THE EX-COP WHO LEADS BJP’S CHARGE
Never after Narendra Modi has the Gujarat BJP had a political personality of any significance. And frankly, it has never needed one. The sight of a Gujarati saffron icon ensconsed in India’s top job has sufficed to confer an endless gift on the state unit. But in a year when the BJP will seek to stamp its dominance on the Gujarat assembly like never before, it needs a micromanager cut of the same cloth as Modi—even if tailored to a lesser calling. And it has one in state BJP president C.R. Patil. He has become the last word on anything to do with the state unit. The very mention of ‘CR’ is considered a goahead for any decision. As the party gears up to ensure its uninterrupted run in power since 1999 is only further entrenched after assembly polls in December, a lot hinges on the 67yearold former policeman’s organisational skills.
His eyes on an ambitious target of 150 seats out of 181, surpassing the record 149 bagged by the Congress under Madhavsinh Solanki in 1985, Patil embarked on a statewide ‘One Day, One District’ campaign in April. His idea of forming ‘page committees’ will likely swell the number of active party workers from 130,000 to 350,000 by August—the idea is to deploy sixman teams for every 30 voters, the number figuring on each page of the voters’ list. “Half the campaign” will be done with that task accomplished, claimed Patil. His word carries weight. In the 2021 civic polls, held the year after Patil took over, he made the bold choice of not giving tickets to kith and kin and those who have completed three terms. A phenomenal perfor
In the 2021 civic polls, Patil boldly chose not to give tickets to those who had completed three terms
mance resulted. Recently, Gujarat requested the Centre to postpone the Par-Tapi-Narmada interlinking project—a promise Patil had made to protesters in May. And CM Bhupendra Patel scrapped the Gujarat Cattle Control in Urban Areas Bill, which envisaged a fine for stray cattle on city streets, after Patil assured the cattle-rearing Maldhari community it would be. ‘Assertive Patil’ and‘hu mb le Patel ’... party men see it as a virtuous contrast.
Besides his demonstrated skills, his proximity to PM Modi is a big factor behind his clout. His mentor since the beginning of Patil’s political career in 1989, Modi made him president of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation after becoming CM in 2002. He was Modi’s poll coordinator in 2019 when the PM contested the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat. This March, when the PM held a roadshow in Ahmedabad, Patil accompanied him and CM Patel. Patil’s popularity in his Lok Sabha constituency Navsari is indicated by his huge victory margins of 560,000 and 689,000 votes, respectively, in the 2014 and 2019 elections.
Patil has seen many ups and downs in his journey to where he is today. In 1984, as a constable, he was suspended for trying to form a union within the Gujarat Police. In 2002, he was arrested for defaulting on payments amounting to Rs 54 crore to Diamond Jubilee Cooperation Bank. He eventually returned Rs 84 crore, including interest, and didn’t let the muck stick. In April, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal questioned his loyalty towards Gujarat by pointing to his Maharashtra roots—Patil was born in Jalgaon in 1955, before his family shifted to Surat. “It was Bombay Presidency then. Maharashtra and Gujarat took shape only in 1960,” says one of Patil’s supporters. His next job will be to choose candidates who beat off anti-incumbency and new challengers from ‘outside’. ■