‘My vote is secret’: Shankersinh Vaghela’s message to Congress on Rajya Sabha election eve

The Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat slated for August 8 has become a high-stakes battle for the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
Former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela addresses a public meeting on his 77th birthday in Gandhinagar .
Former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela addresses a public meeting on his 77th birthday in Gandhinagar .(PTI FILE PHOTO)

A month after quitting the Congress, Gujarat legislator Shankarsinh Vaghela on Monday launched a scathing attack on the party and hinted that it shouldn’t bank on his vote during the Rajya Sabha polls.

The former chief minister’s exit had triggered a crisis in the Congress, with six MLAs resigning from the party and bringing down its strength in the Gujarat assembly from 57 to 51. Three of the legislators later joined the BJP.

The Congress, which had flown 44 MLAs to Bengaluru nine days ago to ensure the re-election of party candidate Ahmed Patel, brought them to a resort at Anand on Monday morning. Vaghela and six other MLAs considered close to him were not present there.

Vaghela, who had so far maintained that his vote was reserved for Patel, struck a different note on Monday. “My vote is secret. Like other MLAs, I got the whip from the Congress party, but it is just a formality. Party members should not be bound by anything. Voting should be free of any whip,” Vaghela told reporters.

The veteran leader also slammed Congress MLAs for flying out at a time when floods were ravaging the state. “Even if they (MLAs) contest in the next elections, will people forget that they had left the state when their services were required the most? Will they be able to win? The party should not have tied up its members in this manner,” he asserted.

In an indirect attack on Patel, who happens to be the political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Vaghela said: “It’s the MLAs who elect leaders to the upper house. Rajya Sabha members should be in regular contact with MLAs. I am glad that this election has shown how even one MLA can be important for the party.”

Vaghela termed the attack on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in flood-hit Gujarat last week as a result of “voters’ frustration” over desertion by their MLAs. “The attack was condemnable. But it happened because the voters were frustrated over MLAs going missing in this time of crisis,” he said.

Patel is contesting against three BJP candidates – including party chief Amit Shah, Union minister Smriti Irani, and Congress turncoat Balwantsinh Rajput – in the Rajya Sabha election. Though the Congress claims to have the support of 44 MLAs, the remaining seven are yet to make their stand clear.

As Vaghela has shown a change in stance at the eleventh hour, the Congress may now have to depend on three votes from other parties, including the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Janata Dal (United).

NCP leader Praful Patel said his party is still undecided on which party to support, and a call on this matter would be taken in consultation with party president Sharad Pawar. The NCP has two MLAs – Kandhal Jadeja and Jayant Patel – in the Gujarat assembly.
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