The Division Bench of the high court had last week described Ahmedabad
Civil Hospital, the state’s biggest Covid-19 facility, as being “worse than a dungeon”. It asked if Patel and Chief Secretary Anil Mukim had any idea about the problems facing patients and staffers. To this, Patel had responded that in the last two months, he had visited the civil hospital five times.
“I have held three meetings with experienced and renowned private doctors and seniors of civil hospital, kidney hospital, and heart hospital on the civil hospital campus... Chief Principal
Secretary to the CM K Kailashnathan, Additional Chief Secretary Pankaj Kumar, who is holding special responsibility of Civil hospital, and Principal Secretary (Health) Jayanti Ravi were also present in those meetings,” Patel said. “Our family members are concerned and they stop us from stepping out. In such a scenario, I have never avoided going out.”
In the complex caste politics
of Gujarat, a rap by the court is not much of a political setback. The deputy CM is elected from the Mehsana constituency, a Patidar stronghold, from where Patel — a commerce graduate — also runs a cotton ginning and oil industry.
It is to the Patidar community (to which he belongs) that Patel owes a debt of gratitude. He is an almost unquestioned leader of the powerful caste votebank for the BJP that threatened to move away in the aftermath of the Hardik Patel-led agitation, but amazingly rallied behind Patel even after that phase of discontentment. Patel was instrumental in holding talks with his community leaders and assuaging their concerns.
While Rupani is seen as an amiable take-everyone-along kind of leader, Patel is much more pugnacious. In a recent interview with a local TV channel, Patel said: “Experts are saying that the Covid-19 pandemic is going to continue a long time… Therefore, the interest of 63 million citizens of Gujarat
and their livelihood are important. Until now, we have been strictly implementing the lockdown… Now, a stage has come where we have become acquainted with coronavirus… Now, if business, jobs, agriculture, animal husbandry, and labour work remain stopped, not only a person or his family will be in a bad condition, but also the state’s economy. It is not appropriate to let that happen. Relaxations are being given in a phased manner…”
Rupani, by contrast, has been consistent in every phase of lockdown, saying the state will be guided by the Centre. That may be the factual position but it certainly isn’t a political position.
Patel has held senior positions in the government and enjoys the backing of the party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2014, when Modi was predicted to win, Patel had said he would be happy to take up the chief minister’s post when Modi becomes prime minister. But in the aftermath of Covid-19, that ambition may have to be nursed for a while.