The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Off a rath, on to a horse to stall Modi

Phagvel (Gujarat), Sept. 2: His fast slowed down Narendra Modi’s rath yatra. Today, Shankersinh Vaghela hit the road with his own.

The Gujarat Congress chief reached this village, about 85 km from Ahmedabad, to begin his 24-hour token fast. Modi was to have launched his Gaurav yatra from this village on Tuesday, but has postponed it to Saturday.

Vaghela began his yatra from Singharwa village, near Ahmedabad, which falls under his parliamentary constituency, Kapadwanj. He was joined by his supporters from the Bhathi Sena, a Kshatriya outfit, and some Congress leaders. The crowd was impressive, considering that they had joined the procession defying Section 144, which was clamped on the village. However, no one was arrested.

The Congress chief got a hero’s welcome, not only in this Kshatriya-dominated village, a pilgrim centre of the Kshatriya community of 40-odd adjoining villages, but along the route as well. His supporters lined up to hail the “lion of Gujarat” who has vowed not to rest till the caretaker chief minister suspends his Gaurav yatra “permanently”.

Vaghela reached out, telling people why Modi’s Gaurav yatra was a kalan (disgrace) yatra. As he reached Phagvel, he got down from the rath to mount a horse, a Kshatriya tradition.

Some of his supporters brandished swords. Others tore down BJP posters pasted on the huge gate that leads to the Bhathiji temple, in memory of a Kshatriya who died while trying to protect cows being taken for slaughter about 200 years ago.

The BJP is politically untouchable in this part of Vaghela’s constituency. Modi has no caste appeal here — a reason why forces had to be deployed in the village to ensure that no one disrupted his yatra. Though the Gaurav yatra has been deferred, the forces have not been withdrawn.

As he started his fast, Vaghela said he was not satisfied with Modi’s decision to postpone the yatra. “He should cancel the yatra and announce that he would not revive it,” he said.

The state Congress chief advised government officials not to succumb to pressure from their political masters and even issued a veiled threat to those taking orders from the BJP. Vaghela said he would not spare them when the Congress comes to power.

Asked if his supporters were still determined to block the Gaurav rath, he said: “I will announce it tomorrow. I will be consulting my supporters and senior Congress leaders tonight. The next course of action will be announced tomorrow when I end my token fast.”

After nightlong bhajan and kirtan in the temple, Vaghela will hoist a flag tomorrow. The Kshatriya community will felicitate him for becoming state Congress president, a long-standing wish of the villagers.

Vaghela blasted Modi for saying he had not sought permission for his programme. “He is talking rubbish,” he said, adding that Modi may not even realise what he is saying. “Perhaps, he thinks I need his permission to visit the village in my constituency and to have darshan of Bhathiji. May good sense prevail on him.”

Bhathi Sena chief Dinesh Thakor slammed the government for deploying such a massive force in the village. “Why do we need such security arrangements'” he asked. “Isn’t it a waste of resources'”

Asked if his men would block Modi’s rath, he said: “We have no such programme. Our programme will be over tomorrow.” He also said the Sena was neither against the yatra, nor would it support it.

Senior Congress leader and MP Madhusudan Mistry, however, indicated that Vaghela was in no mood to relent. “We may do nothing,” he said. “But what if the villagers on their own come on the road to stop Modi’s rath'”

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