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Vaghela to combat Modi on Hindutva turf
By AH Lakhani, Ahmedabad

Birds of a feather: Shankarsinh Vaghela of 
Congress Party and Narendra Modi of BJP 
prepare to fight for a common Hindutva turf

The Congress Party made history of sorts by declaring someone with Sangh roots --former chief minister and Kapadwanj MP Shankarsinh Vaghela president of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, to combat Narendra Modi's safforn brigade on Hindutva turf in the coming assembly elections, likely to be held in September-October. The change of guard, seen as the party's biggest gamble, comes a year after Amarsinh Chaudhary was appointed president of the state Congress. With Narendra Modi at the helm of BJP affairs, Congress thought it necessary to have an aggressive leader of the same stripe. The consensus candidate turned out to be Vaghela, who has lunged to the top position in the party he adopted two years ago. 

Vaghela is arguably the best man the Congress Party has got to lead it in the coming elections. His organisational abilities are known. He has a personal dislike for Modi, which goes back to the days when they were together in the BJP. He can be counted upon to work with a vengeance against Modi. Also, Vaghela would not be unaware that his elevation gives him a political opportunity he cannot afford to squander.

In the run-up to the elections, Vaghela's task will be to balance the various factions his own, former Janata Dal (Gujarat), Madhavsinh Solanki's and Amarsinh Chaudhary faction and to ensure that they instead of running him or each other down, actually start fighting the BJP, which seems to be having a free run of the state since February 27. Since Godhra, Congress has followed a policy of least resistance against the BJP. During the violence, it failed to rise to the occasion. Very few Congress leaders actively came to the aid of the minorities. Chaudhary, who is a tribal leader, did not visit the worst-affected tribal areas. Congress leaders were afraid of taking an aggressive anti-Modi line, thinking that it may not go down well with Hindus. This is the Congress that Vaghela is expected to lead to victory in the elections.

Chaudhary wanted the high command to believe that he had it in him to give a good fight to the BJP. After he was asked to resign, he threw tantrums and tried blackmailing the party. His camp spread reports that Mulayam Singh and Sharad Pawar were in touch with him, and he was thinking of forming a "third political force" in Gujarat. But it didn't work; he had to make way for Vaghela and accept the leadership of CLP, which he had initially dismissed as demotion.

Chaudhary can also create trouble for Vaghela. Sources close to Vaghela said he was unlikely to make any drastic changes in the party organisation. Since most of those holding organisational positions are Chaudhary supporters, this is expected to take care of the problem of dissension to a large extent. Analysts feel Vaghela will play the caste card to neutralise the Hindutva card of the BJP in the post-Godhra days. "With Vaghela knowing all the nitty-gritty of the Sangh Parivar, including its hide-outs and the secret meeting venues, it will be difficult for us," said a BJP leader. 

His fighting spirit could be gauged from the fact that after losing parliament elections from Godhra, where Hindu religious leaders lobbied against him, he went on to win the Lok Sabha election from Kapadwanj.

Like a true politician, he does not have permanent friends. He was once a "good friend" of Modi, but today they are the biggest of foes, at least politically.

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