Almost a month after former Gujarat minister Vipul Chaudhary got out on bail, CM Bhupendra Patel shared the stage with him at a massive event of the Anjana-Chaudhary community Sunday.
Of recent, Patel has been addressing community sneh milans. However, 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.
The 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.
A senior Anjana-Chaudhary community leader reasoned 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. “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.”
When asked to comment on his presence, Chaudhury 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 CM because I am in his party, Bharatiya Janata Party. As simple as that.”
Chaudhury’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. In October, the Gujarat government opposed Vipul’s bail application, saying that the investigation was still on and the chargesheet had not been filed.
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.