Friday, May 20, 2016

RK Misra - Two years after he left, the key question: Can Modi lose Gujarat and hope to win India?

The recent speculation on a possible replacement for the Gujarat chief minister, ironically, comes at a times as Anandiben Patel completes two years on the job on May 22.

It was clear when she assumed office that she had big shoes to fill – as she was replacing none other than Narendra Modi, who was moving on to take over the prime ministership of the country after 13 eventful years as the chief minister of Gujarat.

For her, though, it has proved to be both a blessing and a curse to succeed Modi. Blessing, because when Modi anoints, the system bends backwards to do his bidding. No questions asked, no answers given. A curse, because the larger-than-life figure looming in the background stifles while rivals within get a free run.

With the cat away, all manner of men turned mice have been back at play, making the going rough for her. This in short sums up Gujarat after Modi. Patel was no novice when she assumed the chief minister’s chair. She had been a minister for 16 long years before she replaced Modi, having begun her cabinet stint in 1998 under Keshubhai Patel and continuing thereafter to hold key portfolios under her predecessor. She and the present Bharatiya Janata Party president, Amit Shah, are two of Modi’s most trusted confidantes, though both remain at loggerheads to this day – their hostility with each other filtering right down to their followers.

Modi's shadow
Modi ruled Gujarat for 4,610 days (October 2001 to May 2014) like a czar. He was the government and he was the party.Whether veterans or greenhorns, those who did not toe his line were either sidelined or forced out. The list is long and includes the likes of veterans Shankersinh Vaghela, Keshubhai Patel, Kashiram Rana,Vallabh Kathiria, Gordhan Jhadapia and the late Haren Pandya to name a few. Many are back but with their wings clipped.The cadre-based party in Gujarat worships only one God: Modi.

Modi’s shadow hangs heavy over both the government as well as the party apparatus.The initial days of the Patel government were blissful for it marked a clear departure from earlier times when bureaucrats and ministers alike were reluctant to talk.There was an openness and chief minister Patel also sought to restore “internal democracy” within her administration. Soon enough, however, long suppressed individual aspirations resulted in conspiracies galore from within the party.

The strongest manifestation of this is the continuing Patidar (Patel) pro-quota stir for reservations in educational institutions and government jobs at par with the Other Backward Classes. Fuelled from within the party, the stir caught the imagination of the youth and soon careened out of their control. What is remarkable about this is that a 22-year-old greenhorn (Hardik Patel) was able to so threaten an an administration headed by a Patel chief minister – with a Patel Gujarat BJP president (until recently), not to mention seven of the 24 ministers and 42 of the total 182 legislators from the community – that it burnt midnight oil to keep him locked up on sedition charges for over 200 days.

The Patidar stir is now a millstone around the neck of the BJP and is a matter of concern for Modi himself. It has also exposed the stranglehold of Delhi over Gujarat. The Prime Minister’s Office still oversees the state closely. The way the state Director General of Police PC Thakur was unceremoniously transferred to Home Guards in Delhi with orders issued on a holiday and directions to handover charge in the forenoon next day to PP Pandey as acting incharge is just one recent case in point. Delhi was unhappy with Thakur for his handling of the Patel stir as was the chief minister.

Pandey has been recently bailed out in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case and reinstated. Thakur may have been transferred at the insistence of Patel but Pandey was not her choice but that of Delhi which continues to decide on key police postings. These are conveyed through K Kailashnathan who was additional chief secretary in the chief minister’s office during Modi’s time and still continues to be the point person post retirement.

Desperate times
The Patel stir has ominous portends for the BJP in Gujarat. Anandiben, who inherited from Modi control of 30 of the total 31 district panchayats and190 of the 230 taluka (tehsil) in May 2014, lost control of 23 district panchayats and 132 taluka panchayats to the Congress in December  more: