Anandiben Patel: The Dispensable Lady

Anandiben Patel
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Anandiben Patel was overshadowed by the overwhelming legacy of Modi. And she couldn’t make one

IT IS NOT easy for anyone to fill the shoes of an exceptional leader and the history of politics is replete with instances of such failures. In 2009, after Andhra Pradesh’s dynamic Chief Minister YSR Reddy passed away in an accident, K Rosaiah, the most senior leader of the Congress, was asked to take his position and all that he managed was to oversee the party’s decimation there. Anandiben Patel found herself swiftly appointed Chief Minister of Gujarat after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister; as events since have shown, she failed to match up despite being groomed for the role.

Anandiben was one of the BJP’s earliest women leaders in Gujarat. A teacher for most of her working life, it was much later that she became a full-time politician. And she rose rapidly along with the fortunes of the party in the state from the 1990s onwards. In 1998, she won her first Assembly election and since then, has never been defeated. After Modi became Gujarat Chief Minister in 2001, she became one of his closest confidantes. Her abilities should have been tried and tested as a minister, and that he entrusted the state to her should have been a testament to her abilities. Yet, she has resigned as Chief Minister even as the state finds itself riven by agitations that threaten the BJP’s fate in the next elections. How come?

The answer is in Modi himself, who in 15 years as Chief Minister had total sway over the government. He was the BJP’s biggest brand, the only face of the government for all those years, his office the supreme authority in which policy and decision making was completely centralised. Ministers mostly fulfilled his orders without overstepping their brief. Putting Anandiben in his place was widely perceived as an attempt by Modi to control the affairs of the state from Delhi. But ground realities changed quickly after he left.

Anandiben Patel found herself swiftly appointed Chief Minister after Modi and failed to match up despite being groomed for the role

To begin with, Anandiben was not on good terms with Amit Shah, who was made BJP President by Modi. When Shah moved to Delhi, she may have expected a smooth run in Gujarat. But Shah had his own group of supporters who found it difficult to work under her. Some bureaucrats and police officers were reporting to him instead of the Chief Minister. When a crisis came in the form of the Patidar agitation in August last year, Anandiben found herself fighting the fire alone. Being a Patidar herself, she was expected to control the community. Patidars make up 12 per cent of the state electorate and have largely been BJP voters for long. The state government’s confused and delayed response created a new community hero in Hardik Patel. When local body elections took place in December last year, BJP suffered its worst electoral loss in over a decade. In Modi’s era, for all the allegations against him, corruption charges had never reared their head. Anandiben found herself being accused by the Congress of allotting land to her daughter Anar Patel at throwaway prices. The tipping point was the attack on Dalits in Una which led to a massive demonstration by the community against the state government’s inaction.

The reason she cited for giving up the chief ministerial post was that age had caught up with her. It probably came as a surprise to most people that Anandiben was touching 75. She is almost a decade older than Modi himself. Whether he rewards her for loyalty or punishes her for messing up Gujarat is hard to guess. Is there a governorship waiting for her?