Ahmedabad, August 1 (NIA): Unable to contain agitations by the dominant caste of Patidars and the depressed caste of Dalits on different issues, the Chief Minister of the Western Indian state of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, resigned on Monday enabling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to put another satrap in his home state to enable the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to win the state assembly elections 18 months from now.
In her resignation letter posted on Facebook, Anandiben said she is resigning because she is going to be 75 years old in November and that she would like a younger person to take over the responsibility of running the state. But the real reason according to the Indian media is that she had failed to tackle and win over two major communities in Gujarat, namely, the dominant caste of Patidars (15 percent of the electorate) and the depressed Dalits (7 percent of the electorate).
That Modi might have sought her resignation is evident from the calm response of his hatchet man and BJP chief, Amit Shah. Shah nonchalantly said that Anandiben has resigned and that it will be put to the party for a decision.
Both the Patidars and Dalits are electorally significant in Gujarat. The Patidars are demanding reservations in government jobs and educational institutions on the grounds that they are, contrary to the popular impression, “economically backward”. The Dalits are angry that cow protection vigilante groups allied with the BJP had beaten up Dalits for skinning dead cattle when it their traditional occupation.
At a massive rally on Sunday, Dalit leaders put the BJP in the state on notice, telling the community not to remove dead cattle or clean sewers to “send a strong message” to the party and its government,” First Post reported. The web newspaper noted that just a few days ago, the BJP had dreamt of getting 40,000 Dalits to greet party chief Amit Shah in Agra. But hardly a thousand could be mustered.
The agitations by these two caste groups rocked Gujarat weakening the BJP’s ability to win the coming assembly elections. In fact, the BJP did badly in the December 2015 local bodies’ elections much to the embarrassment of Prime Minister Modi who has been touting the “Gujarat Model” of development as a panacea for India’s ills, and is to showcase the state through the “Vibrant Gujarat Summit” in January next year.
According to First Post, Gujarat had turned into a veritable mess since last year’s Patidar agitation for reservations that led to massive protests and violence throughout the state. In the aftermath of the protests, Gujarat’s Patidars ,who are 15 percent of the state’s electorate, appeared to be drifting away from the party they had supported for almost two decades. Their support was the bedrock of the BJP’s successive electoral wins in the state.
“But, the recent local bodies elections in Gujarat showed that the ground beneath the BJP’s feet is shifting. In Saurashtra, the BJP suffered major losses in the polls, ceding ground to the Congress,” First Post said.
The very fact that the BJP had failed to retain the support of the Patidars or Patels in spite of having Anandiben, a Patidar, as the Chief Minister, meant that Anandiben’s days at the helm were numbered.
Even before the dust kicked up by the Patidar agitation could settle, Anandiben was rocked by a series of allegations of corruption charges, especially against her daughter, Anar.
For years, BJP had thrived in Gujarat on the reputation of Narendra Modi as an incorruptible Chief Minister. His anti-corruption slogan had paved the way for an electoral revolution across India, leading to the demolition of the Congress-led government in New Delhi in 2014. But the charges against Anar (and indirectly against Anandiben) could not be brushed under the carpet.
But it is the 15 day Dalit agitation which forced Modi to go for a change of guard in Gujarat. Since Dalit solidarity is an all-India phenomenon, Modi apparently feared that it could influence elections in Uttar Pradesh, which are due in 2017. The BJP, which had ruled Uttar Pradesh once, is desperately trying to come back to power there, as it is one of the most populous states in India.