GANDHINAGAR: If faces tell a story, then Anandiben Patel’s fate was pretty much clear the day she was sworn in as Gujarat’s first woman chief minister over two years ago. There was hardly a beaming face among the cheerleaders: her loyalists worried just how Anandiben would fill the larger-than-life shoes left behind by Narendra Modi while party veterans could see new cracks forming in the iron-clad BJP state unit.
Anandiben’s former BJP colleague and Opposition leader Shankersinh Vaghela captured it all succinctly. “Ben achchi hain, par chalegi nahi (Sister is a nice person, but she won’t last),” the Congress leader had told this reporter. State BJP cadre conferred in private to all and sundry that hardly anything was going for her except her proximity to Modi.
Soon enough, two powerful components of the state’s political structure resurrected and spun out of Anandiben’s control: the state bureaucracy and the Sangh Parivar . The former went back to its time-tested ways while the latter, sidelined during the Modi regime, started showing up on the streets with agendas of its own. The likes of Pravin Togadia again figured in headlines , and all doubts regarding a Sangh revival were put to rest when Vijay Rupani — also a confidant of Modi and party chief Amit Shah — became first a minister and then the state BJP president.
Then came the Patidar agitation that challenged the hold of Anandiben and the BJP alike. The powerful Patel community, once the backbone of the BJP in Gujarat , was out on the streets — and the BJP had nowhere to go. Last month, in heartland Surat, eggs were thrown at party leaders during the Gaurav Vikas Yatra, celebrating two years of Modi regime at the Centre. Party MP Darshana Jardosh was hit with an egg on her head. An ET expose of Anandiben’s daughter being allegedly involved in a controversial land deal was the proverbial last nail in the coffin.
So is Anandiben on her way out finally? A large section of the BJP now believes that it is just a matter of time. The only factor still going in favour of Anandiben is Modi. Party insiders admit that for the BJP’s supreme leader, sacking his trusted lieutenant would be tantamount to an admission of defeat, which doesn’t exactly suit Modi’s brand of macho politics.
Sources maintain that once Anandiben turns 75 this November, she may be given a gubernatorial post in a large state. “To expect anything less will not be prudent,” says a party insider. That does not take away from the growing discomfort in the party, which has realised the impact of anti-incumbency and the mounting disaffection of the electorate towards the BJP in Gujarat as revealed in last year’s local body election. There is also the vexing issue of finding a successor to Anandiben. The first choice, Shah, has larger assignments on his plate and is unlikely to move from New Delhi until the BJP wins — or puts up a good challenge — in Uttar Pradesh polls slated for 2017.
Another frontrunner, state health minister Nitinbhai Patel, has come under fire from the Patel community although he has been delegated to negotiate with the community elders. BJP national vice-president Parshottam Rupala, who could have been a likely choice for the chief minister’s post, has been nominated for Rajya Sabha and is slated to get a ministerial position in the next cabinet reshuffle.