‘Made a mistake’: Vashram Sagathiya, Gujarat AAP vice-president, returns to Cong
Vashram Sagathiya, a prominent Dalit leader from Rajkot, the economic headquarters of Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, quit Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with 50 other workers and leaders on June 21 and joined the Congress. The move came a day after the AAP expelled him for alleged anti-party activities.
Noticeably, Sagathiya was seen at a padyatra (foot march), an event organized by the state Congress unit, where Saktisinh Gohil took over as the GPCC president a few days ago. Following that, the AAP said in a statement that the party was “sacking” its vice-president (state unit) and also from its primary membership as he (Sagathiya) was “working against the interests of the party”.
“You are hereby informed that some workers have been making constant complaints against you, saying that you, by abusing your position in the party, has been working against the party. Upon enquiry, it has emerged that those complaints of workers are true. Therefore, as a disciplinary action, you are hereby relieved of all party positions. Your membership is also revoked herewith,” reads a letter to Sagathiya by Manoj Sorathiya, AAP’s Organizational Secretary, Gujarat. It was shared with the media.
However, the leader claimed that he had already resigned from the party two days ago. Sagathiya, who had been with the Congress for more than three decades, had joined the AAP in the run-up to the state polls in December 2022 and had thereafter served as the AAP’s Gujarat unit vice-president until his resignation.
“Returning to the party (Congress) that feels like returning home. It was a mistake to join the AAP. I had chosen the wrong path,” said Sagathiya from the event where he returned to the Congress in the presence of GPCC president Gohil.
The Dalit leader’s rejoining the Congress comes at a time when the party has been holding the Jan Manch (peoples’ platform) across the state to re-invent itself ahead of the 2024 Parliamentary elections.
Dalit vote bank
Noticeably, in a reversal of the 2017 state poll’s outcome, the Congress was completely routed in the agrarian Saurashtra-Kutch region in the 2022 Assembly polls, with the BJP sweeping more than 40 of the 54 seats.
The ruling party won all eight seats in Rajkot district, six in Bhavnagar, five in Kutch, four each in Surendranagar, Gir Somnath, and Jamnagar, three each in Morbi, Junagadh, and Amreli, and one in Botad. The Congress, which had won 30 out of 54 seats in 2017, managed only a handful of seats.
Adding to this, the Congress also lost massively on its traditional vote bank of Dalits and tribals in the state, a large chunk of which was bagged by the AAP. Dalits form about 8 per cent of the electoral population of the state and, apart from 13 reserved seats, the community holds sway over at least another 12.
In 2022, the Congress declared that it aimed to increase the Dalit voter turnout, especially in the unreserved seats where the community accounts for 10 per cent or more of the electoral population. However, the party ended up losing all unreserved seats where it had fielded a Dalit candidate.
Meanwhile, Sagathiya, one of the prominent Dalit leaders of Saurashtra region, contested the Assembly election in December 2022 from the Rajkot Rural seat as an AAP candidate and secured 71,201 votes. While he lost to BJP’s Bhanu Babariya, who bagged 1.19 lakh votes, Sagathiya retained his track record of winning the second highest votes from the seat. Congress candidate Suresh Bathwar could manage only 29,175 votes.
The Rajkot case
The region started slipping out of the Congress’s grip in 2017, when Rajyaguru, the richest MLA with declared assets worth Rs 123 crore and the Congress’s face of Rajkot, decided to contest from the Rajkot West seat against Vijay Rupani. Rupani had, however, defeated the Congress candidate and was the Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2017 until he was replaced by Bhupendra Patel in 2022 just ahead of the state polls.
The GPCC was reportedly not in agreement with the ambitious Rajyaguru when he decided to give up his winning seat (2012) Rajkot East to contest from Rajkot West and expected to be the chief ministerial candidate of the party. However, Rajyaguru contested, only to lose the seat, while his close aides Sagathiya and Mitul Donga lost Rajkot Rural and Rajkot East, respectively.
Notably, Rajkot East had been a traditional Congress stronghold in Rajkot city, which has otherwise remained the BJP’s fort. In fact, Narendra Modi contested his first state election from Rajkot in 2002 to become the then chief minister of Gujarat.
Six months after his defeat in the 2017 Assembly polls, Rajyaguru resigned from the Congress while Donga and Sagathiya became inactive within the party. However, in November 2022, Rajyaguru returned to the Congress ahead of the civic body polls after the Congress district workers of Rajkot urged the party to get him back to guarantee a win. Soon after, Sagathiya began having frequent communication with the Congress before he formally joined the party on June 21.