This man helped build BJP from scratch in Gujarat

Keshubhai Patel - The man who helped build BJP from scratch in Gujarat

Considered to be one of "architects" of BJP's emergence in Gujarat, Keshubhai, fondly called "Bapa", was unceremoniously removed from office in 2001

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets the former chief minister of Gujarat Keshubhai Patel. Credit: PTI

Veteran politician and BJP's first chief minister in Gujarat Keshubhai Patel passed away here on Thursday at the age of 93.

He died of multiple health complications in a private hospital where he was admitted after he complained of breathlessness.

Patel was cremated with full state honour in Gandhinagar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is expected to arrive at Kevadia at the site of the Statue of Unity on Friday, is also expected to meet the grieving family tomorrow.

Family sources said that about ten days back, Patel had tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to Sterling hospital from where he was discharged. However, his condition worsened again on Thursday morning. He complained of difficulty in breathing and was rushed to hospital where he passed away.

As the news of his death spread, BJP leaders including chief minister Vijay Rupani cut short their election campaigns for bypolls to eight Assembly seats.

Active in public life since the mid-1940s, Patel was elected to Gujarat Legislative Assembly six times. Considered to be one of the "architects" of BJP's emergence in the state, Keshubhai, fondly called "Bapa", was unceremoniously removed from office in 2001, months after the disastrous earthquake hit the state.

Often called the "grand old man" of the BJP in Gujarat, he mentored a generation of BJP leaders including Narendra Modi, who succeeded him in the state as chief minister and later went on to become the prime minister.

He was succeeded by Narendra Modi, now the prime minister. "Since then Keshubhai, once the central figure of BJP in polls from the mid-1970s till 2000, remained on the fringes. He tried his luck in 2012 assembly polls riding on his caste- the dominant Patidar community- but couldn't garner much support," remembered a senior BJP leader.

In the run-up to 2012 Assembly polls, Patel left BJP and floated his own "Gujarat Parivartan Party" along with Gordhan Zadaphia to challenge Modi's regime. The newly formed party couldn't dent BJP and two years later he quit and joined BJP back.

He was born in Visavadar town of Junagadh district in July 1928 and said to have joined Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1945 and later started his political life as a member of Jan Sangh, before the birth of BJP. He won several polls from 1975 till the 2000s and became chief minister of Gujarat, the first for a BJP leader, in 1995 but was compelled to resign following a rebellion led by Shankersinh Vaghela who replaced him for a year. In 1998, he became the chief minister again but was replaced by Modi three years later in 2001.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while paying tribute to Patel, tweeted, "Keshubhai mentored and groomed many younger Karyakartas including me. Everyone loved his affable nature. His demise is an irreparable loss. We are all grieving today. My thoughts are with his family and well-wishers..."

Patel was also the chairman of the Shree Somnath Trust, which manages the famous Somnath temple, that has Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah among others as its trustees.