Gujarat's chief minister resigns

Ms Patel resigned on Monday following protests by the Dalit community (above), triggering a search for a successor.
Ms Patel resigned on Monday following protests by the Dalit community (above), triggering a search for a successor. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Ms Patel (above) resigned on Monday following protests by the Dalit community, triggering a search for a successor.
Ms Patel (above) resigned on Monday following protests by the Dalit community, triggering a search for a successor. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

Move seen as signal of more trouble in BJP stronghold state following Dalit protests

Despite being handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be Gujarat's chief minister in 2014, Ms Anandiben Patel resigned on Monday following protests by the Dalit community, signalling trouble in a state considered to be a stronghold of her party.

Ms Patel, who had privately told supporters she would not be leading the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when Gujarat goes to the polls next year, posted her resignation on Facebook, triggering a search for a successor.

She said she was turning 75 in November and wanted to give way to a younger leader ahead of January's Vibrant Gujarat summit - a showcase event that Mr Modi uses to woo international investors - and state elections later next year.

"I am proud of the fact that I have not lagged behind in maintaining the pace in taking Gujarat forward in the course of development charted by him (Mr Modi)," she said on Facebook.

The western state of Gujarat is one of India's more prosperous states, ruled by Mr Modi for 13 years until he became Prime Minister in 2014.

Mr Modi, whose success in Gujarat catapulted him into national politics, appointed close confidante Ms Patel to take over as the first woman chief minister of the state.

Still, she has faced opposition from a section within her own party reportedly amid friction between her and BJP president Amit Shah.

The BJP performed poorly in civic elections last December and she was also criticised for her poor handling of protests by her own Patel community demanding government jobs.

The BJP suffered another setback when low-caste Dalits staged protests recently in the state after four Dalit men were chained to the back of a vehicle and beaten with rods for skinning a dead cow. Hindus consider cows to be sacred.

It comes at a time when the BJP is wooing Dalits ahead of elections in Gujarat and the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Political analysts said the protests and the chief minister's resignation were signs of trouble for the BJP.

"People are seeing what is happening in Gujarat with the Dalits and it is influencing the politics of other states. The question is whether the person who takes over now is going to recover the losses," said Professor Badri Narayan Tiwari of the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP is likely to hold a parliamentary board meeting on Wednesday to accept Ms Patel's resignation and appoint a new leader, with Gujarat health minister Nitin Patel and BJP state party chief Vijay Rupani being front-runners.

While the BJP has dismissed talk that it was losing ground in Gujarat, political opponents took the opportunity to criticise Mr Modi.

"Three years of Modi rule, not two years of Anandiben, are responsible for Gujarat burning. Sacrificing the scapegoat won't save the BJP," said opposition party Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Twitter.

Delhi-based political analyst Amulya Ganguli believes the recent protests could affect the BJP's chances at next year's state elections. "The Congress is not strong enough but the BJP is also bound to suffer. You can't antagonise entire communities and still hold on to power," said Mr Ganguli.

"If Modi suffers a setback in Gujarat, that would be quite a blow."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Gujarat's chief minister resigns'. Print Edition | Subscribe