In Gujarat, Anandiben Patel and Amit Shah are often described as Narendra Modi’s “left and right arms”. MLAs from neighbouring Ghatlodia and Naranpura, they are also known as arch rivals. “Anandiben is dedicated and organised, and did not approve of Shah’s aggressive style,” says a Patel aide.
It was Shah who earned Modi’s praise at Tuesday’s function but it is Anandiben who is seen as the likely choice as Modi’s successor as chief minister. After the elections, though, there was talk about a possible consultation with Shah before the decision is taken. Shah’s stature has grown after the BJP’s huge gains in UP, where he was in charge.
Anandiben, 73, is senior to Shah. She is minister for urban development, revenue and disaster management. The reason she is seen as heir apparent is her high standards and no-nonsense image.
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Now based in Gandhinagar because of politics, she has been living away from her family since the mid-1990s. At the family’s modest home in Ahmedabad, her husband Mafatbhai Patel, 77, a Hindi professor, has postponed a trip to Mauritius by a couple of hours so that he can be present Wednesday when he hopes his wife will be sworn in.
The couple are Leuva Patels hailing from Mehsana. “Ours was a revolutionary marriage,” says Mafatbhai, who had budgeted only Rs 100 for the wedding as a protest against the Patel tradition of lavish spending. “I wore old chappals and walked 13 km to the pandal, taking a bullock cart for the last leg,” he says. “When I saw Anandi decked in 18 tolas of gold, I walked out. She put away all the jewellery and we got married. Relatives were angry and set off in the bullock cart. My bride and I had to walk back 13 km, but she supported me.”
Anandi completed her BSc and then taught at and became principal of a girls’ school in Ahmedabad. “Our home was a meeting point for Keshubhai Patel, Shankersinh Vaghela and Narendrabhai. She would mostly cook for them. One day Keshubhai, said that the BJP needed educated women. I persuaded her to join and she was made president of Gujarat Mahila Morcha,” says Mafatbhai.
She joined the Jana Sangh in 1976 and became the BJP’s first elected district panchayat member in 1981. In 1992, she was the only woman leader to unfurl the tricolor in Jammu and Kashmir during the BJP’s Ekta Yatra. After becoming an MP in 1994, then contesting an assembly election in 1998, she became Gujarat education minister.
Just before the elections, Mafatbhai had declared he would join the Aam Aadmi Party. However, their daughter Anar talked him out of it. Mafatlal and Anandiben now meet occasionally at their son Sanjay’s house on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.