In Ahmedabad these days, not a fortnight passes without beat reporters being warned of an imminent change of guard in Gujarat. The tip-off almost always emanates from a BJP insider. But for the moment, this looks unlikely, especially in a year when Gujarat’s first woman chief minister faces her first test of popularity.
Elections to the key municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar are due later this year, with elections for panchayats and small urban development bodies following soon after. Keeping this in mind, the Anandiben Patel government is already in poll mode. A reshuffle of the bureaucracy and the police set-up is under way to put supportive officers in key positions. The state government in January bailed out 97 municipalities which were in no position to even pay their basic water and electricity bills (totaling Rs 544.55 crore) with a one-time settlement. Anandiben (73) and Shah (50) are two of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest lieutenants. Their loyalty is unquestioned but it’s common knowledge that the two are at loggerheads right down to their last supporter.
Shah loyalists would want him back in the state, and be happier still if he heads the government. The reason is not far to seek. Another debacle or less than spectacular electoral results in Bihar or UP would reduce him to a fall guy, with the PM’s opponents baying for his blood. He has already been to the brink once in the alleged fake encounter cases, indeed spending quite some time behind bars before he managed a breather due, largely, to a change of guard at the Centre, as someone who obviously didn’t want to be named pointed out.