Updated: August 3, 2016 2:21:34 pm
It was an angry and anguished Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel who sent her resignation to the party leadership today, barely two months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined to accept it, sources close to her told The Indian Express. It’s also an indication, they said, of her losing grip over the state’s politics and the rapid deterioration in the political climate around her.
Her resignation didn’t surprise the top brass. Over the last few days, she took key decisions: a hefty hike to government servants, withdrawing police cases against Patel protesters; removal of toll on roads; tweaking the industrial policy. Hours before she posted her resignation, she made medical and dental degree courses free for girl students with less than Rs 6 lakh annual income.
Sources close to her said that she has stepped down to help her mentor “Narendra bhai” select a new leader who can navigate the Vibrant Gujarat event and then the election campaign of December 2017.
That’s easier said than done.
For one, the party is riven with dissent. Patel, who was Modi’s choice to lead Gujarat after his exit, was abandoned by the party soon after the Patel agitation, say her supporters. Even Modi’s support could not help her keep control over the party apparatus and some Cabinet colleagues are said to have plotted against her.
Sources said she told one of her supporters that her party didn’t stand by her when the Patel agitation started. She believes, they said, that the cadre and leaders preferred to take “orders” from party president Amit Shah. She had a running row with Shah much before she became Chief Minister in 2014. Except during formal public events, Modi’s two trusted lieutenants, one in Delhi, the other in Gandhinagar, never met socially.
The rise and rise of Shah in New Delhi widened the chasm between them. She suspected conspiracies behind every political trouble she encountered. She complained to Modi but her opponents in the party, too, kept the PMO abreast of the political flare-ups across the state.
This time around, it’s hard for Modi to ask her to stay because after the Una Dalit incident, she is being seen as a political liability. Her lack of tact in handling the Una violence against Dalits had instant repercussions in Uttar Pradesh where Shah had to cancel his meeting with Dalits.
Coincidentally, an interesting aspect of the Patel’s exit story is that it came soon after the Supreme Court dismissed a plea to re-open the Sohrabuddin case against Shah. The court found that petitioner Harsh Mander doesn’t have locus standi in the case. In 2014, Shah did not join the Modi Cabinet — despite an offer — because the case was pending against him in Mumbai High Court.
Shah was arrested and jailed by the CBI on July 25, 2010. Since then, he vowed not to hold any position in any government until he was cleared by all courts. There is little doubt that the party cadres and leaders in Gujarat want Shah to “save Gujarat” for them but Shah has staunchly denied having any such plan to visitors from Gujarat. His refrain: “My mission is India. I have national dreams to fulfil.”
Most observers believe that Modi won’t agree to send Shah to Gandhinagar as he needs him to manage Uttar Pradesh. But his choices in Gujarat are limited. Nitin Patel and Vijay Rupani who are front-runners are not seen as marked improvements over Anandiben. Nitin Patel is seen as a “loose talker” who delays things, his being a Patel is his only clear political asset. He does have Anandiben’s backing as both belong to north Gujarat and are Patels. Rupani is backed by Amit Shah so he is unlikely to get Anandiben’s support but among BJP MLAs, Rupani has a support of the majority.
When it comes to naming CMs, Modi has a habit of pulling off a surprise. Given how the Gujarat model echoes in national politics, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
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