Patidar agitation, by-polls add fuel to rumours of Anandiben Patel's ouster

Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel at the Gujarat Investors Summit during the Make in India week in Mumbai (pic: Suryakant Niwate)
The Gujarat wing of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have categorically denied any such move but the quick turn of events in the last one year of Anandiben Patel's reign as the state's chief minister does add teeth to the rumours of her ouster.

Ever since Anandiben Patel had a high-level meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and key officials at Delhi on Monday to discuss the drought situation, rumours are abuzz over the party preparing grounds for her ouster as Gujarat CM.  Among names of contenders as her successor are BJP president Amit Shah, Gujarat state minister Nitin Patel and Gujarat BJP president Vijay Rupani.

Despite Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya categorically denying any such move, talks of her being moved out of Gujarat as a governor of some other state are doing the rounds, thanks to an internal party report submitted by BJP member of Rajya Sabha, Om Prakash Mathur which has claimed waning popularity of Anandiben Patel in PM Modi's home state.

What makes such rumours credible is the last one turbulent year of Anandiben Patel at the state's helm.  While the first year saw her blazing all guns at dealing with social indicators and announcing women and children oriented schemes, the second year of her chief ministership has been filled with challenges.  

It all began with the Patidar agitation in July-August last year which is still going on and poses a serious threat to the ruling party's prospects in the upcoming elections in December 2017.  The agitation peaked at a time when Gujarat was heading towards a crucial local body polls at urban and rural levels in December 2015.  

While the Anandiben government was able to retain the urban seats, it faced a severe drubbing in the rural seats, losing 22 of 31 district panchayat seats to Congress, who are up from just one in 2010 elections.

What has also not worked in her favour is her perceived lack of teamwork and inability to work along with all ministers and bureaucrats, coupled with lack of vision in handling crisis such as the Patidar agitation or drought.  The state was recently pulled up by the Supreme Court for reacting late in declaring drought in the state.

Though her exit seems inevitable, party insiders and political observers are divided over its timing. "The Assam results will be crucial for BJP and Anandiben Patel and could very well decide her fate," says a source. 

However, others doubt the party would risk sudden ouster of Anandiben Patel who has had a long association with PM Modi.  The other potential time to a change of guard could come in November when Anandiben completes 75 years of age, a limit that PM Modi had set for ministers and chief ministers.

Party sources say that the leadership is also unhappy with the way the state government under her leadership was complacent in dealing with issues of farmers and SMEs, most of which belong to the Patidar community.

It was only later in her second year that a slew of farmer and SME friendly schemes were announced to appease both.  By then, the agitation had thickened severely and the state had already begun feeling the drought pinch.

Last but not the least, the recent allegations of corruption by extending favours to companies associated with her daughter Anar Patel have also "not gone down well" with the BJP leadership, say insiders.  

Meanwhile, observers feel while a sudden exit may not look good on Modi himself who backed Anandiben Patel as his successor in Gujarat, the party is and should be preparing ground to retain its hold over the state in the upcoming assembly elections in December 2017. Till then, all eyes are on May 19 when the Assam results are out.

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