On Friday, the BJP headquarters Shree Kamalam in Gandhinagar was abuzz with action and anxiety over the change of guard but Gujarat’s first woman chief minister Anandiben Patel, her tenure abruptly ended, preferred to stay away from it all.
After giving in her resignation to the Governor, she moved away, quietly from the political action and instead mingled with the public becoming emotional many times. Her mentors in the party, Narendra Modi, Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela had also moved on and BJP national president Amit Shah seen as her rival, was the man to decide who would rule Gujarat next.
Seen as a disciplinarian, quick to take decisions, fond of micro level discussions, someone who was keen on finishing the work at hand and accessible as chief minister, the outgoing Patel who will soon turn 75, believed in touching lives of those in the villages. “In the two years of her chief ministership, she had done all she could in a full term,” said a minister.
A protege of Prime Minister Modi, she emerged from his shadow and put her own imprint on the administration with initiatives like the Lok Samvad Setu – to create a bridge with the public — and opened the Swarnim Sankul, the CM’s office, to aam junta. She was always keenly aware that she was filling the large shoes of Modi and her flagship programme was christened ‘Gatisheel Gujarat’ (Gujarat on a momentum).
An educationist for more than three decades, she optimised her experience in the state’s top job, reflected in the schemes and thrust she laid on education, women and child healthcare.
The state government announced Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavalamban Yojana with Rs 1000 crore fund envisaging a wider scope and reach. Although she lists the 10 per cent EWS quota decision as one of the achievements of her government, it was not seen as hers, as she did not even choose to announce it leaving it to the party chief Vijay Rupani.
However, she was successful in introducing plans like live screening during the school enrolment drives across the state and openly pushing role of non-government organisations in improving standards of education in government schools.
Living apart from her husband Mafatbhai who introduced her to politics, she was very much in charge as mother to her children Anar and Sanjay. Those have worked with her closely speak of her desire to find solutions at the earliest, be it a policy matter of a routine file. Perhaps this is the reason the cabinet meetings would go on for even three to four hours. “She did not believe in delaying a decision,” said one of the senior bureaucrats.
“I never came across anyone who said that he or she could not meet her, be it a bureaucrat or general public,” one of them said. “She was straight in her thinking and planning, a no-nonsense type but not as strict as perceived by the public,” said a senior woman bureaucrats considered to be close to her.
She pioneered a new trend of replacing flowers and garlands with dry fruits and fruits at public functions to welcome dignitaries which were later distributed among anganwadi children. With her focus on mother and child healthcare, she launched several schemes like free screening and treatment of breast and cervical cancer. She extensively used this scheme as an ‘achievement’ for the BJP government at almost her every public address during the last one year.
With policies like 33 per cent reservation for women in all sectors including police, 50 per cent in local body elections, announcement of three ‘gender budgets’ during her tenure and women GIDC in Sanand, Halol and Bharuch, she made sure that the 47 per cent female population of the state gets their due share.
‘Woh kabhi thaki nahi, kabhi baithi nahi‘, said a close aide.