The acceptable candidate who could have been Gujarat CM

The acceptable candidate who could have been Gujarat CM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise choice of Gujarat Assembly Speaker Vajubhai Vala for the post of Karnataka governor is a reward for Vala's loyalty to him through his turbulent days since he took over as Gujarat chief minister in 2001, replacing Keshubhai Patel.

Modi was looking for a “safe” seat for the first election of his life before he could concentrate on improving  the government's image, which had suffered in Patel’s tenure.

Vala stood by Modi at a time when a sulking Patel and his supporters, including many ministers and MLAs, the slain Haren Pandya among them, refused to vacate any Assembly seat for him to contest, said party leaders. Vala, then finance minister, came forward to offer his Rajkot seat to Modi.

But Modi's victory margin of 14,728 votes in the February 2002 byelection (over Congress rival Ashwin Mehta) was half of what Vala had secured in 1998.   Incidentally, a  few days after the results, the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was torched in Godhra, killing 58 passengers. 

In the aftermath, violence directed at Muslims saw over a thousand people being killed.A BJP functionary said, “The one thing that goes in Vajubhai’s favour is his acceptability. He is a senior leader, but not very ambitious, which makes him perfect for Modi’s camp.”

Vala was also close to Keshubhai Patel when he was chief minister. “Modi respects Vajubhai a lot,” said a leader close to Vala. “He is one of his confidants. He is the senior-most leader in Gujarat.”

When Modi became prime minister, Vala's name did the rounds as a possible chief-ministerial candidate, but his age went against him. So Modi chose long-time close associate Anandiben Patel, who was also a senior woman leader of the BJP.

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