Mehsana, Dec. 5: There are Patels and Patels and there is Keshubhai Patel.
The sudden appearance of two Keshubhai cut-outs outside the BJP’s state headquarters in Ahmedabad this week — as large as his perceived rival Narendra Modi’s — indicated the party’s vadeel (high command in Gujarati) was getting cold feet over his damage potential. Till last week, Modi alone loomed large over the pollscape.
BJP sources today confirmed that Keshubhai was persuaded to campaign extensively in Saurashtra, from where “reports” were not encouraging.
Indeed, beyond Saurashtra, Keshubhai did not count for much even among the Patels. Like in Mehsana, a Patel-dominated belt 75 km north of Ahmedabad.
“He has grown old, he represents a generation of Patels that is out of sync. For me, Keshubhai and Modi are the same,” said Rajendra I. Patel, a middle-aged doctor.
For this professional Patel, as several others, it was candidates like Anil Patel, contesting from Mehsana town, who symbolised the future.
An entire generation of Patels who outgrew the confines of agriculture to fan out into industrial entrepreneurship, engineering and medicine had emerged and it was these that the BJP tapped.
Anil has a Master’s in industrial engineering from Kansas University. He describes himself as a “liberal” and says he came into politics because of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that his source of inspiration is President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
“I am not a hardcore believer because in a vibrant democracy like ours, political parties need to have a balanced viewpoint. I am more a follower of Vajpayee than (L.K.) Advani. My ideas converge with the BJP’s to the extent that I believe that regardless of religion, caste and community, all citizens should get a fair deal. Nobody should get preferential treatment because of his religion. In the US, everybody has the right to practise his faith but has to comply with the law of the land,” said Anil.
But why did he join the BJP' His brother, said Anil, had won four elections on a BJP ticket but opted out of this one, so he was called to fill in. The other reason is the BJP wanted more professionals.
“They have realised the business of governance is more complex than they thought. Thousands of crores are allotted for planning now. To channel the money, any government needs inputs from experts. If experts are not part of the political system, their views tend to get discounted. The bureaucracy cannot be relied on entirely because it is not people-oriented,” said the Mehsana candidate.
In the six seats in Mehsana district apart from Anil’s, the BJP has fielded only one farmer. Two doctors, a professor, an industrialist and a labour contractor are in the fray from the party.
The Congress, on the other hand, was dictated purely by grassroots considerations. Barring one candidate, Naresh Rawal, a former Opposition leader and a pilot by training, the others are farmers and members of local bodies.
However, in Saurashtra, Keshubhai is still the “king”. Even Congress corporator in Rajkot Mohan Sojitra was lavish in his praise of the former chief minister.
“He was a son of the soil. For five years, the Patels voted for the BJP because they thought their man was in the chair and would solve their problems,” he said.
As Keshubhai was a “mitha manas” (a gentle soul) he was unseated, said Karsan Bhimji Patel of Kheradi village in Rajkot. But the Patels’ antipathy for the Congress — mainly because of its advocacy of reservation for the backward castes — may eventually prompt them to vote for the BJP, even if a little reluctantly.