Shankersinh Vaghela, 82, was the last political leader to experiment with a third force in Gujarat, launching the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) from a breakaway group of BJP rebels in 1996. It went on to form the government under his chief ministership, but could win only four seats in the one election it contested. Vaghela later merged his party with the Congress, only to quit the party as Leader of Opposition in 2017. He formed the Jan Vikalp Morcha, which failed to win any seats in the 2017 elections. He then joined the NCP, quitting it in a few months, and launched the Praja Shakti Democratic Party. Dismissive of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Vaghela is back to campaigning for the Congress.
You were the last political leader to launch a third front in Gujarat, but that did not succeed, why?
VAGHELA: Whoever has money and launches a party, those parties work. Only (a combination of) money and manpower work. Sometimes it depends on the individual… There was the Mahagujarat Janata party, Swatantra Party, they ran, but on money power.
Be it AAP or any party, it is not the party, but the money that is running it. Only someone who has crores of money, only they can run a party, otherwise no.
So you are saying that they (AAP) have that kind of money?
VAGHELA: Paisa only runs, nothing else does. The difference between Indian politics between 1947 and 1952 (when the first elections were held) and after, is that after Independence, those who entered politics, they were ones who had got beaten up, left their homes, parents, for a national cause. Maybe they heeded a call from Gandhiji, Sardarsaheb (Patel), Nehruji or Ambedkar, the spirit was national interest, not personal interest. But later, there was nothing to be fought for, there was a contest between leaders, even Gandhians. Post 1952, how else would Induchacha (Indulal Yagnik, who led the Mahagujarat movement for a separate Gujarat), Morarjibhai have come into the picture? Why would the Congress (O) and Congress (I) be formed (as the Congress split), if Gandhian philosophy reigned supreme?
All this ideology, promises, principles and policies are only talk. Post-Independence there is nobody with any principles — no party, no person. Power politics is the only policy and principle, and the priority is, what is in it for me, then the party, then the nation — contrary to what you are taught. I am saying this from experience, and there are several such examples in the country.
What was your experience with the party you launched, RJP?
VAGHELA: The RJP faced the same issue. The workers would ask for money, fuel… You should have Rs 500-1,000 crore, only then can you run (a party)… You need a minimum of Rs 100 crore a year… That kind of money was not there, and that was one reason for disbanding. Second, if the RJP had remained, it would have benefited the BJP by splitting Congress votes because we (the Congress had backed the RJP government) were together in the government. So, in the larger interest, I decided to merge (with the Congress). The party could have survived even today, anyhow, but I came into public life for public interest.
So when I saw the need, I disbanded the party, I had no money to run it. And if by running this party, it would benefit the party that you quit, then what was the point? I merged it so that the BJP does not benefit. I quit the BJP when it was at its peak and the same for the Congress.
How many elections have you contested?
VAGHELA: When I came into public life, the first condition of the RSS was that you should not contest MP, MLA elections. That means your interest in being linked to power politics ends. After the Emergency, when I went to jail, there was nobody to contest on the Jana Sangh’s behalf, so they told me to fight the Kapadvanj Lok Sabha seat in 1977. We won by a good margin, but that was due to the Emergency — a negative vote for Indira Gandhi. It was my first experience of a negative vote. Then I lost the Lok Sabha elections in 1980. In 1984, I won the Rajya Sabha elections with a record margin, and then in 1989, the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat with a record margin. In the following election, I gave up the seat for (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, and contested from Godhra.
What are the three differences you see in the electoral politics of that time and now?
VAGHELA: Then, a Vidhan Sabha election was fought with Rs 5,000 and a Lok Sabha poll with Rs 15,000. In 1977, I got Rs 5 lakh (as party fund) and we fought three seats — Kutch, Rajkot and Kapadvanj. I spent Rs 1.10 lakh from the party fund. I had gone straight from the jail (where he was imprisoned during the Emergency) to file my nomination.
Today, parties are cheating by way of election manifestos. The Election Commission should seek an account from parties, and if they don’t fulfill their promises within five years, they should be out, so that they don’t make such promises again.
