Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah’s meeting with bête noire Anandiben Patel, former Gujarat chief minister, on October 1 was meant to send a message that the party’s state unit was united. But it seems to have achieved the opposite effect: it has left uncertain the fate of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, a confidant of Shah’s, and triggered a factious scramble for election tickets. Gujarat goes to Assembly polls later this year.
Central to this uncertainty is speculation that Anandiben Patel could be the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in the impending election; speculation that was given credence by senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy on Friday.
Ticket-seekers are understandably vexed: should they make their pitch with Shah or Anandiben Patel?
“It is for the party to decide who the CM candidate should be but Anandiben has a proven track record,” said Zankhana Patel, BJP legislator from Choryasi. “She is a very good administrator, and she is loved by people across the state. The party will gain if she is given this responsibility.”
Zankhana Patel, a loyalist of the former chief minister, is facing competition for the ticket from Raju Pathak, a fellow Surat-based BJP leader said to be backed by Shah. Pathak is chairman of the Surat District Co-operative Milk Producers’ Union, popularly known as Sumul Dairy. His influence in the BJP can be gauged from the fact that last April he brought no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inaugurate Sumul Dairy’s cattle feed and ice-cream plant at Bajipura in Tapi district.
“The party has to decide who will contest from Choryasi,” Pathak said. “I will contest if the party so decides. If the party gives me some other responsibility, I have no problem with that either.”
Zankhana Patel countered but without naming Pathak: “Attempts are being made to create confusion in Choryasi. People are largely with the BJP in my constituency but they will leave us if the party fields someone who is not a resident of Choryasi.”
Pathak is a resident of the neighbouring Mangrol subdivision of Surat district.
Choryasi is one of a large number of constituencies where the BJP has two ticket aspirants, one loyal to Shah, the other to Anandiben Patel.
“This is a problem on almost four dozen seats currently with the party,” said a senior BJP leader who asked not to be named. “In all these places, the infighting is becoming unmanageable. Earlier Amitbhai was seen as the sole authority, but his meeting with Anandiben has created a new power centre since it is believed that she will now play a major role in the selection of candidates. If this leadership issue is not resolved quickly, the infighting might affect the party’s performance in the election.”
If Anandiben Patel were to really gain greater power in the Gujarat BJP, it would likely be at the expense of Rupani. The party anyway never considered going to the voters with Rupani’s record as chief minister since 2016, so the coming together of Shah and Anandiben Patel could marginalise him even further.