When a former police constable was appointed Gujarat unit chief, everyone was surprised.
Now workers are laying bets on when he will be elevated to the Union Cabinet, notes Aditi Phadnis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly paid handsome compliments to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarat unit chief, C R Paatil, after the party’s superlative electoral performance in the assembly elections in December.
So generous was the praise that most party activists thought it would be Mr Paatil who would be elevated as national chief of the BJP.
But J P Nadda has stayed on to fight another day, though Mr Paatil’s stars are in the ascendant.
This was not always the case. It would not be an exaggeration to say that when Chandrakant Raghunath Paatil (he was a simple Patil but he changed his name for astrological reasons) was appointed Gujarat unit chief of the BJP in 2020, everyone was quite surprised.
There were many reasons. His predecessor, Jitu Vaghani, was thought to be a protege of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and was the youngest state president appointed by the party when he got the job in 2016.
There was some speculation that he might get a second term — Purshottam Rupala and R C Faldu had got two terms in the past.
However, Gujarat was roiled by many social upheavals.
The BJP performed poorly in the 2017 assembly elections and the ruling duo — then chief minister Vijay Rupani and Mr Vaghani — were both given the boot.
Both the replacements were a surprise: Bhupendra Patel, who was chosen to be Mr Rupani’s successor, was a first-time MLA; and Mr Paatil, the Lok Sabha MP for Navsari in Surat, was made party chief.
In theory, Mr Paatil is not a Gujarati at all: His family comes from Jalgaon, Maharashtra.
But the family moved to south Gujarat when he was a boy and he studied at the Industrial Training Institute in Surat.
Like his father, he too became a constable in Gujarat police but quit the police force after he was charged with hobnobbing with the liquor mafia in dry Gujarat.
After that, he dabbled in real estate and launched some highly profitable projects; but also some of those sank, taking with them the public money borrowed from banks that also went into liquidation.
The case dates back to October 2002 and the Diamond Jubilee Cooperative Bank scam in Surat when his firm, Abhishek Estate Pvt Ltd, defaulted on a loan of Rs 46 crore (Rs 460 million) in two instalments in violation of the Reserve Bank of India guidelines, which stipulated that a co-operative bank could advance a maximum of Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) per loan applicant.
Along with interest, Mr Paatil owed Rs 55 crore (Rs 550 million) to the bank.
He was in jail for more than a year until he reached an agreement, first in the high court and later in the Supreme Court in 2008, that he would repay the borrowed amount.
The case against him was settled and his properties released after he repaid Rs 88 crore (Rs 880 million) as loan and interest.
Of course, the 100-plus employees of the bank who were retrenched after liquidation barely managed to get their past dues.
Mr Paatil had already come into contact with Mr Modi, then general secretary of the party, in 1995.
He stayed a Modi loyalist through the Keshubhai Patel upheaval (though it was Keshubhai who appointed him chairman of state PSU Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals Ltd).
He nurtured Navsari well, winning the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with a record margin of 689,000 votes in his third consecutive victory.
He was the first MP in India to obtain ISO certification 9001:2015 for office, given for quality management systems, leading to the best business delivery.
Navsari was India’s first ‘smokeless’ district.
Mr Paatil leveraged the Ujjwala Yojana and organised subsidies for those families that did not qualify but were still low-income, to get the Ujjwala benefits.
No one uses firewood or kerosene in Navsari now.
Impressed by him, Mr Modi used him to manage some parts of Varanasi, his parliamentary constituency.
Ahead of the last assembly elections in Gujarat, Mr Paatil had set the target.
He told reporters he wanted the state BJP to set the record for the highest number of seats, the highest margins on the seats won by BJP and the highest number of total votes. The party managed to meet all the targets.
BJP workers are now laying bets on when Mr Paatil will be elevated to the Union Cabinet.
His access to Surat diamond merchants and builders is a funding advantage.
The C R Paatil school of business and politics, along with his affability, has won him many admirers in the party and outside.
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