THE Gujarat BJP is split down the middle as it searches for Chief Minister Anandiben Patel’s successor with the Patels pushing hard to argue and ensure that one of them gets the job.
That was the message heard by party president Amit Shah who arrived here this morning and whose bungalow in the plush Thaltej area of Ahmedabad was the centre of frenetic political activity.
Shah, Gujarat in-charge Dinesh Sharma and joint general secretary (organisation) V Satish met — each one separately — some 15 senior ministers and state BJP leaders including Nitin Patel, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Parshottam Rupala, Saurabh Patel and Ramanlal Vora.
In the meetings, everyone got a chance to speak in private, a senior Cabinet minister who shared his views with the trio told The Indian Express. The minister added, “Patel leaders and Anandiben’s supporters claim that Nitin Patel’s name is final. In view of the current situation in Gujarat, they hope that the BJP will yield to Patel power.”
A senior leader and an MP said, “The situation in our party is so serious that we can’t afford to play a high-stakes game of selecting a new face or someone not suitable for our core constituency — which is Patels.” He also added that the Hardik Patel-led agitation has narrowed down the choice.
“According to our understanding, late at night, Amit Bhai will apprise Prime Minister Modi of our feelings and tomorrow, at 4 pm, we will know the PM’s choice,” said a minister who is against Nitin Patel’s choice as CM candidate and who also shared his views with Shah.
There was a perceptible sense of concern. “When the CM’s selection is on, there is gloom in the party. The BJP faces corruption charges, our development card is unlikely to work as before and the party doesn’t have the charisma of Modi to keep diverting attention from issues,” said an MP who is pushing for a Patel CM.
One of his colleagues, however, said that only Patel votes may not be enough. “We need new political slogans to go to the people,” he said.
When Narendra Modi became Chief Minister in 2001, he was seen as caste-neutral, his politics a potent mix of Hindutva and development. From 2001 to 2014, Modi was never labeled as an OBC from the Ghanchi community. But today, at Shah’s bungalow, this seemed a chapter in history.
Over the last two days, the Patel lobby has been working overtime, pushing the theory that without a Patel CM, “restless Patels would desert the BJP”. Patel leaders who visited Shah today argued that there was no non-Patel face which would be acceptable to Patels as the CM.
Meanwhile, non-Patel leaders talked about how the Patel agitation had divided society along caste lines in North Gujarat and Saurashtra. They are alert to the Patels’ strident demand for reservation — the court scrapped the ordinance today — and know that they will have to guard their turf against the Patels.
Most importantly, Shah’s job is to ensure that a new leader has a relatively clean image in view of the taint associated with the outgoing ministry of Anandiben Patel. Two, he cannot ignore the Patel factor as of the 120 BJP MLAs, 34 are Patels and they, too, are united and backed by the builder lobby, oil lobby and the farmers’ lobby. In the Assembly of 182, there are 44 Patel MLAs.
If Nitin Patel is accepted as CM, it will deepen the divide between Patels and non-Patels. Those who didn’t get a taste of power in the Anandiben government won’t be enthusiastic in their support for him. His selection will be due to three factors. One, he is a Patel from North Gujarat where the Patel agitation is potent. Two, he is more acceptable to most Patel lobbies. And, three, he has handled many ministries. Politically, however, he is a lightweight, even a lame duck.