Rajkot (Saurashtra), Dec. 11: At 84, Keshubhai Patel doesn’t picture himself as a lion in winter.
He’s rearing to take on Narendra Modi with the ultimate goal of doing him out of power and himself gaining enough seats to play a Sonia Gandhi in the next dispensation that he thinks will be headed by the Congress, a Keshubhai confidant claimed.
A former RSS pracharak, part of Keshubhai’s core team, said: “He wants to play a decisive role in the next Assembly. Like Sonia, he wants to be the power behind the throne so that he can pressure the government to fulfil his agenda.” He was referring to Keshubhai’s pro-farmer plans.
Unsurprisingly, nobody in Keshubhai’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) wants to say a word against the Congress, a gesture that party reciprocates. “We are silent on the Congress. Our main fight is with the BJP. With or without Modi, the party’s unacceptable to us because its ideology is fuzzy,” said former Modi confidant and Gujarat’s deputy home minister, Gordhan Zadaphia.
Modi, too, has decided not to say a word against Keshubhai, who once mentored him in the BJP. “In Gujarat, it’s improper to attack a senior,” said former Rajkot MP Vallabhai Katheria, once close to Keshubhai.
The political assessment is that once campaigning began, the GPP ran out of steam because it couldn’t get sufficient candidates. Although the party claims it is contesting 175 of 182 seats, there have been reports of four-five candidates dropping out daily after filing nominations.
The BJP said as a strategy, it decided to give the GPP a wide berth till Keshubhai’s “maut ka saudagar” moment came, thanks to the BJP’s irrepressible Amritsar MP, Navjot Sidhu.
Deployed by Modi as a “star” campaigner, Sidhu branded Keshubhai a “traitor of the nation”. He was booted out of Gujarat but, just like Modi had grabbed Sonia’s inopportune description of him as a “merchant of death” in 2007 to clinch victory, Keshubhai milked Sidhu’s remark dry.
In meetings he alleged that Sidhu would not have spoken out without Modi’s prod. For those used to the rough edges in the Gujarat chief minister’s discourse, Keshubhai’s charge was believable. “It will damage us in 10 or 15 seats in Saurashtra,” said Raman Patel, a Mehsana district panchayat member of the BJP.
Saurashtra votes on December 13 and Mehsana on the 17th. A realistic appraisal of Keshubhai’s damage potential was that he could take away the votes of his sub-caste, the Leuva Patels (LPs) who are the BJP’s backbone in Saurashtra and in south Gujarat.
But a young LP businessman in Ahmedabad said: “The committed votes of my community will go to the BJP and Modi. The floating votes might gravitate towards the GPP. But the general tendency is that even such voters prefer to be on the side of power. Barring those with an emotional connect to Keshubhai, the rest of the LPs are realistic enough to figure out that the BJP has a good chance of returning to power and it’s prudent to remain with it.”
“It’s cruel to say this but in his time Keshubhai was a good leader. Now he’s history and Modi is the future,” said Gaurang Patel, an LP of Unjha town (north Gujarat).