When Narendra Modi handpicked Anandiben Patel, 72, as his successor as Gujarat chief minister, few people doubted her ability to do the job; the concern, on the other hand, was about the inevitable comparisons between the two. Three months later, however, Patel is on a roll and Modi is rarely missed in the state.
A minister for 17 years, she had a strong case for the post of the chief minister even before Modi made up his mind. “The successful kanya kelavni programme for the welfare of girl children was her brainchild. She had implemented it at a district level when she was Rajya Sabha member,” said a BJP leader. She is credited with many popular reforms in the revenue and education departments.
Patel, who joined the BJP in 1987 at the instance of her husband, Mafatbhai Patel, and senior leader Keshubhai Patel, is known for her practical wisdom. Soon after she became chief minister, she asked government departments to replace the customary flowers and garlands to greet her with fruits so that she could give them to anganwadis in areas where malnutrition was a problem.
Though Patel had built a reputation as a disciplinarian and a taskmaster, she has been trying to project an amiable image since she became chief minister. In an effort to make mass contact, she has launched ‘Lok Samvad Setu’, in which she personally hears people’s grievances. The programme is being held in rural areas and, at a later stage, urban pockets will also be included, said state BJP general secretary Bharat Pandya.
After Patel took charge, the government set targets in meeting nutritional requirements, public cleanliness, job creation, infrastructure development in big cities and smart classes in schools. She has announced 33 per cent reservation for women in all cadres of the police force and increased the financial assistance for postnatal care of poor women to Rs 6,000 a month. She has been meeting delegations from various countries and holding meetings for the Vibrant Gujarat summit in 2015.
Patel hates keeping files pending. She likes to meet targets within a timeframe and makes it a point to stick to deadlines. “She is quick in decision making,” said a bureaucrat. Having handled important portfolios like revenue and education, she has learnt the tricks of the trade and has her way with the bureaucrats.
Unlike Modi, who harboured national ambitions and was particular about earning credit, Patel is little bothered about publicity. Her focus is solely on getting the work done. In fact, journalists often get to know about what she is up to from the police control room rather than her public relations machinery. She is said to have told some close associates that she would want her actions to speak for themselves and there was no way she could be compared with Modi.
“Patel is sincere in her work and her follow up is strong,” said political analyst Sudhir Raval, who has worked with both Modi and Patel. It helps that she enjoys as much authority as Modi did. The election of Amit Shah, who had always been Modi’s first lieutenant, as the BJP’s national president has tilted the balance of power in the state in her favour. Moreover, the bureaucracy and the group of ministers seem to be more at ease with Patel than Modi.
Patel’s immediate challenge is the bypolls to nine assembly seats and the Vadodara Lok Sabha seat, vacated by Modi, on September 13. While the BJP seems all set for the polls, the opposition Congress is yet to recover from the washout in the Lok Sabha polls. But its leaders are aware that the bypolls are an opportunity to make themselves relevant in the state politics.
This story was published in our September 7, 2014 issue.