Gujarat after Modi: Multiple power centres, weak CMs but an ‘open’ CMO

Narendra Modi still enjoys unparalleled popularity in state but opinion on CMs after him is uneven.

india Updated: May 12, 2017 07:07 IST
Prashant Jha and Hiral Dave
Prashant Jha and Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Gandhinagar
Narendra Modi,Patidar agitation,Anandiben Patel
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a gathering at Botad in Gujarat on April 17. Narendra Modi remains such an overwhelmingly dominant figure in Gujarat politics that even after his exit, there is continuity.(PTI)

At the peak of the Patidar agitation in 2015, as reports emerged of police aggression against Patel protestors, a close aide of then CM Anandiben Patel called her and briefed her on the development.

She replied, “But why did this happen? I never asked the police to do this.” Patel, who also held the home portfolio, was neither aware of the intensity of the agitation nor the police excesses.

That response perhaps best reflects the difference between the administrations in Gujarat before and after 2014.

The former was marked by the complete dominance by Narendra Modi, with the Chief Minister’s Office controlling every element of governance, and a tight structure. The latter has been marked by the emergence of multiple power centres, weak CMs, and a much more indisciplined but also open, informal and some suggest democratic, structure.

In the shadow of Modi

Narendra Modi remains such an overwhelmingly dominant figure in Gujarat politics that even after his exit, there is continuity. All leaders and bureaucrats look up to him. His schemes have been carried forward, and even his time table for the week – cabinet meetings on a particular day, public outreach on another day, field visits on a third day, nourishing constituency over the weekend – continues.

But the rupture is obvious.

“Modi knew every bureaucrat, he knew who to place where, and he knew how to get work done. He had an independent information network that was unparalleled. Along with Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela, Modi is the only other person who knows people by name in 10,000 villages of Gujarat,” said a bureaucrat who worked closely with Modi through his tenure in Gujarat.

All of this, he argues, gave Modi a firm grip over the administration. “He also, needless to say, had a razor sharp political sense.”

This combination of unquestioned leadership, administrative control and political skill has been missing over the past three years.

Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenor Hardik Patel in Dhrangdhra, Gujarat. (HT Photo)
CMOs before and after Modi
  • The pre-2014 chief minister’s office (CMO) was marked by complete dominance of Narendra Modi. The CMO controlled every sphere of the governance with a tight structure
  • Post-2014, CMOs have been marked by weak CMs, emergence of multiple power centres, and an indisciplined but also open and ‘democratic’ structure
  • Even after Modi’s exit, there is continuity. Leaders and bureaucrats look up to him and carry forward his schemes, even his weekly timetable for babus and ministers
  • Modi knew every bureaucrat, knew who to place where and how to get work done
  • This combination of strong leadership, administrative control and political skill has been missing over the past three years
  • Anandiben Patel lacked sound political management; there was no coordination with the party. She did not know how to manage the media
  • New CM Vijay Rupani is an old organisation man, an Amit Shah loyalist, and thus his coordination with the party is seamless
  • The fragmentation of authority has led to jokes about there being two-and-a-half CMs in Gujarat now — Amit Shah, Vijay Rupani and deputy CM Nitin Patel.

The official who has worked with Anandiben Patel admits, “She was a good administrator, had technical knowledge. But she did not have sound political management. There was no coordination with the party. She did not know how to manage the media. The Patel agitation symbolised that failure. It would not have happened under Modi.”

It was due to these factors – and Amit Shah’s firm stance against her – that Anandiben was replaced last year. The new CM, Vijay Rupani, has been an old organisation man, is an Amit Shah loyalist and thus his coordination with the party is seamless.

“But where he falters is lack of administrative experience. He lacks dynamism. The bureaucrats have become more powerful and are able to influence direction far more than they did under Modi,” says an official in the CMO.

There is another difference. Modi believed in wider public contact through mass meetings, but was selective in his private meetings. Access was controlled. But under the new CM, it is a far more open office, reflecting a different style of functioning.

Political analyst Japan Pathak sums up the difference: “Having Modi in Delhi has also helped administration. With Centre and state aligned, many projects have got a boost. What has changed is that the new CMs have not had the kind of initiative he had. They have also been politically complacent, dependent on Modi, while he was always politically on his feet.”

Multiple power centres

Unlike the Modi years, there is fragmentation of authority. A bureaucrat jokes there are two and a half chief ministers in Gujarat now – Amit Shah, Vijay Rupani, and Deputy CM Nitin Patel who is also the finance minister.

Shaktisinh Gohil, national spokesperson of the Congress, is the chair of the Public Affairs Committee of the assembly and tracks the administration closely. He says, “Bureaucrats tell us that when they plan campaign material for government schemes, CM tells them to remove the Deputy CM’s face, and Deputy CM then tells them to put it back. After Modi’s exit, all these contradictions are now out in the open. Earlier, BJP MLAs were too scared to come and talk to us. That fear has gone.”

The BJP, however, insists that these comparisons are not apt. “You can’t compare anyone with Modiji,” says state spokesperson Bharat Pandya.

But the difference is palpable to people on the ground. As Jayant, an Ahmedabad taxi driver, told HT, “There was both fear and enthusiasm under Modiji. He kept doing something new. That is missing.” Would it have any electoral impact? “No, BJP will win. He may be gone, but it is still Modiji’s Gujarat.”

(This is the first of HT’s three-part series ‘Gujarat after Modi’)

First Published: May 09, 2017 07:53 IST