The Bharatiya Janata Party central leadership's plan to replace Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel is being resisted tooth and nail by the majority of Gujarat's cabinet ministers and state party chief Rajendra Singh Rana.
The resistance must be causing some worry to the central leadership of a repeat of the Shankersinh Vaghela episode in 1995-96 when the senior leader split the state unit.
Though the BJP retained its electoral turf in the polls that followed, the party apparatus is yet to fully recover from the unpleasant episode.
On Monday, Rana discussed the issue at a close door meeting with party president Jana Krishnamurthi and a former president Kushabhau Thakre.
"We have told the leadership that a change in Gujarat at this juncture will not be a wise move. We also discussed the reasons behind the deteriorating image of the party in Gujarat," Rana said after the meeting.
"Back-to-back natural calamities are partly responsible for the party's poor image in the state," he said.
Also, Rana reportedly told Krishnamurthi that Patel alone could not be blamed for the debacle in the recent by-election.
"The central leadership will have to tread carefully before imposing their choice on the state," Rana said.
Once 'reports' of Prime Minister A B Vajpayee asking Patel to step down spread, the latter rushed to Krishnamurthi with his defence.
Following this, in a politically combative action, more than 25 MLAs faxed a letter to Krishnamurthi requesting him to consider their opinion before making the final decision.
"When Patel enjoys the confidence of the state unit, how could you replace him?" a state minister and party veteran argued.
Lightweights like Saurabh Patel, Chimanlal Sapria and Mohan Kundariya are among those who are backing Patel to the hilt.
The Patel group warned the central leadership that 'replacing Keshubhai is not in the party's interest'.
Meanwhile, Patel is camping in Delhi with the hope of getting an audience with the prime minister, Home Minister L K Advani and other party leaders.
Krishnamurthi and Thakre were not available for comment.
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