AHMEDABAD: Veteran politician Keshubhai Patel was a stalwart of the BJP who helped build and expand the organisation in Gujarat, going on to head the first party-led government in the state in 1995.
Often called the "grand old man" of the BJP in Gujarat, he mentored a generation of BJP leaders including Narendra Modi, who succeeded him in the state as chief minister and later went on to become the prime minister.
Hailing from a modest family of farmers, Patel reached the pinnacle of his political career when he became the chief minister in 1995, but is tenure was cut short due to rebellion in the party ranks.
He again held the top post in the state during 1998- 2001, but could not complete his term on the second occasion also. Patel died in Ahmedabad on Thursday after prolonged illness at the age of 92.
He had recovered from COVID-19 recently and was rushed to a hospital here in the morning following health complications, according to family sources. He was a member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly six times and a one-time member of Parliament. He was the first BJP chief minister of Gujarat in 1995 and held the post again during 1998-2001.
Born in 1928 to a middle-class agricultural family in Visavadar town of Junagadh district, Patel completed his schooling from the Mohandas Gandhi School in Rajkot.
He joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as pracharak (worker) at a very young age. He started his political career as a worker for the Jan Sangh and was one of the leaders who later helped establish the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) after the Emergency.
He worked tirelessly and extensively toured the state to propagate the ideology of the newly formed party and attract youth to become party workers.
He resisted the Emergency and was also jailed for some time during that period. In 1977, he was elected as the member of Parliament from Rajkot constituency.
However, he later resigned as MP to join the then Gujarat coalition government as a minister. In 1995, the BJP won majority for the first time in Gujarat and Patel became the chief minister of the state. But, his tenure lasted only for a few months as Shankarsinh Vaghela, another party leader then, led a rebellion to become the CM.
In 1998, the BJP again won under Patel's leadership and he became chief minister for the second time.
In his second tenure of four years, Gujarat faced a devastating cyclone in June 1998 in which thousands of people died, severe water scarcity in 1999 and 2000 due to deficient rains, and the Kutch earthquake in 2001 which also claimed thousands of lives.
The BJP central leadership subsequently replaced Patel with Narendra Modi. As a chief minister, he initiated a farmer and village-friendly development model.
After 2001, Keshubhai Patel felt sidelined in the BJP. He quit the BJP in 2012 and at the age of 84 floated the Gujarat Parivartan Party, which managed to win just two seats in the Assembly polls that year.
The party later merged with the BJP in 2014. Patel was also the chairman of the Shree Somnath Trust, which manages the famous Somnath temple in Saurashtra region.
Condoling his death on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "Keshubhai mentored and groomed many younger Karyakartas including me. Everyone loved his affable nature. His demise is an irreparable loss."
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who is also from Rajkot, said he had the opportunity to work under Patel.
"He used to treat us like his manas-putra (as son). He trained us, mentored us, he said. Keshubhai was a man of few words, which was the reason when he spoke something or gave us some order, we all young party workers were ready to follow it. He never used to hurt anybody and never spoke harshly, Rupani said.