Anandiben Patel was sworn in as Gujarat’s 15th Chief Minister in Gandhinagar on Thursday, replacing Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi. She is the first woman Chief Minister of Gujarat and the fourth currently in the country, along with Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu) and Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan). She becomes the 15th woman to become Chief Minister of a State since Independence. The entire top BJP leadership, including Mr. Modi, was present at the swearing-in ceremony at Mahatma Mandir, signalling yet again the importance of Gujarat in the party’s scheme of things nationally. Anandiben, 72, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1994, became Gujarat’s Education Minister in 1998 and was Revenue Minister in Mr. Modi’s Cabinet till recently. It is evident to all that Ms. Patel, a schoolteacher for three decades before joining politics, has large shoes to fill. Opinion on the Gujarat “model” of development is divided across the country, but there is little doubt that this “model” has been bought by those who voted for Mr. Modi.
It will perhaps be unfair to judge Ms. Patel against her predecessor given his larger-than-life image, but the new Chief Minister will find that such comparisons are inevitable. Conscious of this legacy, the home page of her website loudly thanks ‘Narendrabhai’ for his “stellar leadership” of the State for the past 12 years and promises the people of Gujarat that the “march forward” on the path of growth and development will continue. With Mr. Modi running a solo show, little was known in the rest of the country about any other key functionaries of his government. We are now in a position to ascertain whether the “Gujarat model” works without Mr. Modi being at the helm of the State or not. Given his close connections with the State, the Prime Minister-elect will retain enormous interest in what happens in Gujarat. The fact that Ms. Patel was chosen by Mr. Modi over senior Ministers like Nitin and Saurabh Patel shows the trust and faith he has reposed in her. The winner of a gallantry award for rescuing two drowning girls, Ms. Patel’s CV also proclaims that she was the only woman leader from Gujarat to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, during the “Ekta Yatra” in 1992. With the Opposition, which has long been absent in Gujarat, posing no threat, Ms. Patel’s challenge will be more in the nature of consolidating her position within the Cabinet. The Chief Minister also has a fresh opportunity to reach out to the State’s Muslim minority, which was at the receiving end of the 2002 carnage. If Mr. Modi and the BJP want to signal that its development vision is really for all, then Gujarat might be a good place to start.