When she picked up her brush to depict the first blooms of spring on her canvas in July last year, Anar Patel’s painting was lapped up by a Kalol-based builder for Rs 40,000 at a charity auction. In December, she was cajoled into registering as a member of the BJP. At a recent wedding, she was persuaded to move towards the VIP area instead of standing in line with other guests. And when she hosts an exhibition of handicrafts by her NGO Craftroots, Ahmedabad’s elite queue up to take home traditional woven creations. Ever since her mother moved into the chief minister’s office in Gandhinagar, Anar Patel, 44, has been in the spotlight in Gujarat. Seen as the shortest route to Anandiben Patel’s office, she’s being wooed by the Gujarati elite with invitations to events and inaugurations. She’s a guest speaker that every other business house or institute wants to put on their wish list. Everyone in Gujarat wants to be seen in Anar’s company. “People’s perception of me has changed but I am still the same Anar. Power isn’t constant in life; you shouldn’t lose touch with reality,” she says.
Before she shot to limelight as the first daughter of Gujarat, Patel was best known for her work in the social sector with underprivileged women, street children and craftsmen. With her husband Jayesh Patel, the couple runs three key NGOs — Manav Sadhna, Gramshree and Craftroots. Their work in the field of community service was recognised in 2001 when the couple spent a year in Bhuj rebuilding a village after the earthquake. They won the Gujarat Puraskar for building a model village — the Gandhi nu Gram with 455 eco-friendly houses, six lakes and schools.
The journey wasn’t always easy especially when locals put up stiff opposition to their efforts. “My mother was a minister then but we lived anonymously. That time marked a spiritual turn in my life,” says Patel. Even as charges of corruption and human rights violation plague her NGOs, Patel dismisses them as being politically motivated, especially after her mother rose to the top job in the state. “Shifts in power have the potential to break families and relationships,” she says. Over the past year, Patel has had to abandon several acquaintances and relatives when she refused to give in to requests ranging from admissions and jobs to government favours. “We are here to work for society, not for an individual,” she says.
While her husband has “zero earnings” and is dedicated to community service, Patel is an astute businesswoman with a dozen business ventures in the retail sector. Her flagship Anar Projects Ltd runs a mid-size pharmaceuticals company, a consultancy firm and retail ventures. “We have chosen social work as a way of life but our daughter has the right to choose what she wants so we have to provide for her,” she says. Last year, she sent her 18-year-old fashion designer daughter to the London School of Fashion to “keep her away from the power play” back home. Despite being raised by politician parents, Patel stayed away from politics until December last year when she was inducted into the party. “In politics, people usually think from the head. But I prefer to think from my heart,” she says. With Craftroots, she plans to give the Prime Minister’s Make In India campaign a boost. She’s already revived the original mashroo, namda and kharad weave art forms and is wooing the younger generation of craftsmen with technological developments and contemporary designs. “India has 1.5 crore people associated with the crafts industry, although in an unorganised manner. It’s a field that encourages entrepreneurship and preserves our cultural heritage,” she says.
A mantra that Patel swears by is the "three H" — heart, head and hand where you think from your heart, apply your mind and implement your ideas fast. Even as Gujarat waits for the next big role for the Chief Minister’s powerful daughter, Patel is taking cautious steps. “There is no exit policy once you take the (political) plunge. You always want something from power and you believe that the power games you play, are always fair,” she says. For now, she’s happy playing the role of her mother’s eyes and ears on the ground. Active politics can wait.
(This article first appeared in India Today Woman.)