In the throes of his victorious Long March more than six decades ago, China’s great helmsman Mao Tse Dung was richly aphoristic “a great revolution requires a great party and many first rate cadres to guide it… we must purposefully train lakhs of cadres and hundreds of first rate mass leaders…….,” he said.
What he said about revolutionary principles applies to political parties in a parliamentary democracy – a well organised cadre is a sine qua non for a party seeking to broaden its base and stay afloat.
But trust Narendra Modi to turn things on their head. Such has been his dominance in Gujarat in the course of his decade-long rule there that there has been virtually no need for an organised cadre or second-in-command. No leader can claim proximity to the BJP strongman, who is tipped as one of the strong contenders for being Prime Minister when the country goes to elections in 2014. The main question on every Gujarati lip is this: who will succeed Modi in the state in the eventuality of his elevation to Delhi? While there are several claimants to his legacy, no one is willing to hedge their bets – as yet – as most of them are too fragile to get into Modi’s bad books.
Political analysts say that in 2001, when Modi took over the reins of Gujarat BJP, his overall attempt was to cut down to size any opposition from the BJP ranks. Slowly, but steadily, powerful Gujarat BJP leaders were defanged: Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta were left rudderless, Haren Pandya was mysteriously murdered while powerful backward leader Kashiram Rana passed away, leaving the field open for Modi. Today, former chief ministers Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta are not even part of BJP. After demolishing the first line of BJP leadership, there is only the second line of BJP cadres left in the state who are quite willing to do Modi's bidding.
While there are a youthful bunch of BJP leaders in the fray like Nitin Patel, Amit Shah, Purushottam Rupala, R C Faldu and Saurabh Patel, they lack Narendra Modi’s charisma and gumption.
While there is a lot of gossip on who could succeed Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister has everyone, including members of his kitchen cabinet, guessing. None of the leaders mentioned wants a mass base of his or hers own - they would rather be close to Modi.
Such a situation suits the Gujarat Chief Minister who has deliberately created this confusion so that his iron grip on the state remains even if the NDA loses. In three consecutive assembly elections, he has proved that without him the Gujarat BJP cannot win the state. The deliberate posturing of being a one-man army has proved beneficial; it is not the BJP but Modi who is a box-office hit. So far, all speculation has centred on Anandiben Patel, said to be the unofficial second-in-command of Gujarat BJP and also Modi’s successor if he moves to the centre. Insiders in the state BJP say that Modi has been grooming Anandiben to take over from him.
An indication of that has come in the way she has conducted meetings and even presided over portfolios which are not under her jurisdiction. For instance, unofficially, Anandiben has guided the destinies of the party over the significant poll issue of the Narmada Dam project in a drought-stricken Gujarat.
But health may not be on side of 71-year-old Anandiben. In which case, Modi favourite Saurabh Patel – a MBA from US - can consider himself in the run. Saurabh’s ministerial responsibilities of energy, finance, industries, petrochemicals and minerals and civil aviation give him a direct line to the country’s biggest corporate houses.
With both Patels as his closest lieutenants, Modi has in a sense, secured both his past and the future. With key aide Amit Shah entangled in encounter cases, Modi has been keen to promote 54-year-old Saurabh Patel. He was reportedly instrumental in getting Saurabh a `safe’ seat during the 2012 assembly elections.
Another possible contender is former Finance Minister Vajubhai Vala, the man who holds the record of presenting the state budget 14 times and his successor Nitin Patel. Nitin, a Patel leader from Mehsana, is also in Modi’s good books and holds important portfolios like health, medical education, family welfare and transport. These days, he is the unofficial representative of the Gujarat government on places where Modi cannot make it.
Member of Parliament Purushottam Rupala too is said to be in the race but recent developments in BJP’s internal politics indicate that Rupala is out because of differences with Modi on allotting seats during the assembly elections. They say that Rupala’s non-inclusion in the new Team Rajnath in Delhi is a sign of this changing equation.
Says an analyst, ``Anybody who fills in Modi’s big boots will invite immediate comparisons.’’ These comparisons will become even more odious if the former RSS pracharak moves over to Delhi and apparently, everyone in Gujarat knows it.