There is no ‘number two’ in the Gujarat cabinet. Chief minister Narendra Modi’s position in the ministry is somewhat like Amitabh Bachchan’s in the pecking order of Hindi film heroes in the late 1970s — he occupies all the places from one to 10.
Still, if a second most important minister has to be named, most observers agree it would be 60-year-old education minister Anandiben Patel, whose advice Modi values and whom he trusts implicitly.
But Anandiben’s re election from Patan in North Gujarat is proving to be far from easy, its twists and turns unfolding like a racy Bollywood film.
Anandiben has to contend with detractors — including her estranged husband, Mafatbhai Patel.
Two former BJP MLAs, Arvind Patel and Mohan Patel, both with considerable influence locally, have teamed up with Dahyabbhai Patel, a former Janata Dal MLA-turned Congressman, and local Congress candidate Kantibhai Patel, to form a ‘gang of four’, which has been going around levelling scurrilous charges against her.
On Sunday, the quartert hit her really hard. They got Mafatbhai to address a huge gathering of women, where he spoke out against her.
Mafatbhai, a teacher, appealed to them to teach his wife a lesson for treating him badly. “I helped her scale new heights in politics.
Look what she has been doing to me. If she doesn’t respect me, how do you expect her to respect you,” he asked the women in the presence of the Union minister Ambika Soni.
An upset Anandiben told HT, when asked about it later, that it was her private matter. “Ask me about anything else,” she said. “They (the quartet) are doing a dirty business. They don't have any issues to challenge me, so they are coming up with false propaganda.”
“I’m confident of winning by a 20,000 margin.”
But sources in the BJP admitted that Anandiben’s domestic crisis was taking its toll. “She is emotionally drained. We’re all trying to help her overcome it,” said a senior leader, adding that Modi would personally campaign for her soon.
In this mud-slinging, real issues have taken a backseat. In parts of this constituency, people still draw water from borewells 1,200 feet deep. They want canal water but that appears to be a long way off.