Challenging Modi

Narendra Modi will be up against a tough challenge from his long-time colleagues in the Gujarat BJP, as he makes a bid for hat-trick of victories in the state Assembly elections expected in November-December this year.

Leading the challenge will be former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who along with several senior party leaders, including former Union minister Kashiram Rana, announced their decision last week to quit the BJP to form a new party ahead of the Assembly polls. It is not clear as of now if Patel will make common cause with the opposition Congress to achieve his single-point Modi-hatao agenda. Soon after sending his resignation letter to party chief Nitin Gadkari, Patel maintained that the new party will be the real BJP and it will fight both the Modi-led BJP and the Congress.

It is doubtful, however, if Patel’s new move can pose a real challenge to Modi. He was a reluctant supporter of Modi even in the latter’s first Assembly poll test ten years ago, in December 2002, when the elections were held in a communally surcharged atmosphere. At that time he nursed a grudge against Modi because the latter had replaced him as chief minister in mid-2001. Five years later, Patel and his followers had launched months-long public campaign against Modi, ahead of the 2007 Assembly elections. Its sole objective was to ensure Modi’s downfall. Some of Patel’s followers went on to fight that election as independent candidates, though without any success. Modi went on to win that election convincingly.

Having failed in the past, it is doubtful if Patel, now 84, can take on Modi successfully. He is said to be hoping to bank on the Patel factor to deliver the results. The Patel community has traditionally been politically influential, accounting for nearly 18 per cent of the state electorate. In the last Assembly elections, however, there was no evidence of the Patel community having voted against Modi, notwithstanding Patel’s sustained pre-election campaign against him. Given this, Patel may find compelled to align with the Congress and ensure a direct one-to-one fight against the Modi-led BJP. But this may not be enough. He will have to seek an open tie-up with the Congress to mount a credible challenge to Modi’s 11-year reign. 

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