Ahmedabad, Feb. 25: A Congress MLA, who was once caught on camera waving a gun at a highway toll attendant after an altercation over identity papers, was set to switch loyalties to Narendra Modi, apparently unhappy at not being made his party’s House leader.
Sources said Vitthal Radadiya, whose influence ensured a sizeable turnout for a rally Sonia Gandhi addressed last year, would join the BJP “very soon” along with his son Jayesh, also a Congress MLA.
Radadiya, a former BJP MLA who had a closed-door meeting with the chief minister yesterday, confirmed he was on his way back to his old party. “Yes,” he said, “I have made up my mind to join the BJP.”
The father-son duo, who have not been attending the ongoing budget session of the Assembly, resigned today as Congress MLAs.
“We welcome him. He is a powerful leader,” BJP spokesperson Vijay Rupani said, claiming Radadiya was joining the party “unconditionally”.
Sources said Radadiya’s exit was likely to weaken the Congress further in Saurashtra, where the party’s state unit president, Arjun Modhwadia, and former CLP leader Shaktisinh Gohil both lost in the December elections.
Radadiya will be the second influential Patel leader to ditch the Congress since Narhari Amin left the party to join the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections.
The Patels account for 18-20 per cent of the state’s electorate.
Radadiya’s exit, along with that of his son, reduces the Congress’s Assembly strength to 58. The BJP has 115 in the 182-member House.
The BJP spokesperson said Radadiya and his son would re-contest on BJP tickets, as required under the provisions of the anti-defection law.
A mass leader and crowd-puller, Radadiya had ensured a large gathering when Sonia campaigned in Rajkot ahead of the elections. Modhwadia, however, sought to play down the likely impact of his exit, describing the move as “sheer opportunism”.
“It is his choice, his decision,” the state Congress chief said. “We can do nothing about it.”
He said he had no idea why Radadiya was unhappy but added that he seemed to have made up his mind.
The Congress leader hinted that Radadiya had no choice as he was facing several cases relating to “his political lifeline” — the co-operative sector.
Radadiya is the chairperson of the Rajkot District Co-operative Bank, one of the largest banks in Saurashtra with more than two lakh members. He also runs educational institutions.
Moreover, Modhwadia added, Radadiya has never been loyal to any party.
Radadiya won his first election as an Independent from Dhoraji in 1990 and retained the seat as a BJP candidate in the next elections in 1995 when the BJP formed the government under Keshubhai Patel.
Known to be loyal to former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela, Radadiya helped his mentor topple the Patel government in 1996. He later joined the Vaghela-led RJP, which merged with the Congress in 1998.
Radadiya, who has been winning elections from his stronghold, resigned as Porbandar MP after he won the Dhoraji Assembly seat in the December elections.
Sources said he chose to contest the Assembly election, expecting that he would be made leader of the Opposition.
“Radadiya told me he was extremely unhappy with the Congress. He felt cheated when he was not appointed CLP leader,” Amin said.
Some sources said Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and Vaghela had earlier promised Radadiya that he would be made a junior Union minister.
Congress sources said Radadiya couldn’t possibly be inducted in the Union cabinet after the controversy over the toll plaza incident in October, when he was caught on camera brandishing his gun and creating a ruckus that triggered snarls.
Radadiya, known for his aggressive ways, said he “lost his cool” after the attendant suggested he was a “fake” MP.