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The Hindu on : Dissidence against Patel growing

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Friday, December 22, 2000

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Dissidence against Patel growing

By Manas Dasgupta

GANDHINAGAR, DEC.21. The growing resentment within the cabinet and the BJP legislature party against his leadership is believed to have prompted the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, to ask his Narmada and Major Irrigation Minister, Mr. Jaynarayan Vyas, to quit.

Calling him a ``liar'' was only an immediate provocation for the sacking but the relations between the two as well as his equations with some of his other colleagues had been deteriorating for sometime and particularly after the party's debacle in the last municipal corporation and the panchayat polls. Many of his Cabinet colleagues had openly resented Mr. Patel's functioning and expressed concern over the party's prospects in the Assembly elections two years later, if fought under his leadership.

With the committee headed by the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mr. Bharat Barot, probing into the poll debacle due to submit its report within the next fortnight and the party's central committee sending the national vice-president, Mr. Jana Krishnamurthy, who is in-charge of Gujarat affairs, to hear grievances of the leaders, Mr. Patel felt it was time to stamp out dissidence.

The quick action taken against Mr. Vyas on an issue which could have been settled among themselves without making it public, and after consultation with the party's national president, Mr. Bangaru Laxman, and the Union Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, was apparently to remind his party MLAs that he was the boss and that he still enjoyed the confidence of the party high command.

As his cabinet colleagues pointed out, it was not the first time that Ministers were engaged in heated exchanges among themselves or with the Chief Minister. Within the four walls of the meeting room, particularly during the informal sessions when the officials are not present, the Ministers are expected to exchange views freely and without reservations. Though it did not mean that any Minister could call the Chief Minister a ``liar'', Mr. Patel would not have taken it to heart, particularly after Mr. Vyas apologised for his angry outburst, if he was not facing trouble from within the legislature party.

The dissidents' ranks had been growing during the last couple of months and it is believed that more than 60 members of the 117- member legislature party, including a sizable number of his cabinet colleagues, are now ready to depose against Mr. Patel if their frank opinion is sought by the central leadership.

At least half-a-dozen of his Cabinet colleagues had objected against Mr. Patel's recommendations to appoint a relatively junior Minister such as Mr. Barot to head the probe panel, which they felt would be an exercise in futility and only aimed at bailing out the Chief Minister of any responsibility for the party's debacle, some of the party MLAs had also written to the high command to appoint a committee of the central leaders to bring out the truth. Unhappy over Mr. Patel's style of functioning, his second in command in the Cabinet, the Industries Minister, Mr. Suresh Mehta, only last month was believed to have requested the Chief Minister to relieve him from the Cabinet, but Mr. Patel did not agree.

The party insiders also feel that with the construction of the Narmada dam project in full-swing after the Supreme Court's final judgment in October clearing the legal hurdles for the ``lifeline of Gujarat,'' Mr. Vyas was growing in importance which also contributed to his exit from the Cabinet. The dam project would require an investment of over Rs. 10,000 crores in the next few years and Mr. Patel would be keen to keep the huge disbursement under his personal control.

But the resignation by Mr. Vyas is unlikely to snowball into a cabinet crisis, though several Ministers expressed resentment over the way he was shown the doors, because he was not aligned to either the official or the dissident groups and has no personal followers.

With the party high command's experiments on ``Patelism'' fell flat on its face in the local body elections in which the BJP had to bite the dust in two of the six municipal corporations and 23 of the 25 district panchayats, it would no longer be looking for a suitable ``Patel'' to replace Mr. Keshubhai Patel, if need be.

Mr. Patel may not face any challenge from his principal detractors including Mr. Suresh Mehta or the Union Textile Minister, Mr. Kashiram Rana. None of them are believed to be willing to take the mantle from Mr. Patel at this juncture, even if so desired by the party highcommand, considering the state of affairs in the administration. The State coffers are nearly empty, the industrial development at a standstill and the party's popularity at its lowest ebb. The increasing interference by the Sangh Parivar in the day-to-day administration has made the BJP unpopular among the minorities and the excessive and brazen use of the ``Patel card'' was contributing in the consolidation of the non-Patel votes against the ruling party.

With the Assembly elections just about two years away, the dissident leaders feel that the time was too short to undo what the party has suffered under the Patel administration and restore its popularity to secure another victory. They would rather prefer Mr. Patel to lead the party in the Assembly elections and face the consequences.

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