The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress mulls Vaghela sack

New Delhi, July 12: Fresh from its Shimla resolve to offer itself as the nucleus of a secular alternative to the BJP-led NDA for the next Lok Sabha polls, the Congress may shed its “soft Hindutva” face in Gujarat.

The central leadership is believed to be considering replacing Shankersinh Vaghela as the Gujarat Congress president. Vaghela, a long-time RSS pracharak and senior BJP leader till 1996 when he revolted against deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and split the Gujarat party, was passed the mantle a few months before last December’s Assembly polls to counter Narendra Modi.

The Gujarat party leadership question is understood to have figured prominently during former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s interaction with state Congress leaders in Ahmedabad a few days before the Shimla session. He had assured the state leaders that concrete steps would be taken to rejuvenate the unit soon after the session.

Almost all sections of the party in the state apparently conveyed to Deshmukh, who is in charge of Gujarat, that Vaghela should be replaced. They argued that his “soft Hindutva” image was responsible for the party’s debacle in the bitterly fought polls last year.

Now that the Shimla session is behind the party, the Gujarat leaders are actively lobbying for a change in the state leadership. Though they were not invited, several senior state leaders landed in Shimla to canvass support.

Sensing the possibility of Vaghela’s replacement, former Union minister Urmilaben Patel is believed to be lobbying for the job. Today she met several Congress leaders in the capital. Her supporters have argued that the next Gujarat party chief should be from the influential Patel community. Also in the race is MP and Vaghela loyalist Madhusudhan Mistry. Vaghela is believed to be propping Mistry up in case the high command replaces him.

However, younger leaders in the state are advocating a generational change. At least two names are being mentioned in this regard — veteran leader Madhavsinh Solanki’s son Bharat and Urmilaben’s son Sidharth.

The two represent two distinct factions in the state Congress. The younger Solanki is part of the original Congress that his father led for a long time while Sidharth represents the erstwhile Chimanbhai Patel group that came into the party as a result of the Janata Dal’s merger in the early 1990s.

Sources said Ahmad Patel, party chief Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, would have a decisive say in whatever decision the high command takes to revamp the party in his home state.

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