Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi faces the first genuine threat to his formidable political position in a decade and he should be worried. The challenge comes from within his core support base which could get severely compromised after the announcement of Keshubhai Patel, the original architect of the BJP in the state and a powerful leader of the Leuva Patel community, to launch a party to take him on.
Keshubhai, who has been pushed to the margins in the BJP’s scheme of things systematically by Modi, always had an axe to grind against the chief minister. In 2007, he had asked the Patels not to vote for the BJP and had blessed the Congress. However, to his chagrin Modi scored emphatic victories in the Saurashtra region, Patel’s home turf. This time though Suarashtra could spring a nasty surprise.
How? The region accounts for 58 of the state’s 182 assembly seats and the BJP commands an overwhelming influence here with 50 seats. Any drastic change in the numbers position here could make or mar Modi’s fortune in the assembly polls. There have been hints of change this time around. In the 2009 general elections the party had lost badly in its erstwhile bastions Porbandar, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Amreli and Surendranagar. The politically influential Leuva Patels had voted against the party, say political analysts.
Since parliamentary polls and assembly polls operate at different electoral wavelengths (it is unwise to draw definite conclusions of one based on the results of the other) there’s a hint that opposition to Modi has been conctretising in the region. For Keshubhai, the 2007 elections were about passive protest; this time around he has been active mobilising Patels for some time. His party may not win too many seats but it certainly has the potential to divide the BJP’s votes. The weak Congress, which still commands around 38 percent of vote share in the state, could be the beneficiary of the division.
Moreover, all the players who have been sidelined in the BJP after Modi took over look keen on joining forces with Patel and present a united front unlike earlier. Former chief minister Suresh Mehta, who had quit the party protesting Modi’s `dictatorial’ ways, has extended support to Keshubhai. Gordhan Jhadafiya, again a former cabinet minister under Modi, has decided to merge his Mahagujarat Janata Party, a splinter group of the BJP, with Keshubhai’s yet to be announced party. He has the support of Kanshiram Rana, another disgruntled BJP leader. On their own these leaders don’t amount to much politically. However, together they can cause damage to the poll prospects of Modi.
What works as a force multiplier is the perceptible rumbling in the Sangh Parivar ranks against Modi. Keshubhai’s latest political move has the tacit support of RSS stalwarts Pravin Manian and Bhaskarrao Damle and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh leader Laljibhai Patel. It does not help Modi’s cause that he has alienated the supporters of Sanjay Joshi, a popular man in the grassroots level of the RSS, by launching an all-out offensive against him and finally getting him removed from the party’s national executive.
Keshubhai’s call for the revival of the `original’ BJP is deliberate. He is aiming at rallying together the wide array of unhappy yet muffled voices within the BJP and its catchment zone under one umbrella. In his more than ten years in power, the chief minister has created several pockets of disgruntlement and it won’t surprise if these veer to the platform being offered by the former chief minister. Keshubhai is also likely to get support from the tribal areas where anger is brewing against Modi for some time now.
Given the circumstances, Modi certainly has a tough job on hand in the assembly polls. He will need to fight hard to retain the 117 seats he bagged in 2007. Saurashtra will be the region he will look with some discomfort. He could lose the assembly elections here.