AHMEDABAD: Flanked by Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and a host of senior ministers, Congress' former stalwart Shankarsinh Vaghela, whose rebellion had shaken the party, today resigned as MLA but insisted he will not join the BJP.
Vaghela, the Kshatriya strong man with pockets of influence in Gujarat, tendered his resignation to Assembly Speaker Ramanlal Vora. The presence of Rupani, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and senior BJP ministers Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Pradeepsinh Jadeja triggered a fresh bout of speculation about his joining the saffron party.
However, the 77-year-old leder's persistent refrain was he would not join any political party.
"I was contemplating resigning as MLA for some time. I had a meeting with people of my constituency, Kapadvanj, and after informing them I resigned as MLA today," Vaghela told journalists.
On July 21, his 77th birthday, Vaghela had snapped his ties with the Congress and even resigned as the leader of the opposition. He had, however, not quit as an MLA. Vaghela, a former chief minister, had quit BJP and joined the Congress two decades back.
The presence of the leading lights of BJP today when he resigned sparked speculation about his return to the saffron party ahead of the Assembly polls scheduled later this year.
"The Congress' back has been broken in Gujarat after Vaghela's resignation. It has been weakened beyond imagination and the BJP will definitely benefit from it," Rupani said, but did not speak about the possibility of his return to BJP.
He said top BJP leaders and ministers were present as a senior legislator was putting in his papers.
"As I have said in the past, I will not be joining any political party. I will not retire from politics, but I will not join any political party," Vaghela said when asked why senior BJP leaders accompanied him when he went to tender his resignation.
Following Vaghela's resignation from the Congress, six of its MLAs had quit their membership of the state Assembly, with three of them walking over to the BJP.
He had unsuccessfully sought to ensure the defeat of Ahmed Patel, a veteran Congressman and political secretary to the party chief Sonia Gandhi, in the August 8 Rajya Sabha elections with the help of disgruntled MLAs.
The Congress recently expelled eight party MLAs, including Vaghela and his son Mahendrasinh, for cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls.
These dissident lawmakers were alleged to have voted against the Congress-backed opposition nominee Meira Kumar in the presidential election. Kumar could garner the votes of only 49 Congress MLAs when the party's strength in the Assembly was then 57.
Ten Congress MLAs, including Vaghela's son Mahendrasinh, have indicated they would join the BJP soon.
Vaghela was upset with the Congress' central leadership over not being declared the party's chief ministerial candidate for the Assembly elections likely in December. The party high command had, however, refused to yield to his demand.