THE chief minister of Gujarat and a long-time confidante of prime minister Narendra Modi resigned on Monday (1), amid protests by the low-caste Dalit community in the state.
Anandiben Patel, who was Gujarat’s first woman chief minister, posted the resignation letter on her Facebook page. She said the decision was driven by the fact that she was almost 75 years old, the age at which Modi expects ministers to retire.
Modi appointed Patel as his successor in Gujarat, his home state, in 2014. He had run the state for 13 years – an era of rapid industrial growth that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) successfully pitched to voters as a “model” to bring prosperity to India’s 1.3 billion people.
But Patel’s standing weakened after a series of caste-driven protests, which could be politically damaging for Modi. They have also disrupted parliamentary proceedings and may affect state elections in Gujarat and the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
About 25,000 member of Dalit community have staged protests since four young Dalit men were stripped and beaten in public after they were seen skinning a cow. The youths said the cow was dead.
Killing cows is banned in Gujarat, although villagers said the animal that sparked the attack on the youths had died of natural causes.
Sources in the BJP said Patel’s replacement could be in place within a week. Party president Amit Shah said in New Delhi that her successor will be chosen by the party’s parliamentary board, which is set to meet soon.
Shah is also expected to travel to Ahmedabad to supervise the transition in the state.
Among likely candidates to be the new chief minister are Nitin Patel, Gujarat’s minister for health, medical education, family welfare and roads and state BJP party chief Vijay Rupani.
Nitin Patel, who is from the influential Patidar community, is said to enjoy the confidence of Modi, under whom he had served as a minister in Gujarat.
Rupani, a confidante of Shah, enjoys support within the party; however, he belongs to the Jain community, which has less influence than the Patidars in the state politics.
Federal minister Parshottam Rupala, a grassroots leader, and Bhikhubhai Dalsaniya, the state BJP general secretary, are also being seen as contenders for the top post.