Chief minister Anandiben Patel seems to have lost her grip on the state's administration. Close on the heels of the violent Patel-Patidar agitation, Gujarat is witnessing a large-scale stir again, this time by Dalits.
The genesis of the fresh agitation is the stripping and brutal atrocities against four Dalits over skinning of dead cows in Una village of Gir Somnath district on July 11. The protests have resulted in the death of two persons, including a policeman. A Dalit man has committed suicide and there have been at least four cases of more Dalits attempting the same.
It was known from the beginning that the shoes Anandiben was stepping into were quite big for her. However, one had not imagined that she will prove to be a total disaster. She failed to efficiently handle the Patidar-Patel agitation despite herself coming from the same community. The massive pro-reservation protest led by Hardik Patel in August 2015 led to loss of lives and property, and a loss of face for the BJP.
Internet communication in cities like Surat and Ahmedabad was also suspended as in Kashmir. Hardik Patel, who was leading the agitation had to be incarcerated in jail for several months on charges of sedition. He was released by court's order just a week back.
Ironically, the home state of Modi and BJP president Amit Shah is again on the boil. This presents a stark contrast to the governance of her predecessor, in other words none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was the Gujarat chief minister. Barring the Godhra train burning and the subsequent riots of 2002, the state was by and large peaceful till he shifted to Delhi.
But Anandiben as his successor has squandered the legacy and has miserably failed in providing even a shade of Modi's governance in the state. The Gujarat model of development is still identified with Modi. It has not passed on to Anandiben.
The BJP in Gujarat is passing through its worst phase since 1996. The Leader of Opposition in Gujarat Assembly, Shankersinh Vaghela, had rebelled and broken away from the ruling BJP which lost power. It took a couple of years for the BJP to retain power.
The state is facing another bout of instability. Anandiben must go. Like it or not, the change is likely to happen around Diwali.
Despite these reasons, there is not even a whisper in the BJP about the removal of the Gujarat chief minister and here is why:
1. The main reason for the BJP not effecting an immediate change is that do not want to be seen admitting any mistake. If they do it in one case, it will give the rivals an opportunity to further up the ante and scale up their demands.
Succumbing to any opposition pressure even in cases where there is some alleged direct association of their leaders - such as Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for their association with absconding former IPL boss Lalit Modi or Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in the Vyapam scam - is not the BJP's wont.
They do not want to yield to the demands of the opposition parties like the previous Congress-led UPA government. They include Ashok Chavan as Maharashtra chief minister, A Raja as Union telecom minister, Ashwani Kumar as Union law minister and Pawan Bansal as railway minister.
|Protests over atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat refuse to die down.|
2. Anandiben was not removed even at the peak of the Patel-Patidar movement launched by Hardik Patel in August 2015. Similarly, her Haryana counterpart ML Khattar too was not replaced due to the Jat agitation earlier in 2016.
There were vociferous demands from the Congress for her resignation. But in the ongoing Dalit agitation, there has not been any similar demand from the opposition. Hence, the chances of her removal is more remote.
3. Compared with the Patel-Patidar and Jat agitation, the Dalits' stir is less violent It has witnessed much less deaths and destruction. It has led to two deaths - a policeman was killed and a Dalit committed suicide.
But 30 people had died in the Jat agitation and at least 10 were killed in the Patel-Patidar agitation. This may be the reason why there have been no demands from the opposition or rivals within the BJP for her step down.
4. Dalits are not seen as BJP's voters in Gujarat. Moreover, their number is not significant. They constitute only seven per cent of Gujarat population. In contrast, they are about 20 per cent of the population in Uttar Pradesh which goes to polls early next year. On the other hand, Assembly elections in Gujarat are due in December 2017.
Hence, the BJP was quick and unequivocal in expelling the vice-president of its UP unit, Dayashankar Singh, who made some obnoxious remarks about BSP supremo Mayawati. But Anandiben has been spared for now.
5. Removing Anandiben during Diwali also suits the BJP because she will turn 75 on November 21. Modi has set a criterion of age for party members to remain on a ministerial post till they turn 75.
On the basis of that cut off, senior party leader Najma Heptulla is believed to have resigned as Union minority affairs minister earlier in July. Another Union cabinet minister Kalraj Mishra, who completed 75 on July 1, has been spared for now because of the UP Assembly elections. He comes from UP and has influence on Brahmin voters in eastern part of the state.
Earlier, veterans like LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Shanta Kumar failed to become Union ministers because they were above 75 in May 2014, when Modi came to power. The first two were made part of the "Margdarshak Mandal".
The Patidar-Patel agitation and the Dalit protests are not the only issues which go against Anandiben. The opposition has accused her of nepotism and interference by her children in administration. Infighting within the BJP and party-government coordination have worsened during her regime.
The BJP's electoral performance has also taken a beating ever since she has succeeded Modi in May 2014. The Congress has improved its performance in the Panchayat elections held during this period. The BJP national vice-president and Rajya Sabha MP, Om Prakash Mathur, who is considered to be close to the prime minister, too is learnt to have submitted a report on April 25, 2016 to the party leadership stating that Anandiben's popularity is on the wane.
The Patel-Patidar agitation had adversely affected the BJP in the Bihar Assembly elections. It lost a major portion of the OBC votes. Similarly, the Dalit agitation will adversely impact the UP polls. The BJP had won 71 of the 80 seats in UP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the help also of the Dalits. It will fail to repeat the same performance in the Assembly elections without the whole-hearted support of the Dalits.