The political innings of Keshubhai Patel, who is now set to drift into political oblivion, is a tale of ups and downs with more of downfall in it. The adversaries ranged from the Congress government in the Assembly to Shankersinh Vaghela to Narendra Modi — all of whom he put up a good fight, backed by his Patel community, until Narendra Modi made inroads in his citadel.
Once an awe-inspiring, unquestioned patriarch of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat, he had led the party in the Assembly as the Leader of Opposition for long. A contemporary of L K Advani, when BJP bagged 121 seats in the Assembly in 1995, Patel was the obvious choice of becoming the first BJP CM in Gujarat. Close on the heels, he ensured that Modi was shunted out of Gujarat political landscape.
Only for a brief period of about six months, he lost the post to Suresh Mehta in October 1995, as the result of Khajuraho scandal orchestrated deftly by Shankarsinh Vaghela. Mehta was later displaced by Vaghela in September 1996. Vaghela had made good with 44 BJP MLAs in 1995. Mehta was a compromise choice, but he lasted only till September 1996, when Vaghela formed the Rashtriya Janata Party and formed the government with Congress support. Later Vaghela switched to Congress.
In subsequent elections (as Congress withdrew support), BJP won again, seeing Keshubhai again as the CM in 2001. But, the earthquake turned his fortunes upside down, making way for Modi as the CM, due to inept handling of post earthquake situation and loss of BJP candidate in Sabaramti Assembly seat that year. Modi held the post tightly till he rose to PM’s post this week.
The 2001 replacement began the end of his influence in the party. Despite some senior leaders’ support, he failed to rise to the occasion and developed cold feet when it came to assert himself against Modi.
Even his protestations before the national leaders fell on deaf ears, sending Patel towards the sidelines, just like Kashiram Rana, Gordhanbhai Zadaphia, former Surat Mayor Fakirbhai Chauhan and Suresh Mehta.
He held a sympathetic bond with Mahagujarat Janata Party set up by Zadaphia, while his son Bharat continued hobnobbing with the BJP. He ultimately set up Gujarat Parivartan Party and merged Zadaphia’s MJP in it in a show of unity against Modi. GPP contested 2012 Assembly polls and managed to win two seats, one by Patel himself.
Modi and Patel maintained a neutral distance in the House, but later he got his son Bharat to join BJP, followed by Gordhan Zadaphia. Besides, he got him a party ticket in the recently ended by-election to Visavadar seat, which he himself vacated for Bharat. It is another thing that Bharat lost miserably to the Congress due to alleged internal sabotage by BJP workers.
Keshubhai now leads a lonely life in Gandhinagar, just opposite the ministerial enclave. Modi, who always made it a point to visit Patel on important political or social occasions, gave this tradition a miss this time for reasons no one want to guess.