New Delhi, Aug. 4: Keshubhai Patel, the BJP’s veteran Gujarat leader and a former chief minister, today quit the party with another senior, Kashiram Rana, to float his own outfit.
Patel’s resignation comes barely four months before Gujarat goes to the polls. Worried he might emerge as a rallying centre for “silent” dissenters against chief minister Narendra Modi, the BJP has begun working the lines to persuade Patel to recant his decision.
Spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said BJP chief Nitin Gadkari would speak to the 83-year old and urge him to stay back “in the interest of Gujarat and the country”.
“He is a senior party leader,” said Rudy.
However, a source close to Patel said his mind was made up, especially after the “tremendous” response to a public meeting he recently convened.
The source said Patel’s diatribes against Modi — he called him a “demon”, a “thick-skinned rhinoceros” and a “decayed fruit” — drew huge applause from people who were largely from the powerful Patel community.
The Patels, mostly rich farmers, can tip the balance of power in Gujarat’s premier political region, Saurashtra.
In 2007, before the last assembly election, Patel had similarly revolted after not being given a say in ticket distribution. The BJP’s Delhi leaders had then swung into damage-control mode and cajoled him not to do anything precipitate. He reluctantly agreed but did not campaign in a big way.
Sources said Patel’s “flip-flop” put off his supporters and in the end they rooted for Modi. The BJP did very well in Saurashtra, belying early predictions that it was being routed. Stung by the experience, a source close to Patel said he was “determined” to leave the BJP.
Addressing reporters in Gandhinagar with former Union minister and former Surat MP Rana by his side, Patel announced this afternoon that they were quitting the BJP with “great pain”.
“We are not switching parties. We are forming the real BJP,” he said.
Targetting Modi, Patel alleged that the BJP had become a “one-person party and strayed far away from its principles”.
Patel has the support of former BJP leaders Suresh Mehta, Fakir Vaghela, Nalin Bhatt, Suresh Mehta and Gordhan Zadaphia who fell out with Modi at different points in their political career.
He charged Gadkari with being “soft” on Modi. “Gadkariji recently said small leaders like Sanjay Joshi can be sacrificed for a big one like Modi,” he alleged.
Although BJP sources said the departure of a heavyweight before the polls could be a “setback”, they were assessing the extent of damage Patel and the others could cause Modi.
In 2007, Zadaphia, a Patel leader from Ahmedabad, had struck a covert understanding with the Congress and suggested anti-Modi candidates who could fight from the Congress. The strategy boomeranged because people saw the Congress as Modi’s “B-team” and opted to vote for “the real McCoy” and not his surrogates.
This time, Congress sources said they would keep a “respectful” distance from the anti-Modi group coming out of the BJP. They wondered if this group would end up helping the BJP by “dividing anti-Modi votes” like Manpreet Badal did in Punjab after breaking away from the Akali Dal.
Patel said his prospective party would contest all 182 Assembly seats.