6 decades on, Keshubhai back to familiar building role

In 1951, when Dr Syama Prasad Mookherjee resigned from the Indira Gandhi government and floated the Bharatiya Jana Sangh backed by the RSS, he chose a young volunteer from Rajkot to build the party's base in Saurashtra.

Keshubhai Desai, a farmer with his roots in Kheda, was then 23. His brief effectively translated into building a second alternative to the Congress other than the rebel Congress-O. His efforts culminated in 1975 when the Jana Sangh joined Morarji Desai's Congress-O in a coalition to form the first non-Congress government in the state, one of the primary reasons Emergency was imposed.

Keshubhai, who has since adopted the surname Patel, is now 84. In those 63 years, the RSS veteran has been a founding member of the Jana Sangh and the BJP, the Gujarat CM twice, an MLA six times and an MP once in each House of Parliament. And he finds himself trying to build a new alternative in Gujarat once again, this time against the Congress and the BJP, which has disillusioned him.

Keshubhai this week floated a party revolting against RSS-pracharak-turned CM Narendra Modi. The new party locks Keshubhai in battle with two other leaders who have grown from the RSS: Modi and Shankersinh Vaghela, who now heads the Congress campaign.

"In 1951 he was called by the RSS to shoulder the responsibility of building the Jana Sangh and he took it as his religion," says RSS veteran Pravin Maniar. "A third front can work in Gujarat and Bapa [Keshubhai] has proved it earlier. Now, he is out to prove it again."

Before the formation of the 1975 government, Keshubhai's efforts had first seen Chiman Shukla win from Rajkot-II in 1967 to become the Jana Sangh's first member in the Gujarat Assembly. In 1973 the Jana Sangh-Congress-O coalition came to power in the Rajkot Municipal Corporation, leading to the 1975 success.

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