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BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI

Who is Narendra Modi’s choice for Gujarat CM?

Happily for the community that has stayed faithful to the BJP, it will likely be a Patel in charge

Nitin Patel has done what no other Gujarat minister has dared to. In the language of journalism, the state’s finance minister has thrown his hat into the ring to fight for Narendra Modi’s job, when he moves to bigger things in Delhi.

“I am ready to be chief minister if party asks me to take up the job," Patel said, according to a PTI report.

“If you ask this question to any MLA that are you ready to be the chief minister, he will reply in positive. If you ask Virat Kohli that would he like to be the captain of India, he would obviously not say no," he said, and the report added: “though he insisted that whatever the party decides will be accepted by all, including him, and the discipline will not be breached."

Of course it won’t. But this statement makes him the third contender in a shadowy fight.

Of the two names bandied about till now, one was Anandiben Patel, a most fiercely loyal supporter of Modi inside the Gujarat Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Through the dark days of dissent from Keshubhai Patel, she stood next to the chief minister.

An education minister, and a former teacher who cannot spell (I once received an official invitation from her peppered with errors—which I duly reported), she is a tough and careful politician. When she was asked on television earlier this week how she reacted to her name being considered, she said: “You may have heard this, but I have not." Excellent stuff. Anandiben (I won’t refer to her as Patel for reasons to be made clear shortly) has good knowledge of how the bureaucracy works. She is in her early 70s, and despite not having been in politics that long, being only around since the 1990s, she is seen as the default choice for Modi.

Saurabh Patel, the other favourite, is an interesting character. A moon-faced and large man (even by Amit Shah’s and Modi’s already exacting standards) , he is the most educated and sophisticated man in Modi’s cabinet, is related to the Ambani family and has a degree from an American university. For a decade, while Modi held the most important portfolios himself, Saurabhbhai was the deputy minister for most of these ministries. They included ports, mines and minerals, energy and petrochemicals and industry. That is to say, he was the minister for Reliance, Adani, Essar, Torrent and Tata. The old insider joke in Gandhinagar was to refer to Modi as the Draupadi who had to serve these five Pandavs, but it is actually Saurabhbhai who did most of the heavy lifting (no pun) in implementation. He is good technically and insiders believe that Modi’s genius ideas on electricity distribution actually came from him. Unfortunately, Saurabhbhai doesn’t have the grip over politics which Anandiben does, which has its advantages and disadvantages from Modi’s perspective.

There is a dark horse, a fourth person in the running, and that is Parshottam Rupala, a Rajya Sabha member. If you are thinking here that he has finally broken the tedium of Patel candidates, I must hasten to add that he is Patel too.

The fact is that the BJP in Gujarat is the party of Patels. The Patels were early and enthusiastic opponents of the Babri Masjid and supporters of the Ram temple. It is their votes which have kept the BJP in power in Gujarat and four out of nine ministers in the Modi Cabinet are usually Patels. Modi has kept them on his right side. Just as Mulayam Singh Yadav is leader of the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh despite being a Yadav, Modi is leader of the Patels.

They did not desert him when Keshubhai wailed that Patel interests were being damaged in Gujarat, because they were not.

So who among these four has the best chance? Nobody really knows. What is on Modi’s mind is rarely discussed with underlings when things are fluid. My guess is that unless he was given a signal to put up his hand, Nitin Patel’s bravado will cost him. Modi will insist on being seen as having absolute discretion (which is also factually the case) and that means no presumptuousness.

But happily for the community that has stayed faithful to the BJP, no matter who among these four is chief minister, it will likely be a Patel in charge.

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