With Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi set to embrace a national role in the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year and five assembly polls before this year ends, people here are animatedly discussing who he will choose to run the state.
Will it be Anandiben Patel who holds some key portfolios, including revenue, in his ministry or will finance minister Nitin Patel be elevated from No. 2 in the cabinet to No. 1? Or will the Gujarat strongman place his boost energy minister Saurabh Patel, who has a rapport with industrialists and business leaders or will he rely on his close aide Amit Shah?
Among the names doing the rounds is that of Anandiben Patel, Modi’s most trusted confidante and minister who holds key portfolios such as urban development, besides revenue. She is also in charge of Ahmedabad city and district, the political bastion of the saffron party in Gujarat. Though she is 68 years old and has some health problems, Anandiben is regarded as the front runner to replace Modi if he moves to Delhi.
She is not a mass leader but enjoys Modi’s absolute trust and is not very ambitious. She is, however, the arch rival of Amit Shah, another powerful protégé of Modi.
Also in the race is Nitin Patel, 58, the No. 2 in the Modi cabinet. The finance and health minister recently presided over a cabinet meeting when Modi was unwell. That was the first time in Modi’s 12-year rule that a minister was allowed to do so. Nitin has been an old guard of the BJP, having been a protégé of Keshubhai before he moved to the Modi camp.
But if Modi decides on someone who has sound relations with big business, then he could promote energy minister Saurabh Patel, 55, an MBA from the US. After the last assembly polls, Saurabh was elevated from junior minister to cabinet rank. The son-in-law of Ramnikbhai Ambani, the elder brother of the late Dhirubhai Ambani, Saurabh is an experienced minister and understands governance issues.
Then, there is a possibility of Amit Shah, 51, stepping into Modi’s shoes. Currently a national general secretary of the BJP in charge of the party’s affairs in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, Shah is facing a triple-murder charge in the case involving the killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauser Bi and accomplice Tulsiram Prajapati. Shah is fiercely loyal to Modi and is an extremely shrewd politician with formidable organisational skills.
These names are being discussed because Modi, who has been ruling Gujarat since October 2001 with a firm grip on the administration and party organisation, has himself become a political giant without a strong second line of leadership. Modi is undoubtedly the most popular leader in the state but he has finished a generation of stalwarts in the BJP in Gujarat.
As a senior Gujarat BJP MP close to party patriarch LK Advani said, “90% of sitting BJP MLAs in Gujarat would not have won without Modi. Their dependence on him is absolute. Minus Modi, the Gujarat BJP would not even win 70 seats in the state.”
“Ever since Modi became CM, there has been tremendous centralisation of power, with only a handful of ministers and a few bureaucrats running the show,” said a retired bureaucrat who worked with Modi for several years.
Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela, once a prominent BJP leader credited with creating the party’s base among the OBCs in Gujarat, said, “Way back in 1995, in a letter to LK Advani, I had explained how power hungry Modi is and what he is doing to drive a wedge between me and Keshubhai (Patel). Advani has now realised this when Modi has almost finished him.”