Gujarat’s principal Opposition party, the Congress, apparently remains mired in controversies and caught up in firefighting as the State inches closer to the crucial Assembly polls to be held in December this year.
After a series of defections, including former three-time legislator Ashwin Kotwal and 29-year-old Patidar quota agitation leader Hardik Patel, the Congress in Gujarat now stares at other likely defections ahead of the Assembly polls.
The trigger for more defections comes from the seven legislators from Gujarat who voted for the NDA’s Presidential candidate Draupadi Murmu.
Ms. Murmu, who won the election, got 121 votes, 10 more than the BJP’s strength of 111 in the State Assembly. Of the 10 additional votes that she secured, one was that of a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA and two others could be from the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which indicates that at least seven Congress MLAs voted for her.
The opposition-backed candidate and former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha secured 57 of the total 178 votes cast in Gujarat.
“We are shocked by the details which emerged during the counting of votes yesterday. Our leadership has launched an inquiry to find out the truth,” State Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said when asked about the issue.
Minority appeasement earns Patidars wrath
As the party leadership mulled over the cross-voting and the chances of seven legislators defecting to the ruling party ahead of the polls, another controversy hit the State unit. This time, a group of Bajrang Dal workers gathered outside the State Congress office in Ahmedabad and stuck posters on the walls of the party headquarters which said the party office has been renamed “Haj House” after the purported remarks of the State Congress president on the interests and welfare of minorities.
Addressing Congress workers in a programme organised by the party’s minority wing, State Congress chief Jagdish Thakor had said that the party always stood by the welfare of the minorities and it would not deviate from its position even if it meant electoral defeat.
His remarks invited the wrath of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) outfits calling it “appeasement” of Muslims, and subsequently, around 25-30 Bajarang Dal workers gathered outside the party office and stuck posters calling the office “Haj House”.
After the controversy, former Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhvadia accused the BJP of “distorting the remarks of the Congress president” to polarise voters ahead of the Assembly polls.
“For BJP, there is nothing to show in terms of governance and therefore it has to resort to polarisation,” he said, adding that “there was nothing objectionable in what Jagdish Thakor said in his remarks”.
As the controversy continued, party legislator and recently appointed working president Lalit Vasoya, a Patidar leader from the Saurashtra region, demanded an apology from his colleague and senior party leader Kadir Pirzada from Surat, whose remarks at a programme of the minority cell had triggered sharp reactions. In his speech, Mr. Pirzada, who was made the working president of the party recently, had appealed to the party leadership to provide more representation of the Muslims in the State.
“The party runs after Hardik Patel and Naresh Patel for 11% votes. You have forgotten that in the past, with minority votes Congress was forming the government. The party should reach out to the minorities, connect with them, and with their support, it can form the government,” he had said.
His statements did not go down well with the Patidar leaders of the party, who demanded an apology. Hurt and aggrieved, Congress MLA Lalit Vasoya wrote a letter to Mr. Thakor, seeking an apology from Mr. Pirzada.
“The party’s working president has made a statement against Patidars, the statement has hurt the sentiments of the Patidar community and we are angry with it. Party’s responsible office bearers’ statement is proving counter productive, it is better party passes instructions to party leaders to avoid such statements,” Mr. Vasoya said.
Another Patidar leader, Dinesh Bambhaniya, had threatened to boycott and oppose Congress leaders in public if the working president did not apologise for the statement against Patidars and Patidar leaders.
Mr. Pirzada subsequently clarified that he had never meant to hurt the sentiments or feelings of any community and apologised to the Patidars if they had found his remarks hurtful.