AHMEDABAD: AHMEDABAD/NEW DELHI: In a sudden move ahead of Assembly polls, Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, who is in the midst of several challenges, today offered to resign, saying it was time for new leadership to take over since she is soon going to turn 75.
During Patel's over two-year-old tenure, the BJP for the first time in the post-Narendra Modi era in Gujarat has faced multiple challenges including defeat in rural areas in the civic polls, a powerful agitation by Patel community for OBC quota and the ongoing Dalit unrest over the flogging incident after the skinning of a dead cow in Una.
BJP President Amit Shah said the party's Parliamentary Board will decide on the replacement for Patel, who will turn 75 on November 21 and is the first woman chief minister of Gujarat. "She has requested the party to relieve her of her post. I will place the letter she has written to me before the Parliamentary Board and it will take a decision," Shah told PTI in Delhi.
Patel took to Facebook to request the party leadership to relieve her of the post though speculation has been rife for quite some time that she is on the way out. Elections are due in later part of 2017.
An unwritten age bar of 75 has been set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the BJP leaders to hold positions in state and central governments. A minister in the BJP government since 1998, Patel succeeded Modi as Chief Minister on May 22, 2014.
"For the last some time there has been a tradition in the party that those who attain the age of 75, voluntarily retires from the post. I will attain the age of 75 in November," Patel said in the Facebook post.
"Two months ago I had requested the party to relieve me from the post and today also through this letter, I request the party to relieve me of the post," she said.
"I am asking the party to relieve me two months in advance as the new chief minister will require the time to work, when the state is going to face elections in 2017 and an important event like Vibrant Gujarat Summit to be held in January," Patel said.
"It (the rule of 75) is a good thing and it will give a chance to young leaders to come up," she added.
The move by Patel came a day after thousands of Dalits converged here yesterday and took out a rally where they were called upon to "send a strong message" to the Gujarat government ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls.
Soon after Patel went public with her offer to quit, Shah said she wanted her replacement to get adequate time to prepare for Vibrant Gujarat summit to be held in January 2017 and the assembly polls later next year.
He said Patel had twice offered to resign and also broached the issue in the party's National Executive meet in June and wrote to him again today morning.
Referring to reasons, including that she will turn 75 in November, cited by her to quit, he said she has set a "good" precedent.
"She has requested the party to relieve her of the post. I will place the letter she has written to me before the Parliamentary Board and it will take a decision," Shah said.
"She has said that if a new person has to be brought in, then he should get time. Gujarat elections have to take place and there is also Vibrant Gujarat summit, which has been a long tradition, to be held in January. She said if Vibrant Gujarat has to happen in January, then new person should get the opportunity now," he said.
Asked about the replacement for Patel, he said the parliamentary board will decide on the new chief minister.
The Dalit uprising after the Una trashing incident had also dented the image of party.
Congress and other opposition parties has unleashed a nationwide attack on the BJP and its dispensations at the state and the centre over the issue.
Patel had faced an upset with BJP faring badly in the rural civic bodies polls in December 2015 and the opposition Congress making gains at the cost of the saffron rival.
She also had to face the fierce Patel community quota agitation, one of the factors which contributed to BJP losing in rural local bodies polls, while retaining urban areas.
It has become an unwritten convention in BJP that those turning 75 have to quit the posts they are holding, which saw Najma Heptulla quitting the Union Cabinet after she was reportedly sounded to do so on attaining the age bar.
Earlier, a couple of ministers in Madhya Pradesh including BJP veteran Babubal Gaur and Sartaj Singh were dropped from the state cabinet by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan due to age bar.
In 2014, when the Modi government came to power, the age limit had apparently come in the way of ministerial berths for old guards like L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shanta Kumar and Yashwant Sinha.
Sinha had in the past remarked that BJP has "declared brain dead on May 26, 2014" its leaders above the age of 75.