Anandiben Patel resigns: To hold on to Gujarat, BJP must now find Modi 2.0

Anandiben Patel was everything her mentor Narendra Modi wasn't.

It isn't a big surprise she wasn't able to hold on to the state and Modi's legacy. When Modi left Gujarat in 2014, it was an impregnable fortress of Hindutva, a model of development in popular perception and the pocketborough of the BJP. In just two years, rifts within the Hindutva Parivar turned into open rebellion. The mesmerising sheen disappeared from the famed development model because of social unrest. And the Congress made deep inroads into areas where it had not dared to venture in the past 15 years.

Much of it transpired because Anandiben lacked the qualities her predecessor had. She lacked the charisma to impress the Gujaratis, administrative skills to manage a crisis and the stature to inspire fear, respect and admiration within the cadres, bureaucracy, voters and her own party.

Before Modi's advent, Gujarat had always been a tricky state for the BJP. Such was the level of infighting, bickering and factionalism that no chief minister before Modi was able to complete his term. The Hajuria versus Khajuria farce of the late 1990s highlighted the mess and indiscipline in the party. But, with the force of his personality, Modi quelled all dissent, demolished factions and emerged as the party's face and leader.

File image of Anandiben Patel. Reuters

File image of Anandiben Patel. Reuters

Anandiben's ascension marked the return of factionalism in Gujarat. Tales abound of how her rival Amit Shah interfered in the government's functioning, took key decisions, propped up his loyalists and marginalised the chief minister.

That the chief minister was just a witness to many key decisions was apparent when the Gujarat government announced a 10 percent quota for economically backward sections earlier last year. Significantly, the decisions was announced by the state unit president Vijay Rupani. Anandiben sat by her junior colleague's side, making a sorry spectacle of the loss of her stature.

When the Patidar movement for reservation broke out in Gujarat, many in cities in the state were put under curfew first time since the 2002 riots. Ten people died in violence and arson, according to the Times of India. Though much of the blame for inaction (or excessive force) was laid at the chief minister's doorstep, there were hushed rumours that the administrative response was remote-controlled from Delhi and discrediting Anandiben was part of the plan.

As Shyam Parekh writes in Ahmedabad DNA, "One would not be wrong to consider that her departure phenomenon started from the day the Patidars held their first rally in Ahmedabad, last year. Patidars — BJP’s most loyal votebank was upset with Ben, who happened to be a Patidar herself. The image of corruption-free governance in Gujarat was brutally ripped apart in the last two years. On top of that, accusations against her daughter and son for corruption and undue benefits of power had reached Delhi."

The script of Anandiben's failure was in a way foretold. When she was picked by Modi as his predecessor, it was pointed out by her critics that she got the job for just one quality: Loyalty. Her administrative acumen was always suspect and her lack of popular appeal was a known handicap.

Anandiben contributed to the image.

Gujarat watchers point out that Modi would always look for opportunities to mobilise party cadres and state machinery by organising public events, fairs and gatherings. This served two purposes. One, it helped him stay in touch with workers, voters and officers. And, two, it created the impression of a government perpetually in motion. Anandiben, to her misfortune, remained rooted to her Gandhinagar office, becoming an absentee leader, especially when revolts and agitations surfaced in the state.

Her lack of clout and connect ultimately led to her resignation on Monday. To the BJP it became apparent after last year's Patidar stir and the ongoing Dalit unrest that Anandiben did not have the capability to reach out to the masses and quell their rebellion. With the Dalit agitation causing a lot of damage to the BJP's efforts to unite the Hindutva Parivar in Uttar Pradesh, it was time to go.

"... lack of strategy in handling the fallout of the Dalit atrocity incident in Una might have been the last nail. Ben announced and reached Una much after Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi announced their visit. This was seen as a major political failure for the BJP. Even now, the party and the government have no strategy to re-connect with the Dalits," continues the DNA piece.

Interestingly, Anandiben went out in a blaze of glory. Before her exit she showed signs of a classic dead-cat bounce with her firm and quick decision making, traits she was accused of lacking. Before reigning on Facebook, she abolished highway toll for small and private vehicles, withdrew nearly 90 percent of the cases filed against Patidar leaders, made higher education free for girls from lower-middle class families and appointed the next chief secretary of the state.

Just when her critics were arguing how she had shut up those talking about her age with such frenzied activity, she went ahead and quit, citing, ironically, her age.

The BJP now has exactly 18 months to reverse the damage that accrued during Anandiben's tenure. The challenge for the party will now be find someone who is her exact opposite in temperament, style and efficiency.

To win back Gujarat, the BJP has no option but to find Modi 2.0.

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2016 16:03 PM

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