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Shankersinh Vaghela opens political front in Gujarat ahead of assembly polls

LiveMint logoLiveMint 19-09-2017 Maulik Pathak

Ahmedabad: Former Gujarat chief minister and ex-Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela has decided to open a new political front by joining Jan Vikalp, a party recently formed by his supporters in the poll-bound state.

Gujarat’s political narrative has so far been defined by its bipolar contests between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress and previous attempts to form a third front have not been very successful.

Addressing a press conference in Gandhinagar on Tuesday, Vaghela said it was a myth that an alternative force cannot be successful in Gujarat.

Jan Vikalp was the ‘people’s alternative’ to the voters of Gujarat who are fed up with BJP and Congress, he said, adding that the new front will contest all 182 assembly seats and support independent candidates who register with the party for elections due by December.

Jan Vikalp will launch its political campaign on 21 September from Gujarat’s Ambaji temple. Vaghela said the party will not make any personal attacks on rival party leaders and added that its campaign will be positive.

In August, Vaghela and seven MLAs were expelled from Congress after they voted in favour of the rival BJP candidate during the Rajya Sabha elections. He had however announced his decision to quit the Congress party back in July, which was followed by as many as 13 Congress MLAs quitting and joinging the BJP in Gujarat. The defectors included Congress chief whip Balvantsinh Rajput, who is a relative of Vaghela’s.

The ruling BJP faces anti-incumbency in Gujarat where it has been in power for over two decades, alongside protests from members of Dalit, Patel and OBC communities. While the BJP has set itself an ambitious target of winning 150-plus seats in the assembly elections, the Congress is eyeing 125.

At the press meet, Vaghela recalled how he had presented a different political narrative in the mid-nineties when he formed the government and became the chief minister.

Vaghela used to be in the BJP and played a crucial role in the party’s victory in Gujarat in 1995. In March 1995, the BJP won 121 of 182 seats and Keshubhai Patel became chief minister. Vaghela, the architect of that victory, then staged one of the biggest coups the party has seen. In September 1995, he flew more than 45 members of the legislative assembly (MLA) to Khajuraho in Madhya Paradesh. Upon their return, Vaghela rebelled and became chief minister in October 1996. He floated his own party, the Rashtriya Janata Party, which was later merged with the Congress.

Apart from Vaghela’s Jan Vikalp, the Aam Aadmi Party is also in the fray in the Gujarat elections. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), whose alliance with Congress in Gujarat was called off after the Rajya Sabha elections, is planning to contest elections in Gujarat, especially in the Saurashtra region where the BJP faces a tough challenge.

“There is ample scope for a third front in Gujarat to emerge but I don’t see Jan Vikalp with Vaghela in it as an alternative. Vaghela first left BJP and then the Congress for power so I am not sure how much credibility he holds today among the voters of Gujarat. Vaghela’s party will cut into more of Congress votes than BJP’s,” said Ghanshyam Shah, former professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

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