Last year, when Narendra Modi moved to New Delhi as prime minister, many names were considered to succeed him as chief minister of Gujarat. But BJP insiders knew that the chosen one would be 74-year-old Anandiben Patel. Such was the confidence she enjoyed with Modi. The only question then was whether she would be able to match up to the larger-than-life image and the political skills of Modi, who had complete control over the party and the government.
Patel completes a year in office on May 22. She has not only held her own, but also managed to move out of Modi's shadow. But her real challenge would come by the end of the year when Gujarat goes to civic polls, which could bring to the fore the rift between Patel and BJP president Amit Shah, who is also an MLA.
The rift was evident when Shah came to attend the budget session of the assembly, although he stayed only for half an hour. Patel, who never missed a session, chose to stay away when Shah was around. She met him only when he went to her chambers with a bouquet.
Patel is charting her own course. While Modi's pet governance project was Panchamrut, she has launched Gatisheel Gujarat, a programme aimed at having specific targets for specific development programmes. "It appears to be the work of one of her advisers. The idea is to make her look different from Modi," said a senior BJP leader.
When it comes to publicity, however, Patel is not unlike Modi. She has put up hoardings and banners publicising various schemes. Like Modi, she, too, has had her share of enrolment drives in schools, held Krishi Mahotsavs and Khel Mahakumbhs, although farmers have suffered huge losses and as many as 9,500 schools in the state do not have playgrounds.
Patel, who was a teacher and principal, seems to focus more on women's issues and children's nourishment. Her government has initiated a number of measures for women, such as an increase in reservation from 33 per cent to 50 per cent in local bodies and employment reservation from 30 per cent to 33 per cent.
Patel pushed through the controversial Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill 2015, ignoring opposition protests. The governor has signed the bill and it has been sent for the president's assent. Similar bills, which gave sweeping powers to the police, were passed thrice when Modi was chief minister, but were rejected by presidents A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil.
Patel's handling of many issues has not been up to the mark, said a BJP leader. In nearly 30 per cent of the government schools, primary classes are held in single classrooms. The government's handling of the swine flu outbreak was far from desirable. It has been unable to resolve the issue of the Kalyannagar slum dwellers. The slum was demolished last year and a majority of the Muslim dwellers there have been allocated homes in Sayajipura, a locality on the outskirts of the city, by the BJP-ruled municipal corporation. The residents of Sayajipura, however, do not want them in their locality and the government has been unable to resolve the issue.
Political analyst Achyut Yagnik said Patel might be giving more emphasis to education and health, but it was not reflected in her budget allocations. "She does not get more marks as Gujarat's first woman chief minister," he said. He was also critical of the government's move to seize control of cooperative societies. "Modi had destroyed the local power structure and Patel continues to follow in his footsteps," he said.
In a bid to wield control over more than 100 small and big cooperative societies, the government has amended the Gujarat Cooperative Societies Act, giving it power to appoint a custodian when the five-year term of the governing committee of a particular society ended. Till now, the committee used to continue till the next elections. The government hopes the move will help it break the hold the Congress has on the societies since their inception in 1960.
At a recent meeting of the BJP, Patel has been authorised to make necessary changes within the government and the party structure to ensure that the BJP wins the local elections. But her problems are only likely to increase with Shah announcing his plan to remain active in Gujarat. During his recent visit to the state, he said he would spend four days a month in the state and discharge his duties as MLA. There are no easy options for Patel.
A teacher for 30 years and a minister for 17, Anandiben Patel is the first woman chief minister of Gujarat. Her signature initiative as chief minister is Gatisheel Gujarat, a programme aimed at having specific targets for specific development programmes.
Highlights of Gatisheel Gujarat
* Setting up self-help groups for housing and employment beneficiaries
* Expansion of women security committees
* Self-defence training for women
* Solid waste management
* Distribution of flavoured milk to five lakh children
* Improving toilet facilities
Other major initiatives:
* 33% reservation for women in government services and police
* 50% reservation for women in local bodies
* 27-30% increase in minimum daily wages
* Loksamvad Setu for on-the-spot grievance redress
* Toilets-for-all scheme
* E-governance initiatives like statewide rollout of Wi-Fi and e-waste management
A staunch Modi loyalist, Patel focuses on women's and children's issues. She courted controversy with the passage of the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill 2015 and the amendment to the Gujarat Cooperative Societies Act. Her handling of the Kalyannagar slum demolition issue as well as the swine flu outbreak, too, has faced criticism. Her rift with BJP president Amit Shah could spell trouble for her.