Ahmedabad: Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela may have publicly asserted he is not in the race to be the next Gujarat chief minister and will remain in the party, but an air of uncertainty looms around him and his next move.
Vaghela recently ‘unfollowed’ Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and some other colleagues on Twitter, triggering speculation in political circles that he may leave the main Opposition party and join the BJP, his former outfit.
However, the former chief minister later scotched rumours about quitting the Congress and returning to the saffron fold. He claimed his act of “unfollowing” Congress leaders on the popular networking site was aimed at preventing “spread of false messages and speculation” about him.
The Leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly said he will remain inactive on social media till the state polls, due by the year-end, are over.
There has been a demand by a section of state Congress to declare Vaghela as the chief ministerial candidate. Posters were also put up in various cities in the state demanding the party veteran be projected as the CM face.
The repeated demand from Vaghela’s supporters did not cut ice with the party high command which made it clear that it will not name anyone for the top post before the polls.
Sources close to the Vaghela group said their leader is a “great survivor” and has managed to remain a key figure in Gujarat politics after dissociating himself from the RSS-BJP combine which has deep roots in the Western state.
Vaghela quit the BJP in 1995, but managed to survive and today he is arguably the tallest Congress leader in Gujarat, they said.
For the 77-year-old Rajput strongman, the forthcoming state elections might be the last chance to aim at the coveted chief ministerial post.
The BJP lacks a credible leader in the state after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah left Gujarat to play bigger roles at the national level, the sources said.
This has made the Gujarat polls interesting and given a hope to the Congress, once a dominant force in the state, tomake a serious bid to come to power in Modi’s home state after over two decades, they said.
Vaghela met Shah, an MLA from Gujarat, a couple of months back, setting tongues wagging and fuelling talks of him preparing the ground to return to the BJP.
There were also rumours that Vaghela’s son Mahendrasinh, a Congress MLA, may switch over to the saffron outfit along with his loyalists.
However, party sources said the Congress high command is firm on not declaring a chief ministerial candidate and this has left Vaghela, currently abroad, with limited options.
“He has to accept Congress high command’s decision or else leave the party,” a Congress leader maintained.
State Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki has, however, said there are no differences in the Gujarat unit and that he and Vaghela will fight the elections together.
The last word on the Congress veteran is yet to be said and the political drama in the party is likely to continue in the election year after Vaghela returns to Gujarat on 23 May.