Dalit attacks muddy the waters for Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Dalit attacks muddy the waters for Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel

Trouble might grow for Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, whose government is facing another controversy over four Dalit men being beaten up on suspicion of cow slaughter.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2016 09:36 IST
Kumar Uttam
Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel on Wednesday visits one of the Dalit youth who was assaulted by ‘cow vigilantes’ in Rajkot.
Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel on Wednesday visits one of the Dalit youth who was assaulted by ‘cow vigilantes’ in Rajkot.(PTI Photo)

Trouble might grow for Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, whose government is facing another controversy over four Dalit men being beaten up on suspicion of cow slaughter. Subsequent protest took violent turn in the last two days, claiming life of a policeman and igniting fresh worries within the BJP about its political fallout in next year November-December election.

The BJP leadership has been discussing pros and cons of replacing Patel ahead of the crucial assembly election and latest round of protest will provide more ammunition of her detractors in the BJP – both in Gandhinagar and Delhi.

Patel’s latest worries follows last year protest from the Patidar community over reservation demand and the arrest of its leader Hardik Patel. The agitation from the dominant community had cost the BJP in local bodies’ election, wherein it suffered a jolt in the rural areas for the first time in one decade.

Between 2010 and 2015, the BJP’s vote share declined by about 10 % in district panchayat poll and slid from 48.51 % to 42.32% in election for Taluka panchayats. BJP’s vote share also declined by about 3 per cent in election for 56 municipalities and a little over 1 % in polls for six municipal corporations.

Read: Gujarat model may dent BJP’s prospects in other poll-bound states

Patel has problem at two fronts. The electoral reverses and administrative lapses reflect the lack of her grip over administration, in sharp contrast to Modi’s 12 year rule. Also, it emboldens her rivals in the party, who are asking for her exit ahead of the December 2017 assembly election.

Modi chose Patel over his trusted aide Amit Shah, now BJP chief, to succeed him in Gujarat. The 74-year-old woman leader has since struggled to step into the big shoes of Modi. She turns 75 this November and Delhi’s power corridor is abuzz with reports her power tussle with Shah, who apparently wants a leadership change in Ahmedabad.

Patel has in different interviews denied any trust deficit with Shah. The BJP chief, too, on many occasions denied having any ambition to return to Gujarat. “I have moved on. I don’t look back,” he had told a select group of reporters recently.

But, sources close to the chief minister suspect a foul play in Dalit protests. “Is it mere coincidence that protests over the July 11 incident (of Dalit flogging) spread only on July 18 evening? There could be more to it than what meets the eye,” a source close to the chief minister told HT.

Read: Oppn protests attack on Dalits, Sonia says govt ‘condones social terror’

The chief minister’s office in Gandhinagar and her media managers in Delhi have been circulating the list of actions – such as the arrest of accused, compensation to victims and others – which Patel has taken to deal with the situation.

Patel’s loyalists blame a section within the party for creating ‘wrong perception’ about her in Delhi. Here, BJP leaders fear that she may have to deal with more challenges in immediate future than the Dalit protest.

The release of Patidar agitation leader Hardik Patel from Surat Jail on July 15, BJP sources said, might lead to revival of the reservation demand by the dominant community. “The demand is not legally tenable. To deal with any revival of reservation demand will be a big challenge for Patel,” a BJP functionary in Delhi said. A source said Amit Shah had met a few senior functionaries of the party on the eve of Hardik’s release to take stock of the situation.

Winning Gujarat next year is crucial for Prime Minister Modi. Not only has he held the state for 12 continuous years, but Gujarat has been under uninterrupted BJP rule since March 1998. Gujarat is home state to both Modi and Shah is often described as the stronghold of the Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh and its affiliates.

“We can nto afford to lose Gujarat. That will have a psychological bearing on the BJP and its cadre. Modi is well aware of the situation and the final decision of Patel’s fate will be taken by him,” a BJP leader said.

Read: Gujarat govt acted fast in Una, Dalit atrocities under Cong rule too: Rajnath