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45AnandibenPatel Exit, poll: CM Anandiben Patel with BJP president Amit Shah | Janak Patel

As the BJP gears up for assembly polls, Anandiben Patel might be given a graceful exit

Two years ago when Narendra Modi became prime minister, Anandiben Patel was the natural choice to succeed him as Gujarat chief minister. Now, just when the government and the BJP are all set to celebrate her two years in power as ‘Vikas Parva’ for five days beginning May 22, rumours have peaked that she would be sent to Punjab or Haryana as governor.

These rumours have been doing rounds ever since the Patidar agitation began last year. The government allegedly mishandled it, and the BJP faced electoral reverses in local civic elections. A controversial land allotment to business partners of Anandiben’s daughter Anar Patel also dented the party’s image.

The latest trouble for Anandiben seems to have come in the form of a report submitted by a team led by senior party leader Om Mathur to Modi. A senior member of the BJP’s think-tank in Gujarat acknowledged that Mathur had gone around meeting MLAs and other leaders in different districts in March-April. In addition, the RSS reportedly did a survey which predicted that the BJP would not do well in the 2017 assembly elections if Anandiben remained in power.

The RSS hasn’t denied having done the survey. However, a former BJP minister said, “This is a perception. The RSS keeps doing such surveys from time to time.”

Even as the rumours of Anandiben’s exit spread, names of her successors started doing the rounds. The names include party president Amit Shah, health minister Nitin Patel, former minister Purshottam Rupala and newly crowned state party president Vijay Rupani.

That Anandiben has been working hard is visible. At the age of 75, she has been putting in more than 15 hours a day and tours the length and breadth of the state. Said a party leader: “I will rate her as one of the best chief ministers that the BJP has had in Gujarat.”

In the last one month, Anandiben was ignored on three important occasions. The announcement to bring an ordinance to provide 10 per cent reservation for economically backward classes among upper castes was made by Rupani. Similar thing happened when Jains were given minority status. Also, Anandiben’s absence was conspicuous when Shah recently inaugurated Karnavati Premier League cricket tournament in Ahmedabad. The KPL has been organised to strengthen the BJP’s base in Gujarat. Said a BJP leader, “Anandiben could eventually go but not so early.” Remarked another leader from central Gujarat, “Knowing Modi, he would ensure that the rumours don’t turn out to be true.”

The BJP has made it clear that there is no change of guard. State party spokesman Bharat Pandya dismissed the rumours. He said Anandiben had gone to meet Modi in Delhi to brief him on the drought situation in the state. Said political analyst Vishnu Pandya, “Normally, no party will change the chief minister unless the situation is bad. I feel that the situation isn’t that bad for the BJP.”

In the past, Gujarat has seen chief ministers being removed. In the mid-1980s, Madhavsinh Solanki had to make way for Amarsinh Chaudhary. In 2001, Keshubhai Patel stepped down for Modi. In Anandiben’s case, it is said that she might be given a graceful exit and that she would announce her retirement later this year. Perhaps Anandiben knows what is actually cooking. After all, she has spent more than three decades in politics. “Have patience, you will get to know,” she told journalists on her return from Delhi.

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