A prickly marriage of convenience
In the February 1995 assembly election, the BJP had won 121 seats and formed, for the first time, a government in Gujarat under the leadership of Keshubhai Patel. But just seven months later, a festering revolt by Shankarsinh Vaghela -- who felt slighted that the BJP leadership had ignored his claim to the chief ministership and selected Patel -- broke out. Vaghela won over 48 BJP legislators and spirited them by chartered plane to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh.
Later, after senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee intervened, Patel was replaced by Suresh Mehta as chief minister on October 10, 1995, and an expulsion order against Vaghela was withdrawn.
Keshubhai had his revenge just seven months later. His supporters ensured thaat Vaghela lost the Godhra Lok Sabha seat and that nine of the renegade's supporters were beaten as well. Keshubhai's supporters also stripped the dhoti off senior BJP minister Atmaram Patel, who stood by Vaghela, soon after then prime minister Vajpayee had addressed a public meeting in Ahmedabad on May 20, 1996.
To avenge the humiliation suffered by him and his supporters, Vaghela organised a revolt against the Suresh Mehta government and, with backing from the Congress, brought down the BJP government on September 19, 1996. The minority Vaghela ministry was installed with Congress support on October 23, 1996.
Soon, Congress legislators were complaining about Vaghela's style of functioning. But the spectre of the BJP, which the Congress feared could still form a government with defectors from Vaghela's group, kept the prickly marriage of convenience going. Till Monday.
During a recent visit to Ahmedabad, Sitaram Kesri, in a frontal attack on Vaghela and his ministry, described it as "corrupt" at a public rally. He also described Vaghela as characterless. Later, he sent a high-level All-India Congress Committee, led by Pranab Mukherjee, to take stock of the situation, This was when Vaghela began trying to make a serious effort at peace with the Congress. The only reason the Congress was reluctant to act was that the sitting legislators still have to complete two-and-a-half years of their five year term. Most of them were averse to immediate elections.
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