Anandiben may have difficulty in filling Modi's large shoes

Anandiben may have difficulty in filling Modi's large shoes

Anandiben may have difficulty in filling Modi's large shoes

Stepping into the shoes of a mentor is nothing new in Indian politics but carrying on with that legacy is a difficult proposition indeed.

And that is exactly the difficulty that newly appointed Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel is likely to face in the coming days. Taking over from a four-time chief minister may also not be unknown but here the comparison is with her predecessor and now the prime minister of India -- Narendra Modi.

At 72, Anandiben Patel has been Gujarat’s longest serving minister in a BJP government. She also has the reputation of being a disciplinarian and a good administrator but on her feminine shoulders hangs the large looming factor of being the chosen one of Modi.

The real test for Anandiben had begun from the day after the glitter of the elegant swearing-in of 21 ministers in the presence of  topline leaders of the BJP -- prime minister-designate Narendra Modi, party president Rajnath Singh, former chief Nitin Gadkari, senior leaders LK Advani, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Murli Manohar Joshi, M Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar, watched Patel being administered the oath of office and would now wait with interest to see how Modi’s successor performs.

The biggest challenge for Gujarat’s first woman chief minister may even be to live and match up to the fact of Modi’s direct connection with the people. Modi who initially took over in Gujarat as the Hindu ‘hriday samrat’ slowly switched over for an image makeover as the development icon, thus crushing not only his dissenters and opposition but also the caste contradictions.

Once this was done, Modi had a complete grip over the bureaucracy as well as his ministers and most of them remained subsumed under his persona. So, even if many of them had grievances and felt slighted, they kept quiet or got smoothly sidelined.

Given her image of being inaccessible and at times arrogant -- thus carrying the Modi legacy forward, it is an uphill task as Anandiben lacks the kind of rapport that one has to have with the grassroots workers and leaders.

She would also have to deal with her Cabinet colleagues who would arguably be more assertive than they could under Modi. Outside the government too, she has a challenger in the powerful Amit Shah who is both a confidante of Modi as well as her staunch opponent.

Then, there are public issues that got drubbed under Modi’s development posturing but would emerge now. The toughest is the complaints of farmers from several parts of the state that Modi’s development model was essentially giving away farm lands to select corporate houses for a song. There is disillusionment among tribals that their land issues had only been given lip service.

Uphill task

It was only because of Modi’s prime ministerial candidature and lack of Congress’ ability to harp upon them that they did not work with a united force, but now Anandiben being not as strong, these issues would begin to stare at her. Her assurance would be that she would be watched and protected by the Centre and also be under the watchful eye of Modi, who would continue to keep a tab on Gujarat and ensure that his stamp would stay on.

So even as Modi bid farewell to Gujarat he had proudly boasted, “As I prepare to go, there is not a single file pending.” Being a workaholic and not trusting anyone was his hallmark, whether Anandiben can continue to be the same is a question that has to be seen.

Dependent more on bureaucracy and less on ministers has been a way with Modi but he could afford to do that with the advantage of not having a challenger. But for Anandiben she needs to coordinate with her ministerial colleagues, some of them who have been junior to her by a couple of years would pose a tough challenge. Modi’s administrative capabilities were not questioned by the administration but that too is expected to change with the change of guards.

Modi was perennially on a campaign mode through the various government programmes that were launched --be it the Kanya kelavani or the girls education, or the Garib Kalyan mela -- distribution if cheques to the poor, Modi ensured he met people connected with them.

“That seems a difficulty as far as Anandi is concerned,’’ says political commentator Vishnu Pandya. He points out, she might carry on with the work started by Modi but where will she get the oratory skills of Modi? “Oratory was natural to Modi, it will be difficult for anyone to match up with those skills,” said Pandya.

Modi also had the ready wit and presence of mind when he was interacting with people, but for Anandi that would be a difficult task to handle.

“In respect of certain decisions it was Modi’s own idea, like holding the national day functions in different districts of Gujarat; if Anandi changes them it will be criticised and if she continues with them it will be difficult to emulate and execute them in a similar manner,’’  points out Pandya.

Perenially, being in the headlines had been a natural talent of Modi, says one of his sharpest critics and economist Hemant Shah. “Anandi will find it difficult many a time to find her name in the newspaper,” said Shah.

He said that the people of the state, during the last 14 years, have been habituated with seeing a visible Modi always on the move, but now they would have to get habituated to a chief minister who is not so proactive or media savvy.