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Will Modi Play The Patel Card In Presidential Poll?

By SUNIL GATADE, VENKATESH KESARI
March 16, 2022 09:42 IST
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Modi knows how to turn Gujarati pride into an emotive issue at election time and a Gujarati President would have its own electoral resonance and significance, note Sunil Gatade and Venkatesh Kesari.

IMAGE: President Ram Nath Kovind with Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel at the centenary celebrations of the Harcourt Butler Technical University in Kanpur, November 25, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

Will Gujarat have its first President in July when 76-year-old Ram Nath Kovind demits office after an uneventful term?

This is being debated in political circles at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party is on a high after the spectacular victory in four state elections.

Advancing the assembly election in Gujarat and Karnataka is also being talked about to catch the Opposition, especially the Congress which is already down in the dumps, off guard.

Such a plan would also checkmate the Aam Aadmi Party which is raring to make its presence felt in Gujarat.

What is also being spoken about is whether BJP supremo Narendra Damodardas Modi will play the Patel card in the Presidential election.

If this happens, then Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel could be the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance nominee for the august office.

It is well known that since his Gujarat days, Modi is comfortable working with his team, be it state affairs, party affairs or national affairs and that his team has delivered the results he seeks.

After he was made the BJP's PM candidate in 2013, Modi ensured that Amit Anilchandra Shah be made the party general secretary in charge of UP. Since then, Shah has looked after UP in different capacities, to telling effect.

Anandiben Patel is known as a trusted Modi associate, It was to her he entrusted Gujarat when he stepped down as chief minister after he moved to New Delhi in May 2014.

Five years ago, when a search was on for then President Pranab Mukherjee's successor, maverick BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had pitched for Anandiben as the next President, insisting that she would be the best candidate.

Modi's choice of the low profile Kovind had taken everyone by surprise including those in the BJP.

After Vijay Rupani replaced Anandiben as CM some six years ago, she was appointed governor of Madhya Pradesh from where she was shifted to Uttar Pradesh.

An assembly election in Gujarat is scheduled by the year-end and if Modi decides to have the first President from the state, it would be hailed as another assertion of Gujarati asmita and valuable electoral ammunition for the BJP which only won the 2017 assembly election narrowly.

Modi knows how to turn Gujarati pride into an emotive issue at election time and a Gujarati President would have its own electoral resonance and significance.

Gujarat has not had a President or Vice President so far, but India has had two Gujarati Prime Ministers Morarji Desai (March 1977 to July 1979) and Modi (May 2014 to date).

The Patels, known as the Patidar community, have a huge influence in trade, industry and agriculture in Gujarat and are traditionally BJP supporters.

Six months ago, Modi suddenly asked Vijay Rupani to step down as chief minister and brought in first term MLA Bhupendra Patel in his place.

Modi also ushered in a completely fresh team of MLAs as ministers, sidelining veterans eyeing the CM's post.

Appointing Bhupendra Patel was seen as Modi's move to appease the Patels who have been restive in recent years, demanding reservations in educational institutions and government jobs.

Bhupendra Patel is known as an Anandiben protege and was elected MLA from the Ghatlodia constituency which she earlier represented in the state assembly.

The Ghatlodia assembly constituency is part of the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency, currently represented by Amit Shah.

IMAGE: Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel welcomes President Ram Nath Kovind to Kanpur, November 24, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

The 2017 assembly election in Gujarat saw Modi and Shah move heaven and earth to emerge victorious.

While the BJP's declared goal was to secure at least 150 seats in the 182 member assembly, it could not cross 100 seats.

A fierce campaign by a combative Rahul Gandhi had seen the BJP being restricted to 99 seats. Patel anger was cited as one of the reasons for the BJP's tepid electoral performance.

If Anandiben Patel is made the BJP-NDA candidate for the Presidency, she would be the second woman to hold the office, the first being Pratibha Patil who occupied Rashtrapati Bhavan between 2007 and 2012.

Her age could, however, go against Anandiben, who will turn 81 on November 21, 2022.

One thing is certain though: Modi alone will make the final choice and neither the RSS nor any other senior BJP leader will have a veto on his nominee.

As is his style, Modi will keep everyone guessing till days before his candidate has to file her/his nomination for the election to the highest office in the land.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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SUNIL GATADE, VENKATESH KESARI
 
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