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

Musician and follower of Dr Ambedkar? A top voilinist has this rare combination!

Some time back, a human rights defender, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, who frequently writes for Counterview, forwarded to me a video interview with Guru Prabhakar Dhakade, calling him one of India's well known violinists.  Dhakade is based in Nagpur and has devoted his life for the Hindustani classical music. A number of his disciples have now been part of Hindi cinema world in Mumbai, says Rawat. He has performed live in various parts of the country as well as abroad. What however attracted me was Dhakade's assertions in video about Dr BR Ambedkar, India's undisputed Dalit icon. Recorded several years back at his residence and music school in Nagpur, Dhakade not only speaks candidly about issues he faced, but that he is a believer in Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. It is in this context that Dhakade narrates his problems, even as stating that he is determined to achieve his goal. A violinist and a follower of Ambedkar? This was new to me. Rarely do musicians are found to take a

Dad, we only wish the world was deserving of a brave and honest man like you!

Reproduced below is an open letter to jailed former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt by his daughter and son Aakashi and Shantanu Sanjiv Bhatt. Bhatt is in Palanpur Jail after being awarded life imprisonment by a Jamnagar sessions court in 2019 for a custodial death way back in November 1990. Known to have said, Narendra Modi as chief minister directed Gujarat cops to allow Hindus to vent their anger, Bhatt was suspended in 2011 for allegedly remaining absent without permission and misuse of official vehicles, and thereafter sacked in August 2015. *** Dearest Dad, Today, as you complete 58 glorious years of your life, we wish we could hug you to never let go and smother you with wishes and love, while you celebrated your birthday surrounded by friends and family. There was a time, not too long ago, when each birthday was celebrated as a wonderful year gone by, and an open armed welcome to the new exciting year ahead; however, today as we stand here, staring into the abyss of the last 3 years,

President Vladimir Putin! Act now! History will record you for ushering in peace

Dr David Leffler, a Ph.D. in Consciousness-Based Military Defense, who has served as an Associate of the Proteus Management Group at the Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College, and currently, serves as the Executive Director at CAMS and lectures, has been propagating what he calls Invincible Defense Technology (IDT) as a means to bring about peace amidst warring nations. Writing in the same vein, here is tells Russian President Vladimir Putin to permanently keep his warriors on Ukraine border: *** President Vladimir Putin! You are amassing (soon perhaps) up to 175,000 Russian military personnel on Ukraine's border. Are you afraid that Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members, threatening Russia's sovereignty? The presence of these Russian troops is triggering a response within the international community that could easily become volatile. Tensions are also simultaneously rising between the US and other countries such as China, North Korea and Iran. These hots

Threat to PM's life completely concocted, he shouldn't make irresponsible statements

"BJP protesters were closest to PM's convoy" Farmers call PMO lie: The Samyukta Kisan Morcha on the events related to the visit of the Prime Minister to Punjab on 5th January: *** 1. On receiving the news of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposed visit to Punjab on January 5, 10 farmer organizations affiliated to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha had announced a symbolic protest for the arrest of Ajay Mishra Teni and other outstanding demands. For this purpose, programs of protests and effigy burning were announced at village level across Punjab on January 2 and at district and tehsil headquarters on January 5. There was no program to stop the Prime Minister's visit or obstruct his program. 2. As per the pre-determined schedule, peaceful protests were held at every district and tehsil headquarters of Punjab on 5th January. When some farmers were stopped by the police administration from going to the district headquarters of Ferozepur, they protested by sitting on the

How can truth prevail when education system makes one ignorant even about 1+1=2?

In an email alert distributed by janvkalp@googlegroups.com, Prof CK Raju, an Indian computer scientist, mathematician, educator, physicist and polymath, has argued that former colonial societies and their rulers have “accepted” the false history of science, including mathematics, distributed by the church, whose power comes from myths and superstitions. *** Truth presupposes knowledge, which depends on the education system. During colonialism the church captured the education system worldwide. Church power comes from myths and superstitions. Through its capture of the education system, the church is able to instil those myths and superstitions in the minds of children worldwide. This enables it to indoctrinate impressionable young children for 15 to 20 years. People expected only religious propaganda from the church. But the unexpected trick was that the church captured our education system by using a false history of science, which it initially erected during the Crusades. For examp

Post-Balakot 9% increase in support to Modi; "not" BJP or Amit Shah: An Ahmedabad view

By Rajiv Shah Elections were over, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already won a landslide, yet the poll fever seemed to continue unabated among the middle classes of Ahmedabad. Ordinary citizens of Ahmedabad, called Amdavadis, are quite sparing when it comes to bets. They ensure that they do not splurge. One of the bets that I came across on the D-day, May 23, was to tell the most correct number of seats the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would win. 

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.

Periyar opposed imposition of alien culture on Dravidian people, but wasn't anti-Hindi

Part 2 of interaction with Thiru K Veeramani, deological disciple of EVR Periyar and one of the senior most leaders of the Dravidian movemen, by  Vidya Bhushan Rawat*: *** Thiru K Veeramani is the ideological disciple of EVR Periyar and one of the senior most leaders of the Dravidian movement at the moment. He started working under his mentor EVR Periyar at the age of 10 years when he delivered his first speech in Salem. Veeramani is President of Dravidar Kazhagam and editor of Modern Rationalist, a monthly journal devoted to Periyar’s ideas. That apart, he is editor of many other magazines and journals in Tamil. This interview was conducted by Vidya Bhushan Rawat at the Periyar Thidal on November 1st, 2019. These are some of the excerpts and the entire interview can be viewed at the youtube link being provided at the end of the article. Dravidian movement internationally Thiru Veeramani said that “It is high time that Periyar must be globalised now. He said that it was easier in rel

Post-Covid, people would look to Ambedkarite, Marxist and Socialist ideologies for direction

Pramod Ranjan*  makes prediction of what people would think post-pandemic phase: *** It is said that had the spread of the Novel Coronavirus not been contained by imposing lockdowns, by now, it would have consumed a substantial chunk of the human residents of the earth. But is the truth as one-sided as is being claimed? Lockdown killed lakhs of persons the world over and its after-effects have ruined the economies of scores of low- and middle-income countries like India. Crores of persons have been condemned to a life of poverty and misery. What is going to change Offices and educational institutions were a gift of the modern age. By bringing human minds together, the places of work and the centres of education not only scripted a new chapter in the development of the human race but also brought diverse communities on common platforms. It is almost certain that in the post-Covid world, schools and offices would not exist as we know them today. A new law for bringing about changes in

#ResignModi vs TINA factor: This activist insists, he can indeed be an alternative!

Chandra Vikash* answers the question: After Modi who? *** With the election results in five states on May 2, and more than a hundred million Indians who have petitioned online with hashtag #ResignModi together with the resound drubbing by the global media projecting him as a narcissist and a disaster, it is a bygone conclusion that Modi should resign or will be forced out by the people very soon. In such an event, do we have a replacement for him in place? After Modi who? I don’t see anyone from the existing power circle – as coming forward or finding support with people given the widespread anger and resentment. It will therefore have to be a dark horse who can rise up to the challenge to bring together India’s diversity and differences, conflicts and contradictions and transform them into new synergies and opportunities to rise up and to save the country from sinking further into despair and disillusionment. In such a scenario, fully aware of our deep and complex challenges at this