Party workers still remember the time Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel spoke at a public function in South Gujarat on April 17, when Mehsana – the home district of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – was gripped by the Patidar quota agitation.
Everybody expected her to reassure the agitating hordes, bringing the community back to the saffron fold. But Patel’s response was curt, bordering on cold. “Such agitations happen… my job is to serve the people of Gujarat,” she said.
Many believe the 74-year-old chief minister couldn’t stop acting like a headmistress even 30 years after she quit the Mohiniba Girls School in Ahmedabad for a career in politics. And it was this attitude that did not go down well with the people she had to deal with – be it party cadre, government officials or members of the Patidar community.
Patel’s two-year tenure as Gujarat’s first woman chief minister seemed bumpy almost from the start. Though she had carefully cultivated the image of a good administrator over the years, everything came crumbling down when the Patidar agitation started within a year of her assuming office. Failure to curtail the stir cost the BJP dearly in the November 2015 local body elections.
Later, her government’s delay in taking stern action in the Una incident resulted in a major controversy that jolted the BJP’s electoral chances in Gujarat as well as Uttar Pradesh. Adding to her woes were accusations of her daughter’s business partners getting undue favours in a huge land deal.
“For the first time in 30 years, Anandiben had to work without direct guidance from Modi. She, quite obviously, couldn’t handle the situation,” a senior BJP leader pointed out.
Ever since she was made BJP state women wing president in the late eighties, Patel had worked closely with Modi. After he replaced Keshubhai Patel as the chief minister in 2001, she continued as the women and child development minister in the new cabinet.
Even Patel’s detractors can’t deny that she introduced a few revolutionary changes in the state – such as providing 33% reservation to women in all government departments, 50% seats for women in local bodies, and a host of health and education schemes. But all her good work came to naught when she failed to make the right political moves when it mattered the most.