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An era ends: Bapa fades into oblivion

For the first time since 1975,former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel is inconspicuous on the election canvas of Gujarat.

Written by Hiral Dave | Rajkot |
April 14, 2009 4:44:47 am

Keshubhai Patel,the mascot of BJP of yore,is now ‘irrelevant’

For the first time since 1975,former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel is inconspicuous on the election canvas of Gujarat. Unlike George Fernandes who battles both his party and his family to assert himself politically,Keshuhbhai,after the unsuccessful rebellion streak of the 2007 Assembly polls,seems to have ebbed away in political oblivion.

A founder member of Jan Sangh and a BJP strongman,his absence,away from public glare,perhaps symbolises the end of an era in state politics. Keshubhai’s complete absence this LS polls also symbolises a silent end of over a decade long battle with his successor Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Though his downturn began with his unceremonious ouster in 2001 in favour of Modi,he did not give up hope to come back to power by leading the anti-Narendra Modi campaign till 2007. This time,if his total absence is any indication,it seems Patel has dropped his weapons,and also hopes to get back the top post of Gujarat.

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Patel entered the state Assembly for the first time in 1975 and became an irrigation minister. With a huge Patel community rallying behind him,he has never looked back since then.

The two Assembly and one Parliamentary election the state saw after Patel’s unceremonious ouster in 2001,did see this stalwart from Saurashtra out in the electioneering process.

But his replacement by Modi in 2001 was something from which he never really recovered. He led an anti-Modi campaign silently in 2002 and then openly in the 2007 Assembly elections.

But this time Bapa,as he is affectionately called,has neither been seen campaigning for the BJP nor playing a mentor to the BJP rebels. Some of them,including former Home Minister Gordhan Zadafia and former Bhavnagar MLA Sunil Oza,have formed a new party,the Maha Gujarat Janata Party. Others like former Jamangar MP Chandresh Patel,former Rajkot MP Dr Vallabh Patel,and former Junagadh MP Bhavna Chikhalia came back to the saffron fold after an unsuccessful attempt to sabotage Modi’s prospect to return to power for the third time in 2007.

Patel is also no longer approachable by the press. The last time he was seen in public was on the occasion of Maha Shivrati at the Somnath Temple in March. He is one of the trustees of the Somnath Temple Board.

After the death of his wife Lilaben due to an electric shock in 2006,Patel’s daily rituals,according to close aides,have remained yoga and meeting his close friends. Senior BJP leaders maintain that the 79-year-old had not been contacted by the party for campaign. A close aide of Patel said: “He is no longer interested.”

Riding over the strong support of Patels,who constitute nearly 20 per cent of the total population of the state,Keshubhai came to power twice in 1995 and 1998,but did not complete his full five-year term on both occasions. Modi’s presence played a major role in his ouster.

In 1996,incumbent Union Minister of Textile Shankersinh Vaghela,who was a BJP leader then,had revolted,alleging Modi was acting Super CM. In 2001,three years after he again became CM,Patel was replaced by Modi on grounds of non-performance.

What rubbed salt on Patel’s wounds was the fact that Modi chose his predecessor’s home town of Rajkot to get an entry into the Assembly through a by-election in February 2002. Patel did campaign for the by-election at two other seats,but refrained from campaigning for Modi.

“He gave his best try in 2007. He whole-heartedly supported the rebels and also urged his community to ‘vote for change’. But it seems the 2007 Assembly results that saw Modi romp to victory with a thumping majority,was a lesson in itself,” said a top BJP leader.

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