Ahmedabad: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may find the going tough for the upcoming assembly elections as his predecessor and BJP warhorse, Keshubhai Patel, is mobilising politically influential Patel community which can tilt the power balance in the state.
The 82-year-old Modi-baiter, who remained in political wilderness for over four years, has not only embarked on to attending public meetings and functions, mainly organised by his community, but also been openly criticising Modi, while pitching for the change of current government.
From the beginning of this year, the BJP stalwart, who was unceremoniously removed from the chief minister`s chair and replaced by Modi in 2001, has attended more than four major public gatherings and openly voiced his thoughts against the chief minister.
Patels, who constitute about 18 percent of state population, shifted their loyalty to BJP in Gujarat after former Congress chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki worked out a KHAM (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasi (tribals) and Muslims) formula to politically alienate the powerful community.
Patels were the backbone of BJP`s successive victories in the state elections.
In the run-up to 2007 elections Keshubhai Patel had initially taken a tough stand against Modi, however, he relented only after intervention and promises from party`s top leadership, sources close to Patel said.
"However, those promises have not been kept either by the top leadership or by Modi so he (Patel) was lying low so far," they said.
"However, this time he is determined to take the fight to its logical conclusion," they added.
Among other promises, Patel was purportedly assured of giving ticket to his son in 2007 assembly polls.
The determination to put Modi on mat is palpable in Patel as apart from attending public meetings, the former chief minister has also been networking with leaders like Gordhan Zadafia, who has openly revolted against Modi and formed his own outfit, Maha Gujarat Janta Party (MJP).
In absence of strong and credible opposition in Gujarat, Patel`s campaign against Modi is emerging a major factor in the run-up to the elections due in December this year.
In a recent public meeting Patel said that his community was "living in fear under the present regime of Modi".
Blurting out a popular catch-line of an advertisement, Patel said that "Dar ke agey jeet hai (victory is yours if you overcome fear); we require to hold our nerves".
Underlining the sentiment, Zadafia, who fell out with Modi, said, "Keshubhai has nothing personal to gain that is why he is taking on the present regime. He is coming out as a statesman to help people who are finding themselves in trouble".
The founder president of Maha Gujarat Janta Party further said that "Keshubhai`s word matters not only in his community but among many others as he has spent 60 years in public life of Gujarat. He is still active and meeting people by touring all over the state".
State BJP president RC Faldu refused to comment on the Keshubhai Patel `factor` and the consequences, if any, on Modi`s future prospects.