”Ben aavi gay ache. Atyare ghare nathi (Ben has shifted back here. But she is not at home right now),” says a security guard outside ‘Dharm’, a sprawling bungalow in western Ahmedabad’s upmarket Shilaj neighbourhood.
Anandiben Patel, fondly called Ben by many, is rarely at home despite not being preoccupied with her high-profile job as Gujarat’s chief minister anymore.
In the three weeks since she stepped down, the politician has given up her ministerial accommodation and shifted to her son’s home and generally stayed out of the headlines. But in no way has the pace of her public life slackened.
Thursday’s Raksha Bandhan was a case in point. Up early AT 5 am and ready after a strenuous round of yoga, the 75-year-old was at the residence of new chief minister Vijay Rupani to tie him a rakhi.
She then called on deputy chief minister Nitin Patel for the same purpose. In the afternoon, she was at a school in her assembly constituency of Ghatlodia to tie rakhis to teachers and hundreds of students.
“She is as active as ever. Now she has more time to devote to her constituency that she has started visiting almost daily,” points out MLA and former minister Vasuben Trivedi.
Unlike Kesubhai Patel who sulked after being forced to make way for Narendra Modi as the Gujarat chief minister in 2001, Anandiben appears to have made the transition back to the status of an ordinary legislator effortlessly.
For the records sake, she stepped down citing her age and to make way for a younger generation.
However, at the swearing-in of her successor, she set tongues wagging by staying away from Rupani and engaging with Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis instead. Rumours spread that she was unhappy at being coaxed to resign by the leadership in a desperate bid to reverse the growing disenchantment with the party ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
But Anandiben betrays no signs of carrying any grudge. Her Facebook page is full of pictures of the new chief minister that her aides say are proof of her maturity. “It was Modi who constantly made efforts to bridge the gap with Keshubhai, respecting his seniority. But Anandiben has approached Rupani keeping aside her seniority,” points out one of her ministerial colleagues.
Another party leader insists Anandiben is someone who likes to stay busy. “The former principal of Mohiba Girl High School in Ahmedabad is likely to revive her work in the field of education and also art and culture,” the leader says. The ex-chief minister is also the director of Gramshree, an NGO run by her daughter that promotes rural artisans.
Though no more the CM, Anandiben is far from retiring. Mostly out of home during the day, she returns for few precious moments with her family in the night. “Doctors perform surgeries even at the age of 80,” she had said in her last speech as the chief minister on the occasion of World Organ Donation Day. By her own account, her innings as a public figure is in no way over.