Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Gujarat CM race: Whom will BJP pick – Nitin Patel or Vijay Rupani?

Sudheesh Sudhakaran | August 3, 2016 5:26 pm Print
As Gujarat heads for Assembly elections next year, the real puzzle for the BJP is to decide which community to appease — Patels by choosing Nitin Patel, or Jains and Baniyas by choosing Vijay Rupani

The resignation of Anandiben Patel as the Gujarat Chief Minister, though not a surprise, is raising hot discussions in the political and media circles on who her successor would be. Anandiben Patel, who was the immediate successor of a populist leader like Narendra Modi, failed to be successful like him in winning the masses. Although she tried to reach out to the people, the recent caste agitations and protests in the state proved to be her undoing.

Anandiben’s resignation is being widely celebrated by liberals and seculars as a backlash for the Hindutva camp. However, the truth is that the BJP and the RSS saved their face by taking a timely action and thus reduced the electoral damage by sacrificing Anandiben as a scapegoat.

In a similar manner, Narendra Modi had saved his face by replacing Smriti Irani with Prakash Javadekar as the HRD Minister. Smriti Irani’s resignation was also celebrated as a success of nationwide protests by students of different universities. Instead, Irani was allegedly ousted by RSS ideologues themselves, as she failed to effectively execute their saffronisation agenda. Dinanath Batra and other Sangh intellectuals wanted a crafty leader as the minister to implement their agendas without controversies. As Irani was a total failure in the assigned job, “Aunty National” became “Aunt Sally” to save the face of the government, and Javadekar, with his experience in Sangh politics, became an apt choice for them.

Patel agitations caused a big damage for the BJP government led by Anandiben Patel in Gujarat. The government failed to convince the Patel community and suppress the protests. Sources said the Patel agitation was a social experiment planned by the Hindutva brigade to do away with the reservation system. But, Anandiben failed to obnubilate such a protest within the walls of the ‘laboratory’. So, the Patel agitations eventually turned against the incumbent government.

“Anandiben Patel had said she did not order any police action against the Patel protesters. Then who gave the orders,” asked Ashok Shrimali, an activist with the Setu Centre for Social Knowledge and Action in Gujarat.

“Some internal groups of the government and party mechanism may have been involved in such actions. There were different groups supporting Amit Shah, Nitin Patel etc. They might have played a key role in exacerbating the issue,” he added.

“There are mainly two groups in the Gujarat BJP. One is the Amit Shah camp and the other is the Anandiben group. Amit Shah wanted one of his man to be the Chief Minister. Anandiben failed as an administrator. She had been facing corruption charges related to her daughter Anar Patel,” said Pratik Sinha, a civil rights activist and an office bearer of the organisation ‘Jan Sangharsh Manch’.

Dalit protests have shaken both the government and Sangh Parivar. But Anandiben’s resignation helps the actual culprits to evade responsibilities.

Dalits had been treated in the same way in Gujarat throughout the history. “After the successful formation of a separate state, the expanding middle class changed the ethos of Gujarat, and a new kind of entrepreneurship replaced old mercantile value systems. It was held in place by development models based on unsustainable use of natural resources, rapid and widespread urbanization and the increasing marginalization of Dalits, Adivasis and minorities. This led to a phase of identity politics based on the Hindutva ideology,” activist Achyut Yagnik writes in the preface of his book “The Shaping Of Modern Gujarat”.

The book also quoted an incident of Dalit atrocity that happened in Gujarat in 1995.

“A minor incident involving an argument between a Dalit youth and an upper-caste shopkeeper sparked off a caste riot in the prosperous town Kadi in May 1995. During the four hours of arson and looting, allegedly at the instigation of the BJP health minister, a 4000-strong crowd of upper castes went on a rampage. Dalits were brutally assaulted, their houses and sixty-three shops and kiosks owned by them were burnt. Many Dalits reported that the police remained mute spectators to this upper-caste, mainly Patidar, attempt ‘to put the Dalits in their place’ and ‘to teach them a lesson’. The police arrested the victims of violence, imprisoned some of them and externed others from the town of Kadi, while the perpetrators of the arson and assault remained untouched,” it read.

Dalit oppression is not new in Gujarat. But Anandiben failed to immobilize  the protests in a tactical way as BJP governments used to do it.

Now there is a confusion in the BJP circles on deciding the successor of Anandiben. Amit Shah has been ruled out as he is supposed to head the UP election campaign as the party national president. Nitin Patel and Vijay Rupani are the front runners. The real puzzle for the BJP is to decide which community to appease — Patels by choosing Nitin Patel, or Jains and Baniyas by choosing Vijay Rupani?

Sudheesh Sudhakaran
Sudheesh Sudhakaran
Sudheesh Sudhakaran reports on Caste politics,rural affairs and environmental issues. He tweets @Sudheesh_S_