BJP’s first Chief Minister of Gujarat and veteran politician, Keshubhai Patel, passed away in Ahmedabad at the age of 93 years on Thursday. Here is a look at Keshubhai’s long and influential career in politics.
From RSS to Jana Sangh to BJP
A karyakarta from the RSS, Keshubhai Patel, popularly called Keshubapa, (father), was among the founder members of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the political party rooted in the Sangh launched in 1951. He was its president from 1972-75, and was among those witnesses of history who saw the merger of the right wing BJS with the Janata Party in 1977 and the launch of the BJP in 1980.
Keshubhai became the Chief Minister of the first BJP government in Gujarat in 1995.
Keshubhai, a Leuva Patidar (Patels), was born Keshubhai Desai, and changed his surname to Patel after he became active in politics. His family is said to have migrated from Vaso village in Nadiad of Kheda district, a village of Patidars, where revenue clerks were known as ‘Desai’.
The family migrated to Saurashtra and ran a flour mill in Rajkot. Jana Sangh veterans like former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela, who knew Keshubhai for 55 years, says he ran this mill in Hathikhana area of Rajkot for a living, and describes him as a “self-made” man who built the party from scratch.
Keshubhai had told this paper in an interview in 2015: “Many Patels from Amreli and Junagadh are Desais –– clerks who collected taxes from land owners and were found in the tiny state of Vaso near Nadiad and in Saurashtra. Throughout school, I was Keshubhai Desai, till our Junagadh leader Suryakant Acharya (Former BJP MP) began to refer to me as ‘Keshubhai Patel’ in public, and the name stuck”.
The changing of the surname “was largely looking at the political situation of the time”, says BJP member Yogendrasinh Padhiyar, whose father Narsinh was among BJS founders and a close confidant of Keshubhai.
In Rajkot, he went to Alfred High School, which is also Mahatma Gandhi’s alma mater. “The family also used to keep cows and buffaloes. We were one of their customers for buying milk. His wife Leelaben used to supply milk to our family,” Gunvant Delawal, president of Rajkot’s Sargam Club and a member of RSS, says.
Keshubhai began his journey in electoral politics by contesting in the Rajkot municipality and later Rajkot Municipal Corporation, says Kirit Pathak, a BJP leader and the retired deputy registrar of Saurashtra University.
Keshubhai fought his first general election from the Assembly seat of Wankaner (then in Rajkot district) in 1972 as a BJS candidate, where he lost to the Congress. In 1975, he won from the Rajkot 1 (now Rajkot West) seat, and became minister for irrigation in the BJS-backed government of the Indian National Congress (Organisation), popularly called the Sanstha Congress, led by Chief Minister Babubhai Jashbhai Patel.
During the emergency, Keshubhai was among the 3,500 people from Gujarat to be jailed under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act).
In 1977, the BJS merged with the Janata Party and in 1980, the BJP was founded. As a BJP candidate, he won from Gondal in Rajkot district in 1980, from Kalavad in Jamnagar district in 1985, Tankara, then in Rajkot district, in 1990, and Visavadar in Junagadh district in 1995 and 1998.
In the run-up to the Assembly poll in 2012, Keshubhai alleged injustice to Patidars at the hands of the BJP and launched a front called the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), that fought elections that year and won two seats (one winner being Keshubhai) when Narendra Modi was chief minister. Eventually, GPP merged with the BJP in 2014 and Keshubhai resigned as MLA. In the ensuing by-poll, BJP fielded his son Bharat, but he lost to Harshad Ribadiya of Congress. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Keshubhai mentored and groomed many younger Karyakartas including me. Everyone loved his affable nature. His demise is an irreparable loss. We are all grieving today. My thoughts are with his family and well-wishers. Spoke to his son Bharat and expressed condolences. Om Shanti. pic.twitter.com/p9HF3D5b7y
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 29, 2020
In 1995 under Keshubhai’s leadership, the BJP won 121 of the 182 seats – considered a feat – but by the end of the year, the government faced a challenge from Shankersinh Vaghela, who defected with some 40 MLAs and brought down the government.
Vaghela went on to form the government with support of the Congress by launching his own outfit, The All India Rashtriya Janata Party (AIRJP). In 1998, the government was dissolved and elections were held, when the BJP returned to power with 117 seats and AIRJP won only four.
In 2001, the BJP high-command decided to replace Keshubhai as Chief Minister with Narendra Modi. After that, he did not contest an Assembly election on a BJP ticket, though he was the party’s Rajya Sabha MP from 2003-2009.
As Chief Minister of Gujarat in 1990, Keshubhai had played a key role in the organisation of the Rath Yatra led by former deputy PM LK Advani for building of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Following the yatra that expanded the national presence of the BJP, Advani went on to win elections from the Lok Sabha seat of Gandhinagar in Gujarat from 1991.
Keshubhai was appointed trustee of the Shree Somnath Trust (SKT), the religious trust which owns and manages the famous Somnath temple near Veraval in Gir Somnath district, in 1999. He was elected president of this trust in 2004 for the first time, and was elected to this post every year since. His latest election as the head of the trust, which has Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and others as its trustees, was in September this year.
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