Gujarat: Shankersinh Vaghela keeps mum on his choice in Rajya Sabha polls
Ahmedabad: Former Congress veteran Shankersinh Vaghela on Monday chose to maintain silence on his choice of candidate for Tuesday’s Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat, but said Congress nominee Ahmed Patel remained his “friend”.
The former Gujarat chief minister said he was no longer in touch with the Congress leadership and dismissed talks that he was in contact with BJP members over voting in the election to the Upper House of Parliament. Senior Congress leader Patel, the political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is one of the contestants in the Rajya Sabha polls. “Each and every voter is the owner of his vote. The vote is the personal property of an MLA (for the Rajya Sabha election). Therefore, I do not want to reveal whom I will vote for,” Vaghela, who recently revolted against the Congress, told reporters.
Stating that he and Patel had been friends since 1977, the year he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time on a Janata Party ticket, the 77-year-old politician said, “We have been friends since then and we remain friends till now. Even today, we talked over phone. Our relationship is not limited to politics.” The Rajya Sabha election has become a high-stakes battle for the ruling BJP and opposition Congress in Gujarat, where the assembly polls are due later this year.
The election to the Upper House from Gujarat has received greater attention with BJP president Amit Shah and union minister Smriti Irani entering the fray and the Congress re- nominating Patel. Vaghela spoke to reporters on a host of issues, ranging from the Gujarat Congress’ decision to move 44 of its MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru to prevent any “poaching” attempts by the BJP, his stand on NOTA and the recent attack on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s car at Dhanera in Banaskantha.
“There is no question of any offer (from the BJP). I have no personal interests to negotiate with the BJP,” he said while replying to a query. On the Congress’ claims that its MLAs were offered Rs15 crore by the BJP, Vaghela said the legislators should not act as “saleable commodities” and a political party “should have enough trust in its members to leave them free”. “It is degrading for an elected representative if there are talks of him being bought over with an offer of Rs1-2 crore. The MLAs should have the moral strength to face the BJP, to say that we are with the party, do not touch us,” he added.
Vaghela condemned the attack on Gandhi’s vehicle during the latter’s visit to the flood-hit districts of Gujarat. He, however, said there was “public anger” towards the Congress MLAs, who were absent from their constituencies during the flood as they were shifted to Bengaluru. “I condemn the attack on Rahul Gandhi, but the party should understand that the anger is directed at the MLAs who were absent. The Congress abandoned its voters during the heavy rains and floods. The people had reposed their faith in the Congress MLAs, so the party should also repose faith in its members,” said Vaghela. He added that the move to take the MLAs away might cost Congress “heavily” in the Gujarat assembly election.
“When I went to Dhanera, the people were asking about their MLAs. The move by the party to take 44 of its legislators to Bengaluru has attracted negative publicity. It will be hard for them (the MLAs) to win (in the assembly polls) even if they are given tickets by the party,” said Vaghela. On the Election Commission’s decision to include the NOTA’ option in the Rajya Sabha polls, he said, “NOTA is a joke. If you have no one to vote for, why should you go to the booth in the first place. NOTA is a product of an empty mind. Why should you stand in the queue to press the NOTA button,” he wondered.
The Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat are set against the backdrop of dramatic developments, including the revolt in the Congress by Vaghela, resignation of a half-a-dozen Congress MLAs and shifting of 44 MLAs to Bengaluru by the party to protect them from the “poaching” attempts by the BJP.