The BJP’s troubles in Gujarat

August 03, 2016 02:35 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:33 pm IST

Nobody is buying Anandiben Patel’s explanation that she >offered to resign as Chief Minister of Gujarat >on account of her looming 75th birthday . The age limit of 75 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set for ministerial posts may, of course, have in time come to determine her longevity in the chair, but the current sense of a State government gripped by crisis >draws from much more than her passing years. Ms. Patel’s offer came a day after Ahmedabad saw a >large protest by Dalits who threw their voice beyond the borders of the State. They are bringing into focus the hesitation of the BJP’s governments at the Centre and the State to distance themselves unambiguously from the recent instances of vigilantism. The extent of the >growing protests over the >Una attack is not yet clear, but >Dalit alienation will cost the BJP dear. If the offer of resignation is an attempt to deflect attention, Ms. Patel’s offer will not do. The entire episode has given the impression of a party in trouble-shooting mode, if not in outright panic, a far cry from the picture of smooth governance Mr. Modi would be keen on ensuring in a State he ruled with an iron grip between 2001 and 2014.

Uttar Pradesh may be the biggest election of 2017, but the significance of Gujarat for the Prime Minister as well as his party should not be underestimated. Mr. Modi may have chosen in 2014 to give up his Vadodara Lok Sabha seat and retain the Varanasi constituency, but he draws his authority and reputation from his base in Gujarat. This is why Ms. Patel’s ouster had been on the cards even before her government’s failure to act to contain the damage from the Una attack. She has been seen to be flailing to control the >Hardik Patel-led Patidar agitation , and her ineffective passive-aggressive tactics have given rivals in the State government enough of an opportunity to undermine her in a growing factional whisper campaign. Patidars have been crucial to the BJP’s hold on Gujarat. It is their support that made it possible for the party to chip away at the Congress’s traditional KHAM alliance; their disaffection in the form of the quota agitation threatens to unravel the party’s development narrative. The BJP is beset with intra-party problems as it attempts to overcome those posed by unrest and agitation. Ms. Patel’s successor, who will be chosen by the BJP’s parliamentary board, will have the difficult task of stemming the slide in popularity before Gujarat goes to the polls in end-2017. But will a mere swap of Chief Ministers, even if neatly executed, be enough to overcome troubles in its vaunted citadel?

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