Gujarat CM: is Amit Shah the dark horse?

Virendra Pandit Ahmedabad | Updated on January 17, 2018 Published on July 08, 2016

A red herring? This 2014 photograph shows Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel tying a rakhi to BJP President Amit Shah in Ahmedabad PTI

Like Modi in 2002, the BJP President is seen as the only one who can retain the State for the party

When Narendra Modi led the BJP to a massive victory in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, his lieutenant Amit Shah was the favourite to replace him as Gujarat Chief Minister. It was not to be as the Prime Minister-designate persuaded a reluctant Shah to let Anandiben Patel take over the role. Shah, whose strategy had won Uttar Pradesh for the BJP, was pitch-forked into national politics, later becoming the BJP’s national President.

Two years hence, Anandiben has proven “ineffective” as Chief Minister, what with the BJP’s support base of Patidars threatening to move away, the sacking of Union Minister Mansukh Vasava alienating the tribal community, and an agitation of OBCs led by Rupesh Thakore rocking the boat further. Also, Anandiben turns 75 in November; Modi has discouraged retaining those above the age in BJP ministries across the country.

The party cannot afford to lose power in a State it has ruled for over a quarter of a century, and for this, the party will need a strong leader in place. And, more importantly, many believe Shah is the man for the job.

A routine visit?

Shah landed in Gujarat on Wednesday, the day Prime Minister Modi left for Africa.

Technically, just a BJP MLA from Naranpura constituency in Ahmedabad, the BJP President’s engagement diary revived speculation about the ‘fate’ of Anandiben. Although both swear by Modi, they do not see eye-to-eye. On Wednesday, it was only after Shah left the Jagannath Temple here that Anandiben arrived for the traditional puja ahead of the 139{+t}{+h} Rath Yatra.

On Wednesday and Thursday, a number of State Ministers — Bhupendrasinh Chudasma, Ramanlal Vora, Pradipsinh Jadeja, and Shankar Chaudhry — lined up to meet Shah at his residence here. State BJP President Vijay Rupani, also a Cabinet Minister and a spokesman for both the BJP and its government, held a closed-door meeting with Shah. Rupani dubbed these meetings as ‘routine’, aimed at discussing ‘organisational’ matters.

Paving Shah’s path

Tuesday’s reshuffle of the Union Cabinet saw the PM make a deft move. He inducted party veterans from Gujarat, Parshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandavia, both leading Patidar leaders and Rajya Sabha MPs who aspired for the CM’s chair. Political circles here see the development as ‘clearing’ the path for Shah to replace Anandiben.

History repeats itself.

In 2001, Modi was sent packing to Delhi by then Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel. But, eventually, it was Modi who was (rightfully) perceived as the only person who could retain Gujarat for the BJP in the 2002 Assembly polls. Similarly, in 2016, Shah is viewed as the only option to win the next year’s crucial Vidhan Sabha polls in the PM’s home State.

Curiously, Modi, who hails from the well-to-do trader caste of oil-crushers — the Ghanchi community that was included in the OBC list in the 1990s — had succeeded a Patidar CM (Keshubhai). If Shah, who too is from the trader caste, succeeds Anandiben, history will repeat itself.

Shah, a former stock broker, is expected to neutralise caste-based dissentions in the BJP’s support base, which has weakened over the last couple of years, and keep the western State within the ruling party’s fold.

Other CM probables whose names have been floated regularly — Saurabh Patel, Nitin Patel, et al — are believed to be just ‘red herrings’ to distract from the real candidate (Shah). However, if Modi decides to replace Anandiben, but not with Shah, he could prefer Bhikhubhai Dalsania, the low-profile State General Secretary of the BJP, a Patidar. His name had figured prominently, just before Anandiben was chosen to succeed Modi as CM in May 2014.

But if Shah gets the job, the question is: what happens to his other responsibilities as BJP chief, such as the Assembly elections in UP, Punjab, and Uttarakhand next year. And, what about Modi’s continued hold on the NDA-BJP in New Delhi? That’s another story altogether.

Published on July 08, 2016
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