Skip to main content

Simply Keshubhai: In lieu of tribute to grand old man, one-time bete noire of Modi

By Rajiv Shah 
Keshubhai Patel, former chief minister of Gujarat, has passed away at the ripe old age of 92. Known to be an opponent (I would call him bete noire in my stories for the Times of India) of Narendra Modi, I am reproducing below a blog on him, “Simply Keshubhai”, I wrote way on June 30, 2012 for the TOI blogging site around the time he was about to dissociate his decades old association with BJP and form Gujarat Parivartan Party, which didn’t last after the December 2012 Gujarat state assembly polls. 
Always critical of Modi, going so far as to call political atmosphere of Gujarat under him “mini-emergency”, Keshubhai withdrew from active politics thereafter, “accepting” Modi’s leadership. His activity ever since was confined to remaining chairman of the Somnath Temple Trust. I am tempted to reproduce the blog in lieu of a tribute to the grand old man.
Read on:
*** 
He was addressed as “dinosaur” by late Congress chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhury, but Gujarat government officials recall him for being too much of a “simpleton”, who easily succumbed to all types of pressures, whether from the family, or bureaucrats, or politicians whom he trusted blindly. Whatever he has been, former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who has allowed his decades-old association with the BJP to lapse just a few days ahead of his 83rd birthday, July 24, will now attract attention on how he seeks to influence Gujarat’s polity, about to witness assembly elections six months from now. Despite being old, his supporters say, he is seen as “Keshubapa” by the economically better off and socially influential community of Leuva Patels, especially in the Saurashtra region, to which he belongs.
I came in contact with Keshubhai in 1998, though I met him once earlier, somewhat briefly, in early 1994 when he was opposition leader in the Gujarat state assembly. In 1998, he led his party to victory with a thumping majority for the second time, crushing the Congress and the BJP’s splinter group, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), founded by Shankarsinh Vaghela. Ideologies of hindutva and swadeshi were vocal then, and Keshubhai tried holding their banner rather high, indeed without scruples. I remember Keshubhai strongly defending the vandal attacks on Coca Cola and Pepsi vans in Ahmedabad in 1998 as a “natural reaction” of nationalists protesting against US sanction against India. “Nationalists” were no other than Sangh Parivar boys. He took a similar view when MF Hussain’s works were vandalized in the city during a Bajrang Dal protest against the much-maligned Goddess Saraswati painting.
While officials would tell me that Keshubhai had “a very good common sense view of things” despite being not well educated, I thought he faltered in public relations (PR), the strongest point of his successor who threw him out. In fact, he never tried to hide his lack of knowledge. He didn’t know what IT was, yet he initiated Gujarat into the IT age at a time when the state had missed the IT bus. I recall how newspersons were called to inaugurate Gujarat government’s website, Gujarat State Wide Area Network (GSWAN). They all waited for Keshubhai to press computer button on the ground floor of Sachivalaya’s Block No 1. In came Keshubhai, telling his principal secretary, PK Laheri, “We have to go to the site to inaugurate GSWAN. Is the bus ready? Ask newsmen to sit in. Why are they here?” Laheri told him, only a computer button had to be pressed, and he exclaimed, “Oh is that so!”
In another instance, Keshubhai had to lay the foundation stone of Infocity, off Gandhinagar town. Influential persons from all over the country were called, and they readily responded to his request to be present on the occasion. Mukesh Ambani and Sam Pitroda paid glowing tributes to him for his decision to have an Infocity. First Keshubhai began reading out the speech given to him, but then he diverted and began speaking ex-tempore on how Gujarati youth, who go to the US, do an excellent job in IT. In between, he referred to “HIV visa”, and the audience giggled – he was referring to H-1B visa! One official, who was close to him, told me, “He may not have knowledge of things modern, but he tried to understand issues and never said no to new ideas. He was a democrat, with no authoritarian traits.”
Indeed, despite his hindutva leaning, he slowly found realities of the larger world, though it was too late when he may have actually found them out. He began to regularly hold iftaar parties, where Muslims from all walks of life – and not just BJP Muslims – would be invited to accept his greetings. It is another thing that his successor, who threw Keshubhai out of chief ministership, stopped it in the name of “no appeasement policy”. The council of ministers under him would see live debate on several issues, a rarity now. In fact, Keshubhai wouldn’t mind criticism against him. Only once Keshubhai was forced to act against a Cabinet minister, who thrice called him a “liar”. This prompted him to sack the minister, who now happily enjoys a top Cabinet rank.
In search of news, I was told that a Cabinet minister had written a letter supporting Madanlal Khurana, who had rebelled against the BJP high command. When I tried to inquire about the veracity of the letter, this minister threatened to assault me and break my head if I wrote anything. I told this to Keshubhai, who immediately asked for an inquiry, found my version correct, and asked the minister to apologize. A known critic of Keshubhai, who would regularly brief reporters as also Keshubhai’s opponents about “insider stories of the Cabinet meetings”, this minister, we came to know later, would do it all at the instance of the chief Keshubhai baiter, who sat in Delhi organizing out rebellion. Keshubhai perhaps knew of it, but tolerated the minister – and despite all odds.
The killer quake of January 2001 brought bad name to Keshubhai, as he had no PR machinery to back him. Though he earned international goodwill by roping in all types of support, including from the World Bank and the ADB, in Gujarat he came in for heavy criticism for “slow” rehabilitation and wide-scale corruption, especially in Kutch. Ministers and MLAs went against him. Things reached a point where BJP supremo LK Advani wanted him removed. I met Keshubhai and asked his view on whether Advani would prevail. Keshubhai angrily reacted, “Who is Advani?” This was enough for me. I filed the story based on an interview with Keshubhai. While his critics used it against Keshubhai, faxing it to Advani and others, Keshubhai, interestingly, never protested or asked me why I wrote it.
Over the last one decade, Keshubhai has played hide-and-seek with BJP rebels, missing opportunities to dethrone the man who unseated him. He severally equated the Gujarat situation as “mini-emergency” and “emergency” but feared political fallout. Many rebels who were willing to join him are ministers. A few of them enjoy posts in government boards, with red light blowing hot and cold atop their cars. Some of his best supporters rejoined the BJP after leaving it, saying there is “no future with Keshubhai”, though admitting the current atmosphere is “quite suffocating”, and adding, “After all we have to survive!” It’s a heterogeneous group backing him, consisting of hindutva extremists and liberals. One is left wondering: Will this be the third alternative, as is claimed by Keshubhai men?
---
Also see my story on Keshubhai in National Herald

Comments

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer