Ahmedabad: The appointment of former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel as governor of Madhya Pradesh is a clever move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Amit Shah to placate the Patidar community in both states.

The first woman to hold the post of chief minister of Gujarat, Patel belongs to the anti-Amit Shah camp in the BJP’s state unit. She was compelled to step down in 2016 by the BJP president in the wake of the Patidar agitation and the Dalit protests in the state. Patel has been sulking ever since and had declined to contest the recent Gujarat assembly elections.

Patel’s appointment is being viewed as a strategic move that seeks to serve twin purposes—appeasing the Patidar community, which had turned against the BJP in large numbers ahead of the state polls, and keeping her away from the internal war in the party’s state unit. Deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, sore over being denied key portfolios in the state cabinet, had forced the BJP leadership to assign him the finance department after Patidar leaders threatened to hold a bandh in Mehsana—the district is home to Modi as well as Anandiben and Nitin Patel.

Proximity to Modi

Anandiben Patel owes her political career to her proximity to the Prime Minister. A school teacher, she joined the BJP as the president of its women’s wing in 1986 and was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1994. She became education minister in the Keshubhai Patel government in Gujarat in 1998 after contesting assembly polls for the first time from the Mandal constituency.

While several ministers were dropped after Modi replaced Keshubhai Patel as chief minister, Anandiben Patel was retained after being re-elected in 2002 from Patan. In 2012, she shifted to the Ghatlodia assembly seat in Ahmedabad and won by a margin of 1.1 lakh votes.

When Modi moved to New Delhi in 2014, Anandiben Patel succeeded him as chief minister. Ironically, while she belongs to the Patidar community, it was during her tenure that the pro-reservation agitation led by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and its then-22-year-old leader Hardik Patel took off and spread across the state. About a year after the demonstrations began, she was asked to step down and was replaced by Vijay Rupani, a Jain.

Nachiketa Desai is a senior journalist based in Ahmedabad and tweets at @nachiketadesai. The views expressed are his own.

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