6 decades on,Keshubhai back to familiar building role

Keshubhai,who has since adopted the surname Patel,is now 84.

Written by Hiral Dave | Rajkot | Published:August 9, 2012 3:45 am

In 1951,when Dr Syama Prasad Mookherjee resigned from the Indira Gandhi government and floated the Bharatiya Jana Sangh backed by the RSS,he chose a young volunteer from Rajkot to build the party’s base in Saurashtra.

Keshubhai Desai,a farmer with his roots in Kheda,was then 23. His brief effectively translated into building a second alternative to the Congress other than the rebel Congress-O. His efforts culminated in 1975 when the Jana Sangh joined Morarji Desai’s Congress-O in a coalition to form the first non-Congress government in the state,one of the primary reasons Emergency was imposed.

Keshubhai,who has since adopted the surname Patel,is now 84. In those 63 years,the RSS veteran has been a founding member of the Jana Sangh and the BJP,the Gujarat CM twice,an MLA six times and an MP once in each House of Parliament. And he finds himself trying to build a new alternative in Gujarat once again,this time against the Congress and the BJP,which has disillusioned him.

Keshubhai this week floated a party revolting against RSS-pracharak-turned CM Narendra Modi. The new party locks Keshubhai in battle with two other leaders who have grown from the RSS: Modi and Shankersinh Vaghela,who now heads the Congress campaign.

“In 1951 he was called by the RSS to shoulder the responsibility of building the Jana Sangh and he took it as his religion,” says RSS veteran Pravin Maniar. “A third front can work in Gujarat and Bapa [Keshubhai has proved it earlier. Now,he is out to prove it again.”

Before the formation of the 1975 government,Keshubhai’s efforts had first seen Chiman Shukla win from Rajkot-II in 1967 to become the Jana Sangh’s first member in the Gujarat Assembly. In 1973 the Jana Sangh-Congress-O coalition came to power in the Rajkot Municipal Corporation,leading to the 1975 success.

In 1980,the Jana Sangh was dissolved and the BJP formed,with Keshubhai continuing to mobilise support at the grassroots. In 1995,he became the first BJP CM,but the stint was short-lived. In eight months,Vaghela,unhappy with Modi acting “the super-CM”,toppled the Keshubhai government. Keshubhai was re-elected in 1998 but the party replaced him with Modi in three years.

It was,incidentally,Maniar who in 2001 was given the responsibility of taking Keshubhai to Delhi to convince him to step down in favour of Modi on account of his poor handling of natural disaster rehabilitation,coupled with defeat in two by-elections. Now,Maniar says,“This year,when Bapa went to Delhi to meet the BJP and RSS leadership with a request to save the party,leaders paid no heed and he had no option but to form a party to follow his religion.”

Maniar claims all Sangh Parivar wings — RSS,Bhartiya Kisan Sangh,VHP,Bajrang Dal — are behind Patel and against Modi,who has sidelined all of them with his “autocratic rule”.

With Maniar,former textile minister Kashiram Rana,former chief minister Suresh Mehta and former home minister Gordhan Zadaphia are behind Keshubhai.

His backers say Modi,a pracharak much junior to Keshubhai,owes his emergence to the veteran. Modi had chosen Rajkot-II seat in the 2002 elections. “The foundation of the BJP is so strong in Rajkot — thanks to Bapa — that the then little-known Modi chose the safest seat in Gujarat,” says a leader.

At 84,Keshubhai has some of his peers and juniors to fall back on but none from his family. Of his five sons and daughter,only one,Bharat,has shown any inclination toward politics and even that is not a keen interest,say RSS leaders.

They describe Keshubhai himself as a modest yet mass leader. “In 1979,after the bursting of the Machhu Dam devastated Morbi in Rajkot,Keshubhai opened a flour mill for workers in dam reconstruction. His wife Lilawati joined other women in preparing food for the affected,” says an RSS leader.

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