Prashant Dayal (MeraNews, Ahmedabad): Anandiben Patel’s announcement that she will not contest the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections has raised many eyebrows. This was not the first time that Patel sprang a surprise, the first being when she resigned as chief minister last year.

People close to the matter say the reason behind Patel’s decision is one made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) high command—that of putting forward Smriti Irani as a chief ministerial candidate.

For Patel, Gujarat’s first woman chief minister, the party’s decision would seem a distressing one: She would be used by the BJP to help the party retain power in the state but would then be relegated to nothing more than a member of the Gujarat legislative assembly (MLA) while Irani, the Union minister for information and broadcasting and textiles, would hold the reins of power.

The veteran leader, however, in her letter to BJP national president Amit Shah declaring her intent not to contest the elections, said she will continue working for her party till her last breath.

The people cited above, who are close to the BJP high command, added that the party has already shortlisted candidates for the post of deputy chief minister—Praful Patel, a former junior home minister of Gujarat and a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tops the list, followed by Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya.

At the time when the Patidar community leaders are gravitating towards the Congress party, Anandiben Patel’s decision is a potential blow for the BJP as the party had planned on promoting her as a Patidar leader in the run-up to the assembly elections.

According to people familiar with the developments, Patel was removed from the post of chief minister in line with the BJP’s policy on age. This did not go down well with her, and she decided not to contest further elections. But with the political scenario changing as the Patidar leaders showed an inclination of aligning with the Congress—and the question of support from Naresh Patel, a prominent leader from the Khodaldham constituency—the BJP once again opened its doors to Anandiben Patel.

The party assured the former chief minister that Amit Shah, considered her rival within the BJP, would not interfere with her work, and Shah even visited Patel at her residence. What followed were meetings between Patel and leaders of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), both of which are at the forefront of the Patidar community’s movement seeking reservation as an Other Backward Class (OBC).

In store was a surprise for Patel as indications emerged that she would be just an MLA if the BJP were to retain power in the state. When she sought clarification from the party high command on her role within the party after the elections, none seemed forthcoming.

With her chances of becoming chief minister again diminishing, Patel decided not to contest the elections and indicated as much to the senior BJP leaders recently.

Shah may have dismissed this at the time, but the BJP national president is now left with no option but to clarify what Patel’s role will be in the near future.