He can barely walk, prefers to sit and address rallies. At 83, Keshubhai Patel has started a new innings in his long and chequered political career by launching the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP).
Between family weddings and electoral meetings, Patel has his days full with national leaders approaching him through off-the-radar networks for an alliance or “friendly understanding” in the past few days.
Patel, however, has a single-point agenda. “This government has to go,” he says, repeating the line from most of his rallies.
Patel hopes to be the kingmaker in the new assembly. His key lieutenants believe the results will not give Modi a clear majority. “If Modi wants the Leuva Patel vote, he will have to break ice with Keshubhai,” says a trusted adviser. “Or Keshubhai will be able to dictate what happens in a hung assembly.”
That he has the support of a few key leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Modi acolytes like Gordhan Zadafia, former minister of state for home, has sent signals to the community to back his candidates. Zadafia is contesting from Gondal, Saurashtra that has a sizeable Leuva Patel population.
The Congress has kept communication channels open with Patel though party leaders failed to forge an alliance with him.
BJP leaders outside Saurashtra region believe Patel can play the spoiler in about 20 seats that could see close contests. But across the seven districts of Saurashtra, BJP leaders believe they “would have slept more comfortably if boss (Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi) had made peace with Keshubhai”, because the veteran has the capacity to upset their calculations.
“The Leuva Patels are angry with Modi. Keshubhai is our mascot,” says industrialist Deepak Patel.
Patel’s animosity is not so much towards the BJP government as towards Modi, whom he once mentored in state politics. His remove-Modi agenda has found expression in several ways in the last few months but, perhaps, the most severe one was his decision to form the GPP that will consolidate the Leuva Patel vote.