'The people of Gujarat are fed up with the BJP.'
Prakash Bhandari reports.
Rajasthan's Health Minister Raghu Sharma was a surprising choice by the All India Congress Committee to supervise Congress matters in Gujarat, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu.
His appointment came just before the Dadra and Nagar Haveli Lok Sabha by-election on October 30.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli has a very large Marathi speaking population and the seat fell vacant because of the death through suicide of Independent MP Mohan Delkar.
On February 22, Delkar allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself at a hotel in south Mumbai.
Delkar, who had been a member of both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party at different times in his political career, was elected seven times to the Lok Sabha from the Dadra and Nagar Haveli constituency.
In 2019, he won the seat as an Independent candidate.
This will be the first election to be held after the unification of the UTs of Daman, Diu, and Dadra Nagar Haveli last year that are geographically aligned with Gujarat and have two Lok Sabha constituencies between them.
The AICC, after Sharma's appointment, announced Mahesh Kumar Balu Bhai Dhodi as the Congress candidate for the Dadra and Nagar Haveli by-election.
The BJP announced Mahesh Gavit as its candidate.
Kalaben Delkar, the late Mohan Delkar's wife, is the Shiv Sena candidate.
This will be the first Lok Sabha election for Mahesh Dhodi, Kalaben Delkar and Mahesh Gavit, who quit his job as a Central Reserve Police Force sub-inspector in 2014 to join politics.
After Mohan Delkar was found hanging in a room in a hotel on Marine Drive in south Mumbai on February 22, based on an FIR filed by his son Abhinav, the Mumbai police booked incumbent administrator of Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep, Praful Khoda Patel, District Magistrate Sandeep Singh, then superintendent of police Sharad Darade, deputy DM Apurva Sharma, sub-divisional officer Manasvi Jain, police inspector Manoj Patel, Dadra and Nagar Haveli Law Secretary Rohit Yadav, BJP leader Fatehsinh Chauhan and Dilip Patel (Talati) for abetment to suicide, criminal intimidation and other sections of the Indian Penal Code as well as under sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, on March 10.
The Mumbai police's special investigation team has so far recorded the statements of some 16 witnesses in the case, according to sources.
Delkar's family members allege that he was questioned and mentally tortured by district officials and the police at the BJP's behest and a much harassed Delkar chose to die by suicide.
There is sympathy for the Delkar family and the Shiv Sena chose to field Delkar's wife after she refused an offer to contest for herself or her son Abhinav from the Congress.
Raghu Sharma, who handled the Covid pandemic in Rajasthan efficiently, has been a member of the Lok Sabha. He also served as president of the state youth Congress and Pradesh Congress general secretary. Sharma, 63, was elected twice to the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha from the Kekri constituency in Ajmer district.
The AICC chose to appoint Sharma in charge of a state even though he is not a party's general secretary. Only AICC general secretaries are assigned charge of a state.
and assigned a huge brief -- supervising Congress affairs in Gujarat, which is scheduled to go to the polls in December 2022; Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu -- even though he is not a party general secretary.
In political circles in Jaipur, it's being said that Raghu Sharma is a stand-in for Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who supervised the Congress's impressive electoral performance in the 2017 assembly election against the formidable BJP which has ruled Gujarat since 1995.
"I was asked by the party to go to Gujarat and I had to obey the party's order," says Sharma. "Yes, I was called by Rahulji to meet him and was asked to take up the Gujarat assignment."
"I dutifully accepted my leader's orders," he adds. "I have not been asked to quit my job. I shall continue to hold both jobs till I am asked to, but for me a ministerial position has no meaning when I am given the organisational task."
Sharma was apparently not the first choice for this assignment. Rahul Gandhi wanted Sachin Pilot to go to Gujarat and was ready to appoint him an AICC general secretary, but Pilot is not not keen to take up any organisational position at the Centre and wants to concentrate on Rajasthan.
It is likely that Pilot will be reappointed PCC president, a position from which he was removed in July 2020 following his supporters's rebellion against Gehlot.
"After reaching Ahmedabad and talking to the senior party leaders," says Sharma, "I feel the people of Gujarat are fed up with the BJP that has been ruling the state for 26 years."
"The people want a change and this change would be for better in a state which is one of the strongest states economically. I have come to Gujarat with the sole aim of dethroning the BJP and install a Congress government in the state."
"I feel all the party cadre should work hard to oust the BJP and all I can say now is the BJP is beatable."
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com