How the Nitin Patel episode exposed BJP’s weakness in Gujarat
The top leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has managed to diffuse the crisis that had hit the party's government in Gujarat recently by managing to pacify the sulking deputy chief minister Nitin Patel who was making rebellious noises over portfolio allocation. But within a fortnight of the party being voted back to power, BJP’s stability has come into question. The party stands exposed with regards to its steadiness and resembles a termite infested trunk of a banyan tree.
In the entire episode that unfolded in the last few days of 2017, chief minister Vijay Rupani stands cornered as a weak leader in the party as well in the state giving further credence to the view that he is 'a remote controlled puppet of the BJP's national president Amit Shah'. After all, the chief minister must have a say in allocation of responsibilities to his team members.
On the other side, the developments also send out a signal on how weak-kneed the BJP has become in the face of Patidars in the state.
The crisis stood averted on Sunday when Nitin Patel got the coveted finance department along with five other portfolios and went on to take charge at the Sachivalaya in Gandhinagar. He had refused to come to office after taking oath on December 28 showing his unhappiness at being divested of finance and urban development portfolios that were with him in the last government led by Rupani. The crisis reportedly got over when Amit Shah called Nitin Patel assuring him of portfolios in line with his demand that went with his respect intact and safeguarded his Number Two position in the government.
He eventually got the finance portfolio that had earlier been given to Saurabh Patel who now has only one portfolio of energy with him.
The sequence of events has led to the observers and analysts putting things in different perspective. There is a widespread view that the whole episode has portrayed Rupani as a weakling who has no or very little say in the running of his government.
The second most interesting observation is on how weak the BJP stands in the state in the face of the powerful Patidar lobby in the state. “Just look at the hollowness of everything. Nitin Patel is no Shankersinh Vaghela who can topple a government like the latter did in 1995. He has no following among the party MLAs. Not a single party member came out in open support of him when he sat sulking at his home. All that came out was that a meeting was held at the house of party leader Babu Jamuna Patel, where Cabinet ministers Bhupendrasinh Chudasma, Kaushik Patel and Pradipsinh Jadeja met Nitin Patel. Chudasma came out to announce that the matter was resolved and next day Nitin Patel gets finance and is happy. There are no details available of what transpired at the meeting,” points out a political observer based in Ahmedabad.
Then there is also a line of thought that the whole 'tamasha' was a creation of the BJP to weigh how much anger still remains among the Patidars for the party. “The manner in which a section of the Patidars affiliated to the Sardar Patel Group went to the extent of calling for a Mehasana Bandh shows this. Then there was the whole drama of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel asking Nitin Patel to join the Congress which initiated a big debate among various sections on whether the Congress should accept Nitin Patel or not and how it would benefit the BJP in the long run. This added to the chaos and fluidity of the situation,” the observer added.
He pointed that the manner in which things have unfolded sends out a signal that the Patidars just have to make a little noise to make the BJP deliver what they want. At the same it also remains to be seen how much interest and time Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have reserved for Gujarat in the coming days with the assembly polls in Karnataka and some other states approaching along with the next Lok Sabha polls.
“Modi wanted to retain Gujarat at all costs before the next Lok Sabha polls which he has managed to do somehow. Had the BJP lost Gujarat he would have stood extremely weakened. Now the job is to consolidate support for the Lok Sabha polls while the nitty-gritty of Gujarat affairs can be kept on the back burner for now,” he added.
But another senior political analyst Harish Gurjar who is based in Surat has a different take on the scenario. “The whole issue revolving around Nitin Patel has come as a blow to the BJP. I believe that the BJP had planned to sideline the Patidars just like the Muslims after it won the polls this time. It gave Nitin the post of the deputy chief minister while keeping key portfolios away from him as per the design. But it had to succumb to the circumstances as Patidar groups sent the signal of rallying behind Nitin Patel,” he said.
He further pointed, “Come to think of it that whenever the government had to face the Patidars in the last two years it was always fielding Nitin Patel. He was the one also facing the press on Patidar issues. Then he managed to win his seat that everyone including a large number of those in the BJP had given up as lost. He was named the deputy chief minister and the party wanted to use him as a puppet. Saurabh Patel came back into the cabinet not because of his virtue of being a Patel but because of his Modi connection. The best thing for the party would have been to give Nitin important portfolios going by his experience in the first place. That would also have saved the embarrassment of Rupani being seen as a remote controlled chief minister of Amit Shah.”
The storm might have passed over for now but the BJP's citadel of Gujarat is set to remain volatile in the days to come.