The original coup: Genesis of resort politics in India


As they approached the airport, the group of 44 legislators were clueless. They had set out to meet the governor. Or at least that’s what they had thought. Destinations kept on changing along the route. From Governor’s house to a luxurious hotel and then to airport. But as they entered the chartered plane from Damaniya airlines, glistening in the dusty September dusk, they learnt that the destination was Delhi.

The September evening was however scripting the original Indian number game of thrones for the first time, keeping its most foot soldiers in total darkness. Two men knew it all in the plane. Harshad Brahmbhatt, the personal assistant of Shankersinh Vaghela and the Pilot of the plane. They were flying to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and in the process laying the foundation of the so called “resort politics” of contemporary India.

These 44 BJP MLAs under the leadership of Atmaram Patel had submitted a memorandum to the governor Naresh Chandra three days back, withdrawing their support from Keshubhai Patel led first BJP government in Gujarat and the pressure on them was mounting. BJP had formed the first government in the state winning 121 out of 182 assembly seats in the state in 1995 assembly election. With BJP Gujarat secretary (Org) Narendra Modi throwing his weight behind Patel Patriarch Keshubhai Patel, who had cemented the saffron party’s standing in Saurashtra and consolidated the powerful Patidar community under BJP’s flag, Keshubhai was made the Chief Minister, leaving Vaghela disillusioned and angry.

The selection of the cabinet also saw Vaghela loyalists deprived of seats much to the chagrin of their leader. The seeds of the first split of BJP was sown.

Rebellion

Once Keshubhai left Gujarat for US in September 1995. Just before leaving, he made appointments for various boards and corporations in the state and in that list, Amit Shah was given State Finance Corporation, Anandiben Patel was allotted Gujarat Agro while CR Patil got

leaving the supporters of Vaghela high and dry.

With these appointment serving as trigger, Vaghela set the wheels in motion with Atmaram Patel leading a group of MLAs to Raj Bhavan to submit a memorandum of MLAs withdrawing support from Keshubhai led government. Accordingly, The governor sought a floor test on October 5,1995. Shankersinh Vaghela was now under no illusion. He knew, his supporter MLAs had to be protected at all cost if he was to turn the table. But keeping his flock together wasn’t an easy task. First the MLAs were herded to his ancestral village of Vasan, but about a dozen of them slipped away.

Then they were taken to a farm house of a Congress sympathiser in Charda village of Mansa block of Gandhinagar where a couple of them managed to slip while a huge mob of BJP supporters gathered to free the rest, leading to a potentially violent situation simmer. Vaghela knew that he had to act fast and get the MLAs out of the state. His port of call was Congress Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh, who was only too eager to assist Vaghela to pull down the first BJP government in Gujarat. “Come over to Madhya Pradesh. Arrangements will be made in Khajuraho,” Singh told Vaghela, and the stage was set for the first great escape.

With the crowd getting restive outside farmhouse where MLAs were stationed, Brahmbhatt made a call to Governor asking for police protection for the legislators, which was immediately provided. The legislators were taken in a bus protected by elaborate police contingent and moved out of the farm house. Both the police and the MLAs were told that they were on their way to Governor’s House. As the convoy reached Vasan village, Vaghela joined. When the cavalcade reached Governor’s House, the police was told that the rendezvous time with the Governor has elapsed and the legislators will have to be taken to Hotel Taj near the Airport. Acting under the direction of the governor, Police had to oblige.

But Vaghela still wasn’t done. As they approached the Hotel, Vaghela asked the cavalcade to move towards Airport and said that the legislators will go to Delhi to make a presentation, and got the bus move to airport. However, the trouble’s were still not over. With a flat tyre, the plane took some time to get ready to fly and by that time it was already dark and Khajuraho airport back then had no arrangement for a night landing. Vaghela worked the phone lines with the then aviation minister to get the requisite lighting done and finally ensured that his flock landing there.

With MLAs tucked away beyond the reach of BJP, it was time for Vaghela to negotiate with the party high command, that was getting desperate to quell the rebellion. Party chief Atal Bihari Vajpayee intervened and a compromise was struck. Keeping aside Patel and Vaghela, Suresh Mehta was made the Chief Minister and Party’s Organisational Secretary Narendra Modi moved out of Gujarat as a part of the deal. Modi’s ouster from Gujarat was not taken kindly by the BJP workers and Vajpayee faced some sloganeering at Gandhinagar Circuit House after the decision was made public.

On September 20, 1995, Keshubhai Patel tendered his resignation and Suresh Mehta staked his claim as the Chief Minister.

Fallout
With Mehta, the former judicial officer and a Vajpayee loyalist becoming Chief Minister, some of Vaghela’s men did find their place in the cabinet, but the chasm between the party and rebells remained. Eventually the rebels who went to Khajuraho came to be called as the Khajurias while those who toed the party line and stayed back earned the epithet of Hajurias. The disaffection between the groups continued to brew in the rolling party as the year came to an end. In early 1996, BJP for the first time managed the maximum seats in Lok Sabha and Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister. A decision was taken to felicitate Vajpayee in the Stadium Ground in Ahmedabad. After the programme, BJP workers under a predesigned move attacked the supporters of Vaghela.

Senior leader Dattaji Chirandas was beaten up while elderly Atmaram Patel was stripped off his Dhoti on an arterial road of Ahmedabad. Vaghela’s exit from BJP was a matter of time then. Soon he formed his own party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and engineered the fall of Suresh Mehta government in connivance with Governor Krishnapal Sinh and the then deputy speaker, Congress MLA Chandu Dabhi and became the Chief Minister of Gujarat. By 1998, he merged his party with Congress. Even though, Congress made Vaghela the state president, union minister and leader of opposition, he remained a perpetual outsider in the party for close to seventeen years and was never accepted by the rank and file.

Epilogue

Tables finally turned for Shankersinh Vaghela in 2014 once BJP cornered clear majority in Loksabha and the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India. The same man, whom Vaghela had ousted from Gujarat back in 1995, left Gujarat once again only for a reason far more powerful than Vaghela had dreamt of. By 2017, Vaghela started making noise against Congress and engineered defection of his loyalists from Congress to BJP at a scale that raised major alarm within the party. In July 2017, Congress had to shift 41 of its MLAs to a resort in Bengaluru to save them from poaching, bringing Vaghela’s original game to a full circle. Vaghela soon left Congress for NCP only to desert the party quickly. However, his original strategy has now evolved into almost an acceptable political process in Indian democracy and being fine tuned at various levels.



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