From Jal Khambata

NEW DELHI: The Congress on Thursday enacted Take 2 of merging former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela's Rashtriya Janata Party, a breakaway group of the Bhartiya Janata Party, reserving the formal merger in Take 3 at a public meeting its President Sonia Gandhi will be addressing in Gujarat on July 17.

The Gujarat Congress leaders and Vaghela and his party leaders, who had already formalised the merger back in Ahmedabad, trouped down to Delhi on Thursday to hold a joint meeting at the residence of incharge AICC General Secretary Madhavrao Scindia and then take the blessings of the Congress President. Flanked by the RJP and Gujarat Congress leaders, Scindia later announced the merger at a Press conference here.

The merger was, however, marred by absence of the Janata Dal (of late Chimanbhai Patel) faction of the Congress who was opposed to providing ground to Vaghela and his party which has lost relevance in the state, amid speculation that some of its leaders may even quit and float the unit of Rashtravadi Congress Party of Sharad Pawar.

NOTED ABSENTEES: Also noted was the absense of Gujarat Congress strongman Sanat Mehta, who reportedly declined to come to Delhi for the ceremonious entry of Vaghela and company into the Congress. Mehta is totally with the Congress with no chance of his joining Pawar and yet there were whispers in the AICC headquarters about his proximity to Pawar.

The hitches in the merger were also apparent from the only member of Parliament of Vaghela's party -- Chimanlal Shukla in the Rajya Sabha -- refusing to be associated with the Congress. Without identifying him, Vaghela, however, quipped: "Ek karyakarta baad me aayega hamaare saath." (One activist will come with us later.) Shukla has been much more than an activist as he was the main ideologue behind the BJP's split and has been senior to even Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel in the BJP.

Vaghela said he was given full powers by his party at its meeting held on June 19-20 to decide merger, alliance or adjustment and hence his decision to dissolve its identity into the Congress cannot be challenged.

PCC RECAST: Though Vaghela claimed the merger was unconditional, Scindia hinted that both the Gujarat PCC and the DCCs in the state would be reconstituted to accommodate his men. Scindia described it as a "lateral and vertical integration" of the two parties to be completed by July to accommodate Vaghela and company.

Those who participated in what Scindia described as "detailed consultations" at his residence for "fully endorsing" the merger plan were AICC treasurer Ahmed Patel, CWC special invitee Madhavsinh Solanki, PCC chief C D Patel, CLP leader Amarsinh Chaudhary and former Chief Minister Chhabildas Mehta and Rajya Sabha member Urmilaben Patel from the Congress side and Vaghela, former chief minister Dilip Parikh, Gujarat RJP chief Madhusudan Mistry and former minister Vipul Chaudhary from the other side.

Scindia did not take questions at the Press conference but put forward Vaghela to respond and make him announce that he would be taking on the self-styled "Sardar" Lal Krishna Advani, the Union Home Minister, in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar. Vipul Chaudhary, who is credited with negotiating the merger with the Congress, was, however, no where on the dias at the Press conference and could be seen sulking at being slighted.

Vaghela's party was also part of the 3-member Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha and hence he was asked as to what now happens of that Morcha. His answer: RLM was of three men -- Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and himself. "Laloo is with the Congress and Mulayam has gone to Sharad Pawar. That is an end of the Morcha," he said.

After breaking the BJP to float his own party and capture power in Gujarat, Vaghela had kept vowing that he was proud to be a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). At that time he was not responsible to anybody except to himself but in the changed scenario as one joining the Congress he could not repeat the same. Asked about his RSS connections, he said he was in the RSS but "aaj koyee sambandh nahi" (no connection today).

While Scindia said Vaghela decided to merge his party into the Congress "to strengthen secular and liberal forces," Vaghela himself said he did not want to help the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections by keeping his party afloat as the BJP took advantage and won seven seats in the last election only because of division of votes among the Congress and his RJP. The BJP last time won 19 of the 26 seats from Gujarat while this time it would be reverse, the Congress getting 19 and the BJP seven, Vaghela boasted. END.