GANDHINAGAR: After months of discussions and haggling over his role in the coming Assembly elections, maverick Gujarat Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela on Friday quit the party with the same sinking sense of deja vu of the 1990s when he left the BJP that he had resurrected in the state.
In what could come as a relief for the Congress, Bapu, as Vaghela is fondly called by his massive band of supporters, declared that he was not joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
A veteran of Gujarat politics, Vaghela, who had snapped ties with the BJP in the late 1990s to set up his own party that later merged with the Congress, had been telling the party high command to hand over reins of the December election battle to him.
If in 1997 Vaghela publicly tore apart a BJP letter sacking him in a similar public show of strength, on Friday Bapu said, swallowing the lump in his throat: "I don't compromise, and you all should also never compromise when it comes to your self-respect.
"It is my destiny (being expelled) but I am not the one to retire. Bapus never retire. Fighting against injustice is my nature, even if it means losing everything in the process," he said.
Addressing a gathering of at least 10,000 cheering supporters here on his 77th birthday, Vaghela also said he will resign as Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly and quit as MLA after the Rajya Sabha election of August 8.
As the crowds cheered "dekho, dekho kaun aaya, Gujarat ka sher aaya" and "Bapu tum aage baddho, hum tumhare saath hain", he claimed he was a victim of intra-party conspiracy, due to which the party had shown him the door.
"My high command is nowhere else but it is you. You are not for us, we are for you," Bapu said, and promised his supporters and people at large that he was for them "whenever needed, for whatever".
Looking hurt but resolute, Vaghela declared: "I am 77 Not Out." The venue then echoed with deafening cheering and whistling.
The signature Congress stoll was out and replaced by a shining cobalt blue one. Sporting a blue-and-red bright turban, Bapu ambled into the venue on grounds inside the Town Hall complex with tom-tomming of Hollywood-like drums playing in the backdrop.
He said the Congress did not even wait to hear what he would say at Friday's event before taking the decision to throw him out. He termed it a case of "vinashkale vipareet budhdhi".
"I became a victim of intra-party conspiracy, be it the BJP, be it the Congress. Sacking someone may satisfy your ego but nothing beyond that," he said. "Behave like a statesman, not a politician."
Referring to speculation that he may rejoin the BJP, he taunted the Congress leadership, hinting at Congress President Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel: "You have taken BJP's 'supari', I have not. You are talking about discipline?"
"There was a conspiracy to get me expelled. I told Rahul Gandhi about this, he said this must be to accommodate someone else.
"I had told Soniaji 'mein aapka bharosa nahi todunga' (I will not break your trust). I went to meet her, told her thanks a lot Madam for everything. I may not remain with the party after some time but don't worry I am not going anywhere. I am not joining the BJP," Vaghela said.
"I am going to resign today as Leader of Opposition. I am a free bird. I am relieving the Congress of me, and I release myself from the Congress.
On Thursday evening, the Gujarat Congress issued a warning to Vaghela not to "play any politics" under the guise of his birthday celebrations with his supporters and legislators.
He was also told that his public utterances would not be tolerated any further.