Gujarat’s experiment with its first woman Chief Minister was short-lived as CM Anandiben Patel submitted her resignation to the party high command and announced the same on her Facebook page. The ostensible reason given for her resignation was her approaching 75 years, an indicative threshold within BJP for quitting office. But there is more to it.
A longtime BJP party worker and trusted colleague of Narendra Modi in the state, she was entrusted with the responsibility of carrying forward Narendra Modi’s development legacy in Gujarat, which he so assiduously built during his 12 years in office.
Selecting a woman as the next CM, especially someone who maintained a relatively low profile in state politics, was in itself a politically risky move for the party. The appointment could prove to be a masterstroke, for a state running high on Narendra Modi’s achievements, or it could backfire politically, thereby losing the hard earned political gains of the party from 2001 onwards.
The fact that she has resigned within two years in office confirms the latter and comes at a time when the party is struggling to put up a fight in the forthcoming crucial elections in U.P. The timing is not good at all and confirms the political crisis BJP faces in the state.
The real reason for quitting
After years of struggling for political strength and stability in Gujarat, BJP found an able leader in Narendra Modi when he took office in October 2001 and was given the responsibility of rebuilding the party and setting the state on a rapid development path.
Modi consolidated his party’s hold in the state by earning the trust and support of not just the dominant Patidar community but almost all other communities, which now looked up to him with admiration for his sincerity and administrative abilities.
In her last two years in office as CM, the state has witnessed the Patel agitation for reservation take centre stage, and in many ways, undo the political gains the party achieved under Narendra Modi. Herself a Patel, she was unable to nip the Patel agitation in the bud and allowed Hardik Patel, a youngster and rank newcomer, with no political grounding, to become a leader and icon for the Patidar community.
The state’s hardline response to Hardik Patel-led agitation further alienated the community. The Patels, who form the backbone of political support to BJP in Gujarat, have been openly claiming that without their support BJP would be out of power in the state elections coming up in early 2018. And that may well be true.
Various Dalit groups and other backward classes that have been supporting Narendra Modi and BJP thus far, are now feeling insecure and increasingly alienated, not just in the state but across India.
In repeated incidents by self-proclaimed protectors of cows against slaughter, various right wing groups have cropped up of late in many states. These groups have taken vigilantism to a new level on a subject that had not been touched so far.
Beyond traditionally blaming the Muslim community for slaughtering cows, and for that matter, buffaloes, for the first time, Dalits have been coming under increasing attacks for skinning and transporting beef.
Unfortunately, Dalits have been doing this activity for a living for a long time, which no other community was willing to touch. And now, they are being targeted by right-wing self-proclaimed vigilantes.
The recent stripping and caning of four Dalit youths in a public display of vigilantism in Gujarat has evoked widespread condemnation and protests from the Dalit community and political leaders from various parties.
Dalits form around 8.5% of the state population and between the Dalit and Patel communities, they can play kingmaker. Therefore, the fact that two major vote banks that have been supporting the BJP are now grossly upset with it, has become a major challenge for the party, which is all set to fight elections in U.P and later in Gujarat.
The fact that Congress was able to make significant inroads in rural Gujarat was amply demonstrated in the local body polls held in December 2015. And that wasn’t good news for the party high command, many of whom were privately critical of Anandiben’s handling of the emerging situation in the state. As a CM, Modi had an iron grip over the party but Anandiben had failed to carry forward that legacy. Her resignation was therefore on expected lines.
Crisis or opportunity for BJP
What next for BJP in the state, is a question being asked by all political analysts. With two strong leaders in Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, committed to national party politics, the state unit faces a major challenge in finding an acceptable alternate CM.
BJP in the state has its share of factional rivalry but this was mostly kept under a tight leash during Modi’s time in the state. These elements are now once again raising their ugly heads in a claim to power. It won’t be easy for Amit Shah to find someone who will be both popular and a consensus candidate, one with administrative capability and political shrewdness to match Modi.
Anandiben learnt it the hard way but will the next CM be able to do justice in a state heading for elections in 2018? For Amit Shah, this could well be an opportunity to counter the political crisis in Gujarat and reclaim the bond with the influential Patidar community.
He will also need to identify a strong and acceptable candidate who can instil a sense of confidence and security within the vulnerable Dalit community. The political cost of alienating the Dalits is not restricted to Gujarat alone, and therefore the next CM will need to prioritize re-establishing the faith of Dalits and other backward communities with the party.
The big question is, what options does Amit Shah have? Modi raised the bar for all chief ministers in the country and this could either be an inspiration or a challenge for the chosen one in Gujarat.