Almost a month after former Gujarat minister Vipul Chaudhary got out on bail, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel shared the stage with him at a massive event of the Anjana-Chaudhary community Sunday.
While Patel has been addressing community ‘sneh milans’, being seen with Vipul Chaudhary, whom his government is investigating in an alleged Rs 800-crore scam, seemed unusual for the cautious CM, who steers clear of controversies.
Anjana Chaudharys are considered a powerful community among OBCs by numbers and clout, as many of them control the dairy and agriculture sector in north Gujarat. Sunday’s event was held at Solaiya village in Mansa taluka and, organised by an NRI, saw participation of almost all the Chaudhary community leaders from Gujarat, across party lines.
Also present at the meeting was the BJP’s Ashok Chaudhary, who had defeated Vipul in elections to chairman of Mehsana’s Dudhsagar Dairy in January 2021. The order for Vipul’s release on bail came only after the Assembly elections were over.
The charitable view is that CM Patel might not have been aware of Vipul’s presence on the stage. However, a majority lean on the otther side, seeing in the shared stage the first steps by the BJP towards a compromise with Vipul, who remains a powerful Chaudhary leader. Much humbled, Vipul has few choices, given the Congress’s decimation in the Assembly polls.
A senior Anjana-Chaudhary community leader and an organiser of Sunday’s meeting argued that it was quite possible CM Patel was not aware of Vipul’s presence on the stage till he arrived. “It was a social function. The chief host of the event, Raman Chaudhary, and Vipul Chaudhary were classmates in college, so obviously he would invite Vipul as a friend,” the community leader said, adding that Patel probably chose not to make a big deal of Vipul’s presence as it was a community event. “If you noticed, the CM did not name Vipul in his address, while naming the others.”
Senior Congress leader and Porbandar MLA Arjun Modhwadia, who supported Vipul throughout his incarceration and release, said it was another sign of BJP tactics. “We want the cooperative movement to remain independent, but unfortunately, the (BJP) government makes people surrender by arm-twisting or gets people removed from the cooperative movement. Vipul Chaudhary has become a victim of that.”
Modhwadia added that he didn’t want to speculate about the CM sharing stage with Vipul: “I do not know why. It is possible that either Vipul has been made to surrender, or there is some sort of a compromise.”
Asked about it, Vipul said: “I cannot speak on behalf of the CM as to why he shared the stage with me. But I can say I shared the stage with the Chief Minister because I am in his party, Bharatiya Janata Party. As simple as that.”
About whether a compromise had been reached between him and the ruling party, Vipul said, “I too get to hear such talk. But the fact remains, I was, I am and I shall be in the BJP… Rest all is speculation.”
Vipul’s arrest in September – two months ahead of the election — by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) had come as a surprise, and was seen as a risky gambit by the BJP. Vipul was once home minister in the Shankersinh Vaghela government, and the former CM had addressed a rally in his support, asking the Chaudhary community to vote out the BJP.
In October, the Gujarat government opposed Vipul’s bail application, saying that the investigation was still on and the chargesheet had not been filed.
Vipul tried to fight back, with a social organisation of the Chaudhary community called Arbuda Sena protesting against the BJP, seeking his release.
Given the potential of the community – numbering 15-17 lakh – to affect results in north Gujarat, there was much speculation regarding whom Vipul would support. One of the parties talked about was the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), with a possible ticket to Vipul from Visnagar in Mehsana district.
It was four days after the Gujarat results were declared, giving the BJP the highest-ever mandate in the state, that Vipul secured bail from the Supreme Court.
Source : Indian Express JAn 11th 2023