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Since 1st March, 1999
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Modi mocked: Togadia loyalist won’t take oath

Gandhinagar, Aug. 1: Narendra Modi thought his timing was perfect. It was, but his choice was wrong.

In an open slap in the face of the Gujarat chief minister, one of his known critics refused to take oath at the swearing-in Modi had set for today to expand his cabinet.

When his name was called, Govardhan Zadaphia folded his hands and said he was not interested in joining the cabinet.

“I feel that my workers cannot get justice in the present conditions (in Gujarat). I am not keen to be part of the cabinet. I am and will remain a soldier of the BJP and will work for the party,” Zadaphia, who is close to Modi’s arch rival Keshubhai Patel, said after the swearing-in where 11 MLAs were inducted as ministers of state.

He said the decision was his “own” and he had thought about it all night.

For Modi, the public snub showed how wrong he was in assuming that he had won the war against the dissidents who have been clamouring for his removal.

When the function began in Raj Bhavan at 10 this the morning, the chief minister must have thought he had planned it to perfection. Patel was away in the US and BJP central leaders were busy on another front ' L.K. Advani’s survival as party chief.

It was, Modi reckoned, the ideal time to consolidate his position through a cabinet expansion, the first since he took charge in December 2002. Moreover, 11 districts had remained unrepresented in the cabinet.

Zadaphia, too, had played along. Last night, when a party functionary called him to congratulate, he found the MLA “very happy” at being offered the ministerial berth. This morning he was a changed man, defiant and aggressive.

Senior cabinet minister Ashok Bhatt tried his best to persuade Zadaphia, who was sitting in the front row, but the MLA stuck to his decision. “If he did not want to join the cabinet, he could have stayed away. He should not have created a scene. He came with the intention to embarrass the chief minister,” said a party insider.

Although Zadaphia said the decision was his own, many in the party say he was instructed by his mentor, VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia, who is annoyed with Modi for supporting Advani.

Togadia, however, claimed he did not know that Zadaphia had refused to take oath. “I have absolutely no idea why he did what he did,” the VHP leader said.

Zadaphia later rushed to the MLAs’ quarters where hundreds of supporters had gathered to greet him. Boosted by their presence, he blasted the chief minister for his autocratic style and not taking senior leaders like Patel, Kashiram Rana, Suresh Mehta and Vallab Kathiria into confidence.

Neither Mehta, a former chief minister, nor Rana, a former Union minister, was present at the swearing-in. Both leaders, along with Patel, also a former chief minister, had earlier complained against Modi to the high command and sought his removal.

Zadaphia said he had refused to join the government because the common man cannot “approach” a minister. “I do not want to become a minister who is inaccessible because of the artificial barriers,” he added.

Asked why he attended the function when he had decided not to join, Zadaphia said he wanted to convey his displeasure in public. He denied he was bargaining for an important ministry. “Modi himself had called me last night,” he said.

“I do not think that what I did amounts to indiscipline,” he said about the show-cause notice served by the party.

Among those who took oath today was controversial MLA Purshottam Solanki, who had once called Modi a “Hitler”. The MLA from Bhavnagar has a string of criminal cases against him.

The other 10 are Bharat Barot, Jasuben Korat, Ratibhai Sureja, Mulubhai Bera, Jaswant Sinh Bhabhor, B.B. Lakhavala, Sunder Sinh Chauhan, Chatatrasinh Mori, C.D. Patel and Harjivanbhai Patel.

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