Is Modi losing control over Gujarat?
The PM and his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, are on the defensive after electoral setbacks in Bihar and Delhi.
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On January 13, Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel appointed Jagruti Pandya, the widow of the slain former home minister Haren Pandya, as the chairperson of the Gujarat State Commission for Protection of Child Rights. This decision has surprised many.
Haren Pandya was minister of state for home in the Keshubhai Patel ministry. He was a strong critic of Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister. Haren Pandya was assassinated in 2003. Both his father Vitthalbhai Pandya, and wife Jagruti Pandya, had expressed strong reservations over the Gujarat Police investigating his murder and had demanded an investigation by the CBI insinuating “political motives” behind the murder.
Jagruti Pandya contested against Narendra Modi in the state Assembly elections on the Gujarat Parivartan Party ticket in 2012, while Vitthalbhai Pandya was Congress' candidate against the BJP in the 2007 Assembly elections.
Jagruti Pandya's appointment wasn't a one off development in the Gujarat BJP, and it has astounded political observers. After the rout of the BJP in the district and taluka panchayat elections in Gujarat, the state BJP was left red-faced. On December 9, 2015 posters of the BJP's former national general secretary Sanjay Joshi surfaced at 20 places in Ahmedabad.
Each poster carried Joshi's photo, the BJP symbol and a common message - "Bring back Sanjay Joshi to save BJP" ("Sanjay Joshi lavo, BJP bachao"). Posters of Joshi, who is considered a bete noir of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were seen in Prabhat Chowk which comes under the Ghatlodia Assembly constituency of Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel and on the Darpan crossroad under the Naranpura constituency of BJP national president Amit Shah.
Those posters were not only removed but there were reports that the crime branch of the police has been asked to probe and unearth who is behind putting up those posters in key constituencies of the city. One police official admitted that the posters didn't contain any defamatory or harmful content, and thus putting them up didn't constitute any offence outright.
He was quoted as saying, "We are just trying to identify the persons who stuck the posters and their purpose," suggesting that they were working at the instruction of their political masters. Modi and Joshi's enmity is around two-decades-old. Joshi was in control of the Gujarat BJP when Modi took over as chief minister in 2001.
Since then, Joshi is yet to get any important post in the party. In 2009, when Nitin Gadkari was the party president, he brought back Joshi, giving him a party post. Modi struck back by refusing to attend the party's national executive meeting in Mumbai until Joshi was ousted from the party post and that city. That was the end of Joshi's innings as officer-bearer in the party. On December 20, Sanjay Joshi went to Ahmedabad to attend the marriage of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia's son.
Togadia, the international general secretary of the VHP, is considered a staunch opponent of the prime minister. Given the animosity between Joshi and the prime minister, Gujarat BJP leaders and others have avoided meeting Joshi in public. But this didn't stop chief minister Anandiben Patel from having a long chat with Joshi.
Reports said that she had a 20-minute-long conversation with Joshi. The picture of the two leaders seated across the table was widely circulated on social media. On the second day of his Ahmedabad visit, Joshi had lunch with Gujarat governor OP Kohli at the Raj Bhavan and met former chief minister and another Modi-baiter Keshubhai Patel at the latter's residence. Joshi stayed at the Raj Bhavan for more than two hours.
The former BJP general secretary visited several of his old-time supporters. Reports said that both state and central intelligence personnel were noticed keeping a close tab on Joshi's activities. Prime Minister Modi and his most trusted lieutenant, BJP president Amit Shah, are on the defensive after electoral setbacks in Bihar and Delhi.
The other BJP ruled states are also showing signs of organisational weakness with defeats in state and civic polls. Although, senior party leaders insist that Modi continues to repose faith in Amit Shah and will support his continuing as party chief till the 2017 Uttar Pradesh state elections. But there are also speculations that Shah may be sent back to Gujarat to replace Anandiben Patel as chief minister, to revive the sagging fortune of the party. Gujarat state BJP is getting revamped to gear up the cadre for the next Assembly polls in December 2017. Shah is likely to select the president of the Gujarat BJP unit.
According to the party insiders, Shah will have a final say in the appointment, not chief minister Anandiben Patel. It seems that the rout in local body elections has brought down the chief minister's clout severely. All of these are pointing towards the fact that all is not well within the Gujarat state BJP. Why is the chief minister attending the wedding of the son of one of the biggest Modi-haters in Sangh Parivar? Why is she having long chats with another Modi-baiter, Sanjay Joshi?
Why is the intelligence bureau keeping an eye on whatever Joshi is doing? Why was the crime branch asked to identify the man behind Joshi's posters? Why is the chief minister giving a key post to someone who is known as a Modi-baiter? Why are there talks about sending Amit Shah back to Gujarat as the chief minister?
Why is the chief minister's view in the selection of the state BJP chief taken lightly? These questions are haunting not only the Gujarat BJP workers but also all political observers. Is this a sign of a drift between the Gujarat chief minister and the prime minister of the country? Is the prime minister now giving more importance to Amit Shah than Anandiben Patel even in matters related to Gujarat?
The BJP may deny all such theories and may dub them as the outcome of media speculation. But can there be smoke without fire?