There is nothing free. What is this 300 units free electricity (AAP promise)? Kisiki baap ki Diwali hai? This is your (public) money. Tell me which party has promised free education and then deposited Rs 200 crore in the government treasury to keep its promise? I tell Gujarat and the country’s voters, don’t fall for revdis. Has any party raised a fund from which it will fulfill its promises? It is easy to say all this on the strength of public money.
Today, the people who come into politics, come for themselves. I was invited to join the Jana Sangh by the RSS, but who has invited the people who are coming now? They are going to parties begging for tickets. You have come for your sake. This ideology is all humbug. There is no ideology in any party– not the Congress, not the Jana Sangh, not the CPM.
What will be your role in the 2022 assembly elections?
VAGHELA: The party I know, that is the BJP, I know the Congress too… from my own experience, a party has a constitution. No party tells people in its manifesto that I will finish you… whether in Corona, or by demonetisation. Everybody says let us come to power and we will lay your roofs with tiles of gold. But look at who is steering the party, that is important. As for the BJP, I know the hands it is in. Even by mistake its shadow should not fall on the country, and certainly not on Gujarat. Sardar, Gandhi’s Gujarat should come out of the illusion… this party will finish you. Nearly 1.5 crore people are below poverty line in Gujarat, 50 lakh are without jobs, and you are spending crores on advertising to cheat people. If you have done so much service, people should come on their own to vote for you. But what kind of sins have you done that you have to seek votes? have to beg for votes, after 27 years (of BJP rule)? You should be ashamed.
At a recent media interaction, it was said that you were ready to join the Congress. What happened then?
VAGHELA: I have a relationship with the Congress high command — Soniaben and Rahul Gandhi. I have personal relations with them, never had a problem. But there are those who poisoned their minds about me… Why did I leave when the Congress was about to form a government (in 2017)? And maybe, if I were there, it might have formed the government. But I had my reasons, which I cannot say in public. Somebody put in the minds of Soniaben and Rahul that I was a BJP guy. It was only a figment of imagination, what can I do about that? I am not a person who believes in tight political compartments. In 1977, when I became an MP and Ahmed Patel won from the Congress, I would go to Bharuch and dine and stay at his place. If the BJP threw me out, it was a personal problem, I cannot have enmity with anyone because of that. Today people believe that I and Narendrabhai have ghar jaisa sambandh (close relations). That relationship is there, but how is it political? That is the problem.
What do you think of AAP?
VAGHELA: They should not cheat people. I say publicly that I came to the Jana Sangh from the RSS. There is nothing secret about this. AAP should also tell openly that they are from the RSS, BJP and Jana Sangh background, and that they have come to throw the Congress out. Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare, they are all BJP pawns.
Will you campaign?
VAGHELA: Yes, I will do an anti-BJP and pro-Congress campaign. I have already started and done 10 meetings in the last one month. I am telling people openly that please vote for the Congress, don’t let your vote be divided. I don’t even mention AAP. But I tell them that if you are not voting for the BJP, please vote for the Congress.
Your outfit put out a manifesto saying you will lift prohibition. Is it possible?
VAGHELA: I am hopeful. Assume there is a Congress government in power… I tell the people of Gujarat that I will use all my potential to push for a Bill in the Vidhan Sabha to lift prohibition.
VAGHELA: Because it is all humbug. One foot into Rajasthan (from Gujarat), and you can drink. In Diu, you can drink… Such a law cannot be successful. If the law does not exist anywhere around you, how can you implement it?
Your son Mahendrasinh has joined the Congress, did you encourage him?
VAGHELA: Yes, because Mahendrasinh is independent. BJP guys took him, by deceit or whatever (in 2017), but it is past now. Within 15 days, he resigned. Now the Congress, BJP, AAP were offering him a ticket for the Bayad seat. I told him that if he contests from the BJP, I certainly cannot campaign for him. And that then, I cannot even campaign for the Congress, because nobody will believe (me). They will say you sent your son there and you are making a fool of us here by campaigning for the Congress. If I have to campaign for the Congress, then my family that is in active politics, in this case my son, he has to fight from the Congress. So he joined (the party).
It was unconditional. If BJP doors are closed for him, then the doors of the Congress are open for me to campaign. Not join (the party), but only campaign.