Nothing sums up the state of the Congress in Gujarat better than the fact that the principal opposition is without a legislature party head a day before the first session of the newly elected Gujarat Vidhan Sabha commences here on Tuesday, Jan 22.
Complete confusion rules in the rank of the Congress opposition which had 61 elected members in a House of 182, including two members of Parliament. While one, Somabhai Patel quit his Limbdi Vidhan Sabha seat , the second, Porbandar MP, Vithal Radadia, chose to defy the party diktat and has decided to retain his Dhoraji Vidhan Sabha seat. Another of its party legislators, Savita Khant elected from Modva Hadaf in Panchmahals district, died immediately after, thus reducing the Congress tally in the State Assembly to 59.
The post of leader of the opposition fell vacant because Shaktisinh Gohil who occupied it in the outgoing Assembly was defeated from Bhavnagar rural as was state party chief Arjun Modvadia from Porbandar and another party big-wig Siddartha Patel, son of former chief minister Chimanbhai Patel from Dabhoi.
Though former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela is considered the front runner for the post of leader of the opposition, the situation has been complicated by Vithal Radadia throwing his hat in the ring. Radadia’s name was doing the rounds prominently for being included in the union cabinet during the last reshuffle but after his gun toting act at a national highway toll booth put paid to his chances in Delhi. Belonging to the Patidar community, Radadia is now brandishing his claim to head the legislature party in Gujarat. Unconfirmed reports say that he has also opened a line to the BJP in a bid to put pressure on the party leadership which was nonplussed after another Patidar leader, Narhari Amin quit the party in a huff on being denied a party ticket in the just concluded elections. Radadia’s son, Jayesh, was also elected to the Vidhan Sabha from Jetpur recently. In case both quit the party, Congress will be down to 57 seats.
In Vaghela’s case, he is already the chairman of the ITDC and enjoys the status of a cabinet minister. It is not known whether he would be prepared to give up his present cushy job to return to a Vidhan Sabha where his arch political rival, chief minister Narendra Modi rules the roost. Vaghela and Modi enjoyed kinship in their days as grassroot workers during the RSS-Jan Sangh days before they fell out after the party came to power in Gujarat in 1995 with Keshubhai Patel becoming the chief minister. Vaghela rebelled later the same year, triggering off a series of events that led him to the Congress via a regional outfit that he founded.
As of now, there are numerous contenders for the post which occupies the rank, pay and perks of a cabinet minister and the party top brass is yet to make up its mind, pre-occupied as it has been with its Jaipur conclave. This has led to a scenario which is showing the Congress in poor light as it has been unable to decide its legislature party leader even a day before the two day session commenced on Tuesday with an address by the governor Dr Kamala Beniwal .
While the party remains leaderless, all important Panchayat elections are just about 10 days away. One thousand four hundred and twenty seven Village Panchayats will go to polls on February 3 and 75 nagar palikas in the state a week later. Additionally, mid term polls are due in Talala Nagarpalika and two seats of the Junagadh municipal corporation as well as by-elections to 15 seats of 11 Nagarpalikas are also lined up alongside. In figurative terms , apart from 1427 posts of sarpanches, a total of 14,270 panchayat seats are up for grabs in these elections with their fate in the hands of a total polling electorate of 34,83,307 voters. Similarly, the fate of the total 644 Nagarpalika seats will be in the hands of 1,73,854 voters while 37,000 voters will decide the fate of the remaining 15 seats.
Besides Vaghela and Radadia, others whose names are in the reckoning are tribal leader Mohansinh Rathwa, Patidar leader Raghavji Patel and Una legislator Punjabhai Vansh. The Congress apart, the Gujarat Parivartan Party of Keshubhai Patel and the NCP have two seats each.