate empire, and ‘links’ with Rajkot builders at the time, but it didn’t make a dent in his standing in the BJP.
A crowd-puller, Vala is known in his constituency for making speeches laced with humour and to be extremely approachable. “He believes in getting work done rather than empty promises. He takes time out to attend social occasions of his acquaintances and friends and this has not changed even after he shifted to Karnataka,” says former Rajkot mayor Janak Kotak, adding that he expects Vala to pay a visit to his home town soon after the dust of the Karnataka polls settles, as he does so at least once every month.
Amidst speculation of a hung house in Karnataka, an old friend and his family physician, Batuk Parsana, says, “Vajubhai is a man of principles.”
Kotak, who is now retired from electoral politics, talks about another quality of Vala: his “adaptability”, calling it a “key to his success”. “Vajubhai has this ability to get along with everybody. Everybody feels that he is his man.”