Two weeks ago, when Congress president Rahul Gandhi had kicked off his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections from Valsad, veteran Congress leader from neighbouring Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Mohan Delkar, was conspicuous by his absence.
The 56-year-old tribal leader, who has represented Dadra & Nagar Haveli in the Lok Sabha for six consecutive times, has been distancing himself from the party for quite some time. Just ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections in Gujarat, there were reports of him quitting the party to join the BJP. He, however, did not quit. But as the Lok Sabha elections are now approaching, the former Congress MP from Dadra & Nagar Haveli has been keeping everyone guessing.
Last month, he shared the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a public event in Silvassa, creating a flutter both in the BJP and the Congress camps.
When speculation of him joining the BJP grew, Delkar held a press conference, “clarifying” his presence at the PM’s event. “I was invited to the event where foundation stones for several development projects for Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Silvassa were laid. The most important of them was the government medical college at Silvassa. I attended the event as it was for the benefit of tribals of my constituency,” Delkar had said, referring to the medical college which will temporarily function from the buildings owned by him.
“I have given two buildings to the health department for two years till the construction work for the new medical college is completed. My purpose was to benefit the people of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu. Keeping this in mind, I gave the two buildings so that students’ study does not get affected,” he had said.
Since then, he has been seen warming to the BJP government. His joining the BJP, however, would not be his first. Delkar’s political career is criss-crossed with his affiliations between the BJP and Congress.
Mentored by his father Sanjibhai Delkar, who represented Dadra & Nagar Haveli in Lok Sabha from the Congress in the 1960s, Delkar rose to the heights of political prominence after he took up the issues of tribal labourers working in Silvassa factories. In 1989, he won the Lok Sabha elections from Dadra & Nagar Haveli as an Independent candidate. In 1991 and 1996 Lok Sabha polls, he contested on a Congress ticket, and was re-elected. Two years later, he quit the Congress, and won the seat again on a BJP ticket. In 1999 Lok Sabha elections, he quit the BJP to contest the Lok Sabha election as an Independent. He won, and five years later — in 2004 — he was re-elected as an Independent MP. In 2009, he returned to the Congress but lost the Lok Sabha elections to BJP’s Natubhai Patel, his protege, by a margin of only 600 votes. He lost to Patel again in 2014 on a Congress ticket — this time the margin of the defeat increased to nearly 6,000 votes. Natubhai Patel had worked with Delkar for many years before they fell out in 2009 when BJP fielded him from Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
Despite losing the last two Lok Sabha elections, Delkar has a strong hold over Dadra & Nagar Haveli constituency — a tribal-dominated seat.
Nearly half of the constituency’s 2.40 lakh voters are tribals, while the rest constitute people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, and other states. While the Dadra & Nagar Haveli district panchayat is with Congress, the Silvassa Taluka panchayat is being ruled by the BJP. However, many elected members of the panchayats are either Delkar’s relatives or loyalists.
“He (Delkar) is a popular leader and most of the tribals like him,” said a local BJP leader.
A local Congress leader also said that Delkar has a “good control over tribal voters”. However, the Congress is reconciling to the prospect of Delkar leaving the party. “We know that those elected in district panchayat will work for him, but still the Congress has committed voters in Dadra & Nagar Haveli. We are trying to induct more youth in the party, including tribals. In one week our entire organisation will be formed here and the Congress will come up with a new party structure in Dadra & Nagar Haveli,” said senior Congress leader from Silvassa, Vikramsinh Parmar, in the event of Delkar quitting the party ahead of Lok Sabha elections.
Meanwhile, Delkar is yet to confirm his presence during the February 28 party’s rally in Ahmedabad where along with Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are expected to speak.
Meanwhile, Delkar is tight-lipped about his future political move. Speaking to The Indian Express, he said that he would “definitely contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections”, but did not spell out from which party. Those who know him, say that the tribal leader may once again contest the election as an Independent candidate.