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Shankersinh Vaghela Floats Third Front In Gujarat, Could Hurt Congress

GANDHINAGAR: Senior Gujarat politician Shankersinh Vaghela who dumped the Congress in July announced formation of a third front in the state, Jan Vikalp, for elections to the 182-member assembly later this year-end.

Seen as the architect of an elaborate plan that plunged the Congress into disarray to block senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel's election to the Rajya Sabha, the former Gujarat chief minister's decision to form a new party follows a familiar script.

Back in 1996 when he had walked out of the BJP, Mr Vaghela had floated the Rashtriya Janata Party but had later merged the party with the Congress.

Two decades later, Mr Vaghela, angry at not being projected as presumptive chief minister of the party for the assembly elections, led a revolt against the Congress in the run up to the Rajya Sabha polls. In all, 14 lawmakers including him quit the party. Barring Vaghela and his son Mahendrasinh Vaghela, the other lawmakers have joined the BJP.

The Jan Vikalp is expected to put up its candidates particularly in north Gujarat where Shankersinh wields significant influence in at least a dozen constituencies and is expected to dent the Congress' attempts to consolidate support in north and central Gujarat. Though Mr Vaghela belongs to upper caste Rajput caste but has enjoyed considerable clout in north and central Gujarat, particularly among the other backward classes.

For now, the former Gujarat Chief Minister is going to great lengths to stress that he wasn't aligning with either of the two big players in the state, the BJP or the Congress.

Mr Vaghela said the front - initially started by his supporters as a non-profit - will support independent candidates who register with it for the upcoming state assembly elections.

"It is a myth to say that an alternative political force can't work in Gujarat," he said.

But Mr Vaghela made it clear that he won't be attacking individuals.

"I have decided to support the campaign of Jan Vikalp but I won't criticise individuals such as Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi but criticise their political parties," he announced in Gandhinagar on Tuesday.

The Congress isn't surprised at the development. Top Congress leaders in Delhi had earlier predicted that Mr Vaghela would form a new outfit to split votes against the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for the last 20 years. Till a month back, the senior politician had, however, denied any plans to set up a new party.

The BJP, which is expected to be the biggest beneficiary, sought to play down the impact the 'third front' would have on the electoral outcome. "It doesn't matter to us.  More than any party, it will benefit him personally," said BJP leader Purshottam Rupala.

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