A MERCURIAL politician who was in 2012 the richest MLA in the Gujarat Assembly, with declared assets of Rs 122 crore, Indranil Rajyaguru was known to have been considering his options for a while now. However, compounding the Congress’s problems in the state, and adding to its string of embarrassments, Rajyaguru left it for the Aam Aadmi Party in the state just three weeks after the Congress hoped to have won the sulking leader over with the post of vice-president. of the Gujarat PCC.
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Having won on the Congress ticket from Rajkot (East) in 2012, Rajyaguru, 56, had left the party in the aftermath of his 2017 loss to then sitting Chief Minister Vijay Rupani from Rajkot (West). He joined AAP on Thursday along with Vashram Sagathiya, one of the four sitting Congress corporators in the Rajkot Municipal Corporation.
The son of Congress leader Sanjay Rajyaguru, Indranil had much clout within the party after 2012, despite being only a one-time MLA, as much on account of his political lineage as his wealth. A real-estate developer with interests in the hospitality business, and owner of several private educational institutes, Rajyaguru would patronise Congress events in Rajkot.
The party avoided checking him despite his frequent run-ins with successive presidents of the Rajkot unit of the Congress. The rivalries were at their worst when Kunvarji Bavaliya held the post around six years ago. A former Congress MP from Rajkot Lok Sabha seat, Bavalia was considered among the Congress’s tallest OBC leaders back then.
So confident was Rajyaguru of his political prowess that in the 2017 Assembly elections, it was he who chose to shift from Rajkot (East) to take on Rupani, despite the latter being the incumbent CM and Rajkot (West) being a BJP bastion for decades. .
Rajyaguru hired a private agency to manage his election campaign and projected himself as the people’s leader – with assets of Rs 141 crore by that time – keeping the Congress itself largely in the background. The BJP’s counter-campaign was centered around personal attacks, including the permit he had, in the dry state, to consume alcohol on health grounds. Eventually, the BJP handed over Rajyaguru a heavy defeat.
Six months later, in June 2018, in a culmination of his growing distancing with the Congress leadership, Rajyaguru quit the party. At the time, he said he disagreed with how the party was functioning, particularly how those involved in anti-party activities were being rewarded. He also repeatedly clarified that he did not intend to join the BJP.
After his arch Congress foe Bavaliya himself defected to the BJP in July 2018 and fought a bypoll from Jasdan Assembly seat, Rajyaguru ran a campaign against him. In another embarrassment for Rajyaguru, Bavaliya managed to win the bypoll.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, he was not seen and heard much, but around two years ago, Rajyaguru started warming up to Congress again. In June 2020, his resort hosted senior Congress leaders, including then Congress Legislature Party leader Paresh Dhanani and former GPCC president Arjun Modhwadia etc, as the party tried to hold its flock together to ensure senior leader Shaktisinh Gohil’s win in a Rajya Sabha contest.
That perhaps eased Rajyaguru’s re-entry into the Congress in September 2020. However, despite being among the 500 delegates invited for the party’s three-day Chintan Shibir or brain-storming session held in Dwarka two months ago, that was addressed by Rahul Gandhi, the leader remained distant from the powers-that-be in the party.
Reacting to his exit to AAP on Thursday, at a time when the party is making inroads into the Congress space in the state, Mahesh Rajput, the former working president of the Congress Rajkot city unit and incumbent general secretary of the GPCC said: “Rajyaguru claims he wants to serve the people. But he actually deserted people after losing the 2017 Assembly elections. He always had compatibility issues with local party leaders and would try to force his decisions on the party. “
Rajput also claimed Rajyaguru was seeking guarantees from the Congress that he and Vashram Sagathiya would get party tickets for the Assembly elections due later this year. “The party leadership refused to give such promises,” he said.
On Rajyaguru’s money power, Rajput said: “It is true, Rajyaguru has a lot of money. But a lot of other people also have it. A political party doesn’t need a person only because he has money but also for his capacity to lead people within a party framework. “