Criticisms abound that Anandiben Patel was not given enough powers to take independent decisions as she had to rely on senior BJP leaders at the Centre
Ahmedabad: Just when many thought that Anandiben Patel, Gujarat’s first woman chief minister, was trying to make a comeback—going by some key announcements made over the last few days including a move that could blunt the Patidar agitation—the 74-year-old leader said on Monday that she has decided to step down.
While some of her detractors say that she was on the backfoot in the wake of recent Dalit agitation, her supporters see her exit, announced on Facebook on Monday, as a bold way to go.
“She has ensured that her exit should be a strong one. She has worked a lot for people of Gujarat, especially women, and her will efforts will be remembered in the times to come. She wants to do all that she can for the people of Gujarat before she leaves," said a person close to the CM who did not wish to be named.
Known as an able administrator, Patel’s term as the chief minister saw two major agitations that snowballed into state-wide protests.
On Sunday, she announced withdrawal of 90% of the police cases lodged against members of the Patidar community during the state-wide agitation that took place last year. The powerful and influential Patel community, to which the chief minister belongs, have been agitating for OBC status.
She also announced some populist measures over the weekend like exemption from paying toll tax for small vehicles and the implementation of 7th Pay Commission. This was not all. Even after announcing her exit plans, the chief minister said in a media statement that in a pro-farmer decision to provide maximum benefit of crop insurance scheme to them, the farmers of Gujarat will have to pay only 2% premium instead of 5% as decided earlier.
Drawing parallels between Patel’s tenure and BJP’s Keshubhai Patel’s exit in 2001 as the Gujarat chief minister, a senior party leader said that both were faced with opposition from members of their own community and both were alleged to have extended favours to their family members.
“In case of Keshubhai the move to oust him was led by senior BJP leaders from the Patel community. Here too, the talks of her ouster began after the Patel agitation," he said on conditions of anonymity.
While she seemed to have survived the criticism of the Patel agitation as she remained in power even after her party did poorly in local body elections, her decision to resign comes at a time when another protest, led by Dalits, is posing a challenge to the BJP, even in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab where they form a large part of the vote bank.
A video clip of four Dalit victims being brutally beaten by self-styled “cow protectors", after tying them to an SUV, went viral and this led to a state-wide agitation with rival parties blaming the chief minister and the BJP of inaction. The protest by the community is likely to intensify in the coming days.
Her supporters say that she was not given enough powers to take independent decisions and she had to rely on senior party leaders at the Centre.
Patel, who has been carrying forward the development initiatives started by Modi like making Gujarat an auto hub, has laid special emphasis on women and social development, an area where the state was not doing very well before, said a state government official who did not wish to be identified.
Popularly known as ‘Ben’ (sister), she at one point of time did not think twice before she jumped into the Narmada River to rescue two young students of Mohinaba Girl’s School in Ahmedabad from drowning at the Navagam reservoir. Then, a school teacher, who taught maths and science, ‘Ben’ (the word is often used to address to lady teachers in Gujarat schools) won several state and national awards for her bravery act in 1987. Her brave act of saving the two girls from drowning saw her being wooed by the BJP leaders to join politics.
A farmer’s daughter, she starts her day at 5.30am with Yoga and Pranayam. A gold medallist in M. Sc, Patel had joined the BJP in 1987 and was sent to the Rajya Sabha in 1994 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the organising secretary of Gujarat BJP.
She has worked with two chief ministers in Gujarat—Keshubhai Patel and Narendra Modi. Patel stood by Modi when the latter was banished from the state in 1996 after confrontation with other senior BJP leaders.
She got a Rajya Sabha nomination in 1994, but she quit the Upper House seat in 1998 to fight her first election in Gujarat. Since then she has remained the longest serving woman legislator in the state.
Patel was elected to the state assembly first in 1998 from Mandal seat and in 2007 she was shifted to Patan, north Gujarat. In 2012 again she was again shifted to Ghatlodia in Ahmedabad city.
With her proximity to Modi she was always been seen as number two in the Gujarat cabinet when Modi was the chief minister. So it was hardly surprising when Modi named her as his successor after being chosen as the Prime Minister in 2014.
As a revenue minister, Patel initiated reforms such as creation of a single window clearance system, e-gram, online availability of record of rights, e-governance, establishment of ‘Janseva Kendras’ and improved functionality of non-agriculture land.
Another important department she has handled is education for which she is being criticized by the agitating Patel community who blame rampant privatization of the sector and making education unaffordable for them.
Patel, like Modi, kept most of the key portfolios to herself.
The state under her watch achieved the top spot in DIPP and the World Bank’s index for Ease of Doing Business (EODB) in 2015. In 2015-16, Gujarat received ₹ 14,667crore worth of FDI, indicating a growth of 55% over the previous year. From 2013-14 to 2015-16, FDI to Gujarat grew at a CAGR of 66%, according to a state government official.
However, neighbouring Maharashtra toppled Gujarat as the most sought after destination for global and domestic investors with the latter recording least growth rate of just over 2% among the 21 states it studied during the course of past five years, according to a study by Assocham, an apex industry body.
Subdued performance by micro and small enterprises (MSEs) led by cotton and ginning industry saw the sector’s share in total bank advances fall by about 4% points for fiscal 2014-15 in the state. According to SLBC data, share of lending to MSE sector in total advances saw the highest dip among all sectors which also included priority sector, agri advances and weaker sector. Share of priority sector, agri sector and weaker sector fell by 1.97%, 1% and 0.2% to stand at ₹ 1.52 lakh crore, ₹ 54,288 crore and ₹ 24,221 crore, respectively in total bank lending in the state.
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