02/08/2016 1:49 PM IST | Updated 06/02/2017 4:42 PM IST

Is Amit Shah Behind Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel's Sudden Exit?

A small act of rebellion.

Amit Dave / Reuters
Anandiben Patel, chief minister of Gujarat, takes her oath during a swearing-in ceremony at Gandhinagar in Gujarat May 22, 2014.

Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben took to social media to tender her resignation so that she would leave her party leadership with no choice but to accept it. She put out her resignation in Gujarati on Facebook and Twitter, but also in a YouTube video in Hindi. She revealed that she had offered to resign two months ago as well, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not accept it. This time she didn't want to offer resignation, she didn't want to give Modi a choice.

Anandiben's exit was only a matter of time, but she wanted to make sure the time is of her choosing. That she caught the party unawares with her resignation is evident with the time the BJP is taking in appointing her successor. Usually, when a chief minister resigns in such circumstances, the successor's name is immediately announced.

Anandiben Patel, member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attends a legislative meeting in Gandhinagar, India, May 21, 2014.

With this small act of rebellion, Patel is making apparent her anguish with the party leadership. It was only two months ago she had rubbished rumours of her exit. Now, she says it was imperative to resign as she was turning 75 in November, and her party had a new unwritten rule of political retirement at 75. (The rule is selectively applied: Uttar Pradesh leader Kalraj Mishra continues to be in Modi's cabinet despite having turned 75)

Her 75th birthday is three months away, the next Vibrant Gujarat summit six months away and the next Gujarat Assembly elections 18 months away. The hurry that Anandiben has shown in resigning, against Modi's wishes, was because she feels she is being continually undermined by an Amit Shah-led faction in her own party. Lately, she was even upset at Modi for not rebuking her dissidents within the party.

Anandiben vs Amit Shah

While there is no doubt the Patel's agitation made it difficult for her to continue in the chief minister's seat, and the Dalit agitation sealed her fate, Anandiben has let it be known to whoever would ask her that Shah is behind her troubles.

Ajit Solanki/AP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves during a reception accorded to him by Bharatiya Janata Party supporters upon his first visit to his home state after assuming office in Adalaj near Ahmadabad, Sept. 16, 2014.

A case in point is that of Vijay Rupani, a minister in her cabinet, who was made BJP state president in February this year. Considered Shah's man, he wasn't made to give up his ministerial berth despite becoming state president of the party. He gives statements to the media before every cabinet meeting, as though he represented not just the party but also the government. The cabinet's official spokesperson speaks after the cabinet meeting.

Anandiben's rule saw her daughter Anar emerge as a parallel power centre, for which she was even ticked off by Modi. There have also been accusations of unfavourable land deals by the government for Anar's business partners. But it isn't just Anar, there came to be many power centres in the state. The business community, used to single-widow approach of Modi, wondered who it needed to approach to get their work done. The power centres included the chief minister's office, her daughter, Amit Shah and BJP leaders close to him, and then officials in the prime minister's office.

Poor political acumen hurt Anandiben, whose image and crisis management contrasted with Modi's ability to keep administration and politicians all under his control. But Anandiben feels that Gujarat BJP leaders close to Amit Shah, some of them Patels, did not help her manage the Patel agitation, and in fact did what they could for peace-making. The Amit Shah camp, Anandiben Patel felt, was behind creating an atmosphere which would force Modi to replace her with Shah. Interestingly, this is how Modi himself had managed to replace Keshubhai Patel as chief minister.

Manish Swarup/Associated Press
Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP president Amit Shah speaks at a press conference in New Delhi, India, Friday, May 27, 2016.

When a Mirror article in May accused Shah of helping destabilize Anandiben, his website republished it.

Speculation was rife then that the change of guard in Gujarat would happen by early June, but Modi chose not to do it. Then again, the change was widely speculated to happen along with the cabinet expansion and reshuffle on 21 July, but then again Modi did not do it. Now, Anandiben has forced Modi's hand, precipitating a mini-crisis. Part of the reason why Modi didn't want to make the change in haste was that he wanted to give Anandiben a graceful exit at the right time. Speculation has been rife of her taking over as Punjab governor or even the next vice president of India.

Amit Shah wants to be CM

Since the Bihar elections, it has been widely rumoured that Shah wants to be Gujarat chief minister even before his term as BJP president ends, or that of Anandiben as chief minister. Shah has denied the speculation to whoever has asked him, and many find it difficult to believe he would want to leave the post of the ruling party's president and be a chief minister of a state.

Since the Bihar elections, it has been widely rumoured that Shah wants to be Gujarat chief minister even before his term as BJP president ends, or that of Anandiben as chief minister.

For Shah, however, the post of BJP president comes with few powers. He ticks off a few BJP MPs and they go out and tell the media they were not ticked off. After Bihar, Shah wasn't given charge of the Assam elections, which was managed by Ram Madhav, an RSS figure in the BJP.

Being BJP president is full of risk: every state defeat is counted as a failure of Amit Shah, who gained the stature of a great Chanakya after he oversaw the party win 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. Shah, who is fourteen years younger than Modi, sees himself as Modi's successor, and sees that purpose better served by being Gujarat CM than BJP president.

Modi may or may not decide to let him have the chair anytime now, but his name is certainly in the race. Modi's reluctance in this regard is not only because he would like Shah, his closest aide, to remain in Delhi, but also that finding another BJP president would not be easy. The RSS was vehemently opposed to Shah becoming BJP president in the first place, and had pushed JP Nadda's name for weeks. Since the party's debacle in Bihar, the RSS has become even more assertive.