Anandiben Patel: How her BJP bosses scripted her exit as Gujarat chief minister

As Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel started to read a well-written exit script, duly vetted by her bosses — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah — on Monday, she was unable to control her emotions and came to tears a few times. She eventually managed to compose herself, and finally delivered a speech worthy of a method actor. She explained the reasons behind her exit and reposed faith in the party's younger generation, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership.

Though reluctantly, she played by the script that was in the making for some time. For the past two months, there were unmistakable signs pointing to her exit. She was given the short-shrift in the matter of choice of officers. Top officials in her state were being posted directly from New Delhi.

File photo of Narendra Modi with Anandiben Patel. PTI

File photo of Narendra Modi with Anandiben Patel. PTI

Along side, Anandiben was being given enough hints to make way for the younger generation. Anandiben's chief principal secretary, Kuniyil Kailashnathan — who was also Narendra Modi's go-to man in the same capacity  — worked overtime to persuade the chief minister to see the writing on the wall. Finally, Patel acquiesced and agreed to play out the script of a voluntary departure.

There is bound to be a touch of surrealism when the BJP’s central parliamentary board (CPB) meets to decide on Anandiben's successor. There is little doubt that the issue was clinched long before she decided to face the cameras to declare her resignation on Monday. Yet, the formality of a meeting is a technical requirement that will have to be fulfilled on Wednesday. (The CPB meeting is on at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's residence in New Delhi as this report is being filed.)

In all probability, the CPB might dispatch a team of observers to hold consultations with the local leadership, before formally announcing Anandiben's successor. There is nothing new in this practice as the BJP, like the Congress, has also internalised the practice of imposing the high command’s decisions on states without appearing to be undemocratic at the state level.

The contrived consensus on the choice of a new chief minister, which will most likely be worked out at some informal meetings in Delhi and Gandhinagar will be imposed on the Gujarat unit within the next few days after the charade of the legislature party meeting is conducted.

Politics often plays out on a familiar script mimicking the past. But the underlying message of Anandiben's dethroning is more significant than has been understood so far. It is public knowledge that Anandiben owed her position to her unflinching loyalty to Modi. She was keen to stick on and even tried convince her leadership that she would win the Assembly elections next year. But Modi, according to top party sources, refused to buy her arguments as his ears are rooted to the ground in Gujarat where he could sense some ominous signals.

Anandiben's tenure as the chief minister was seen by a section of bureaucrats as a relief, because of her easy going nature. Unlike Modi, who was on a perpetual campaign mode, Patel turned out to be quite a conciliatory, if unimaginative figure. For BJP workers, who were attuned to Modi's flamboyance, Anandiben came across as unimpressive and tactless, especially when it came to dealing with the intricate caste politics of the state.

But what seems to have finally clinched the issue are the complaints made by the industry bodies about the functioning of the chief minister and the state bureaucracy. Sources in Gandhinagar point out that at the time of the 2015 Vibrant Gujarat summit — a flagship event carrying the imprimatur of Modi — industrial bodies were quite upset over the manner in which Gujarat was losing steam. “That is something that Modi cannot afford,” said a senior BJP leader.

Truly, it would indeed have been a tough decision to ask a loyalist and a seasoned leader like Anandiben to step down. But her continuation would have entailed the risk of upending the story of Gujarat on which Modi has built his entire political edifice.

Perhaps Anandiben must have realised late in the day that in politics the price of loyalty is quite ephemeral. This was best summed up in an Urdu couplet by one of the most cunning Congress politicians of the 1980s, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, when Indira Gandhi asked him to step down as Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

Bahuguna had recited: Main bawafa tha isliye nazron se gir gaya, shayad unhe talaash kisi bewafa ki thi. (I was faithful so I fell from grace, she was perhaps looking for someone unfaithful.)

Updated Date: Aug 03, 2016 09:56 AM

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