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Congress in Gujarat: Lost in the shadows

Thursday March 24, 2011 03:23:27 PM, R.K. Misra, IANS

Gandhinagar: There is growing concern in some Congress quarters in Gujarat whether the party high command has given up on the state unit after the repeated drubbing it received in the assembly elections.

The party has been in the shadows ever since Narendra Modi came to power in October 2001 and many leaders feel it's time to put the act together to make a return to the position it once enjoyed.

With the assembly elections due in Gujarat in 2012, the Congress top brass seems to be gripped by an unexplained drift in the state party while its principal opponent, Modi, is busy galvanising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and streamlining government functioning to deliver the desired results.

The appointment of Arjun Modvadia as state Congress president early this month came after the high command had sat quiet for almost five months following the resignation submitted by Siddarth Patel, son of former chief minister Chimanbhai Patel, from the post.

Patel quit last year accepting responsibility for the party's poor showing after the BJP maintained its winning spree with landslide victories in the local bodies elections held in October.

Later the same day, Congress legislature party leader Shaktisinh Gohil also resigned from his post.

Gohil was asked to continue while Patel was replaced by Modvadia, who had earlier done a stint as leader of the opposition in the assembly soon after he was elected to the house for the first time in 2002.

Modvadia, a two-time MLA from Porbandar, has taken over at a time when the morale of the grassroot workers has plummeted under incessant attacks from an aggressive BJP party set-up operating under the watchful eyes of Modi.

The BJP had decisively won all the six municipal corporations of Gujarat - Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar.

The ruling party also bagged 22 of the 24 district panchayats, except Gandhinagar and Tapi in south Gujarat, improving its tally from 17 against the Congress' seven district panchayats.

Nobody knows the state of affairs in Gujarat better than Modvadia himself.

"In my first address after taking charge, I have stressed on the need for unity and a sharper focus on the grassroots to bring the Congress to the fore in the next elections. And this is exactly what I propose to do," he says.

The Gujarat BJP leaders, however, see no cause for alarm in the new appointment.

"It's at best a reshuffle of the existing pack, a old-wine-in-new-bottle syndrome", says a party spokesperson.

According to him, too many leaders working at cross purposes is the bane of the Congress in Gujarat.

Modvadia is considered to be the choice of Ahmed Patel, the political advisor to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He wields considerable influence over the party's affairs in the state.

He is reported to have pipped former union textile minister Shankersinh Vaghela to the post. Vaghela wanted a free hand with no interference in his functioning.

While a bitterly divided Gujarat Congress continues seeking help from Delhi, the BJP has already commenced preparations for the 2012 polls.

Insiders say Modi, Gujarat's longest serving chief minister, now wants to overtake former Congress chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki's record of bagging 149 of the 182 seats in the assembly.

Solanki, who was chief minister for the first time in 1976, went on to hold the post three times in the 1980s.

Modi has turned both man-made and enforced political errors into recipes for success.

The Godhra train carnage of 2002 and the state-wide communal riots in fact helped his political moves. Modi's state-wide yatra leading to the assembly polls later in the year helped the BJP bag 126 seats, leaving the Congress with 51, in a total of 182 seats.

Gujarat's Congress leaders tend to put the blame on Ahmed Patel.

"He is the proverbial banyan tree under which nothing else grows," a party leader told IANS.

The last time the Congress came to power in Gujarat on its own was when Madhavsinh Solanki led it to victory in the mid-1980s.

(R.K. Misra can be reached at





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