Vaghela may jump ship again, join NCP

Shankarsinh Vaghela, popularly known as Bapu in the state politics, has been at the forefront of two major political parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Opposition Congress. PTI file photo

Former chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela is said to be getting ready to jump ship one more time before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Vaghela, popularly known as Bapu in the state politics, has been at the forefront of two major political parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Opposition Congress.

He is credited to be one of the three big politicians from the state who has witnessed BJP deepen its roots in the state from 70’s till 90’s, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and another former chief minister Keshubhai Patel.

Later, he rebelled and moved on from the BJP to set up his outfit Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), before joining the Congress and emerging as its leader in late 90’s till late 2017.

He walked out of the Congress along with 14 legislators just ahead of high-pitched and dramatic Rajya Sabha polls of 2017.

Vaghela then floated a separate front, Jan Vikalp Morcha, and fought 105 of 182 seats in 2017 Assembly polls under relatively unknown political party from Rajasthan, All India Hindustan Congress.

As his experiment flopped, with his front drawing a blank, the 78-year-old veteran announced hanging up his political boots. His son Mahendra Vaghela and supporting legislators, who had walked out of the Congress with him, joined BJP en masse, mostly against his wishes.

“Bapu may claim to have quit politics but politics inside him has never left him,” a senior politician associated with Vaghela said. The buzz in the state is that Vaghela is now veering towards his long-time friend and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar's party, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

The NCP, a relatively marginal player has just one legislator in the current Assembly. The NCP, that had announced support for Ahmed Patel in Rajya Sabha polls, ended up voting against him in the Rajya Sabha elections of 2017. They had also cut off their alliance with the Congress in the state to fight the Assembly polls on their own.

“Bapu has been seeking to offer a non-BJP and non-Congress political option to electorates in the state for a long time. After his Rashtriya Janata Party and Jan Vikalp Morcha, joining hands with the NCP would be his third such experiment. For the NCP, which does not have any pan-Gujarat leader, Vaghela may just be the right answer,” another senior BJP leader said.

“To us, he is irrelevant but his alliance with NCP will help us by eating into Congress votes.”

The man on his part is maintaining a stoic silence on the issue.

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