For Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, it's much more than prestige at stake in Gujarat

It is easy to point to agitations by the Patidar and Dalit communities as the possible reason for Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel’s exit.

Whether or not it was a power tussle in the party that forced her decision is not clear — the theory that she, believed to be a Narendra Modi favourite, was done in by party president Amit Shah does not wash for the simple reason that such a show of strength shows neither Modi nor Shah in edifying light, and the top duo is politically mature enough to understand this. So, we have to go with the reason that is apparent at this point.

However, the mere fact that the big agitations took place during her tenure is insufficient to explain her move.

There has to be more to it.

File image of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. AFP

File image of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. AFP

It will remain a matter of speculation as to whether she offered to quit because she failed to control these agitations or if it was the BJP leadership that wanted her out because it wanted damage control before the next Assembly election in the party’s showpiece state. But both are connected and put together could provide an answer.

To begin with, any negative development in Gujarat, the state to which both Modi and Shah belong, has an impact on their stature. After projecting the state for so long as the shining example of brilliant governance and everything good that a modern state can be, the duo cannot afford to let things slip. Remember how the party made the Gujarat Model the big talking point in the run-up to the General Election of 2014?

If the state goes out of the party’s control, it will be a huge loss of face for both Modi and Shah. Such a situation would make political rivals bolder and provide a handle to dissenters within to challenge their authority. The recent developments throw the clear hint that if the party allows the present of state of drift to continue, it might lose the Assembly election next year. Thus, Anandiben had to go.

The change of guard, when it happens, could be less about substance than about the message, but the party had to convey that it is making amends for whatever lapses it might have allowed in the post-Modi period. The agitation by Patidars and Dalits is the first major challenge to the social engineering formula of the BJP in close to two decades. The formula, with the powerful Patel community as its bulwark and Hindutva as the adhesive, was a strong challenge to Congress’s Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim social combination.

With a section of Patels veering away and Dalits on the warpath, cracks in the BJP’s social base have started showing.

Modi, as chief minister, ensured some control over the rabid Hindutva forces. Now, as the attacks on Dalits by Gau Rakshaks on Dalits reveal, the control is gone. The Patidar agitation for reservation has resulted in reverse consolidation of other OBC communities. In short, the BJP has managed to alienate several caste groups in a short period and the party cannot be blind to its electoral repercussion.

Hindutva politics, which was the binding force for a tricky coalition, appears to have run its course. Now that the BJP is in power at the Centre and the perceived enemies –Muslims among others - have been marginalised, there’s not much that Hindutva is going to achieve. It can only be counter-productive here on. There are signs that the anti-incumbency mood is building up among farmers and tribals. Thus the party has to rethink its strategy from the scratch.

Finding a replacement for Anandiben will not be difficult for the BJP, but the real task before it will be to retain the primacy of Gujarat in the national political discourse.

Because if the party loses Gujarat, it might lose India.

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2016 12:42 PM

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