In unofficially endorsing Bhupendra Patel for another term as CM, the BJP has clearly bowed to caste pressure. But Patel and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have a lot in common.
In 2001, Modi found himself catapulted to the top job though he had no administrative experience. Likewise, Patel was a first-time MLA when he was chosen for the CM’s job.
Modi had taken office after a huge public calamity, the earthquake that year. Immediately after being sworn in as CM on September 13 last year, Patel oversaw the rescue and relief operations in the flood-affected districts of Jamnagar, Junagadh, and Rajkot.
Modi replaced Keshubhai Patel, supporters of the powerful Patidar caste came out against him all guns blazing that a mere backward-caste Teli, unknown in the rest of Gujarat, had managed to snag the job. Patel, however, is from the Patidar community though it is doubtful if the Patidars beyond Ahmedabad would consider him their man.
The Patidar Conundrum
The resistance and resentment to Modi’s rise were defused over time partly because of Anandiben Patel’s influence: She was identified as his lieutenant and the Patidars grew confident gradually that their dominance would continue. Anandiben was appointed chief minister. But when she was replaced by Vijay Rupani, a Jain, rather than Nitin Patel, the Patidars showed their anger by backing AAP. Although the AAP might find it hard to get too many seats, a growing vote share could make it an important future contender for power.
Rise of Bhupendrabhai
Like Modi, Patel seems to have come into his own though intervention from New Delhi has been clear and present. His right-hand man for years, Dhrumil Patel, was sacked within months, which followed ‘advice’ from the PMO.
Patel’s administrative interventions have been aimed at ordinary people, while tapping into the business vein of all Gujaratis by snagging the Vedanta-Foxconn investment amounting to Rs 1.54 trillion, leaving neighbouring Maharashtra gnashing its teeth. The DefExpo was held in Gujarat just a few weeks ago, and while it was limited to companies that already had a manufacturing presence in India, it was a well-managed event.