Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel has never been or pretended to be politically correct in her 30-year career.
On April 17, when Mehsana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home district, was on the boil a second time in less than one year due to violent protests by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s once most-trusted vote bank of the Patidars, Patel at a public function in South Gujarat said, “Such agitations happen…my job is to serve the people of Gujarat”.
It was this head mistress-like nature — which she carries from her days as the principal of Mohiniba Girls School in Ahmedabad — that did not go down well with anyone, be it the party cadre, the administration or her own community of the Patidars.
For this first woman chief minister of Gujarat, little over two years at the helm remained a bumpy ride.
The carefully cultivated image as a good administrator — as a minister who handled key portfolios such as education, revenue and child and women development since 1998 — came crumbing down with the start of the Patidar agitation within a year of taking over from Narendra Modi. Even with the seven Patidars in her ministry, the Patel government failed miserably to curtail the stir, costing the BJP in the local body elections of November 2015.
The fact that her government took stern action in the Una Dalit flogging incident only after it snowballed into a national issue affected the BJP not only in Gujarat but also in UP, where the elections are due this year.
“In the past two years, [and] for the first time in 30 years of political career, she was working independently. It will not be exaggeration to say that she was working without the direct guidance of Modi for the first time,” said a senior BJP leader.
Ever since she was made the BJP state women wing president in the late eighties, Patel worked closely with Modi, who had made the move into active politics from the RSS. From the Ekta Yatra in 1986, when Modi unfurled the Tricolor in Kashmir, to her first election from Mandal in 1998, the duo together emerged as competent leaders.
After Modi replaced Keshubhai Patel as chief minister in 2001, she was retained in the new cabinet as women and child development minister. In the 2012 assembly polls, her fourth consecutive election, held post-delimitation, Patel was among one of just two leaders allowed to change their constituency by Modi.
Known for her trademark stoicism, the cadre for the first time saw a teary Patel when Modi passed on the proverbial baton to her on May 22 2014. “She was from the very beginning aware that the path won’t be a cakewalk, especially given her frosty ties with party president Amit Shah. But she showed lack of clarity all the time,” said a party leader. Also adding to her woes were charges of favouring her daughter Anar’s business partners in a huge land deal.
By introducing phase-wise budgetary schemes under Gatisheel Gujarat, she tried to take focus away from the Vibrant Gujarat tagline, which was all about Modi’s 12-year regime. With 33% reservation for women in all government departments, 50% in local bodies and a host of health and education schemes, she made women empowerment in the state her priority. But she failed when it came to making the right political moves.