No-Repeat Cabinet or Boomerang: What Will Work for BJP in Gujarat?
Gujarat is known as a laboratory for all BJP experiments so PM Modi reportedly put his No Repeat Theory in practice.
Is it a foolproof strategy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have devised personally or is it yet another gamble that could boomerang? That was the question ricocheting off the corridors of power in Gujarat after debut MLA Bhupendra Patel selected – rather, announced – his ministerial colleagues and stuck to the no-repeat theory.
Kerala is no model for Gujarat but what has happened in Gujarat is very similar to what Pinarayi Vijayan did in Kerala about four months ago. After a historic win, he changed his entire cabinet. Sources said that Modi reportedly had intelligence reports suggesting that this strategy was working well, despite the fact that several experienced ministers had been dropped.
No 'Repeats' in Gujarat Cabinet of Ministers
Gujarat is known as laboratory for all Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) experiments so Modi reportedly put his No Repeat Theory in practice. He went ahead of Vijayan in two ways. One, Modi replaced the chief minister as well and secondly he did not emulate the Kerala chief minister’s ill vision of promoting family and dynasty.
The much anticipated but unique move means the chief minister is leading Gujarat into the crucial 2022 elections with a completely fresh, inexperienced team.
Gujarat is a model state for the BJP and this is the first time in India that the “no repeat of ministers” theory has been introduced.
The entire council of ministers and speaker, including the chief minister, make up a 26-member team. Out of these #Special26, only three, Raghavji Patel , Kiritsinh Rana and Rajendra Trivedi, have prior governance experience. At least nearly a dozen MLAs are first-time MLAs – like Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel himself.
Caste Politics at Work
The maximum importance in this cabinet has been given to Patels, which means that the BJP has conceded that their traditional Patidar vote bank is slipping away from their hands. Also, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have been kept in mind as much as the Patidars. All together, eight different community segments have found place in Bhupendra Patel’s cabinet. And this includes eight Patidars (also known as Patels) and eight ministers belonging to (OBCs). Kshatriyas follow next.
Since August 2014 the Patels, a wealthy and influential community of Gujarat, have been demanding reservations in government jobs or OBC category inclusion. This has seen the dethroning of two chief ministers: Anandiben Patel, herself a Patidar, and Vijay Rupani, a Jain.
After Anandiben was removed unceremoniously in 2014, the BJP high command was not in a mood to cave in to the Patels' demand for reservation, which appear shallow given their wealth and influence.
However, as the young Patidar leader – and Gujarat Congress working president – Hardik Patel told this correspondent, “We might have an Audi or a Mercedes but someone from our village can stop us and deliberately ask us to show our papers. Our clout in government service has been on a constant decline.”
Hardik said that the new Bhupendra Patel ministry is a great opportunity for the Congress to get its act together. It is interesting to note that Gujarat Congress took a “unanimous stand” that they would not react to the situation. In short, Congress remained lazy and aloof saying “BJP is in a majority, they can do what they want”.
Several Congress workers were disappointed with this stand. When The Quint contacted Gujarat Congress President Amit Chavda, he said that he would not react.
Next year's election is the first time that Gujarat will be witnessing a genuinely three-pronged battle. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) believes that dropping Rupani and anointing Bhupendra Patel itself is a victory for them as AAP had consistently been saying that Rupani had failed as a chief minister to be the guardian of Gujarat.
Also, a significant number of urban and rural youth are joining AAP, which is led by youngsters such as Gopal Italia, Isudan Gadhvi and Nikhil Sawani in Gujarat.
That the Patidar element has been the most significant consideration in choosing the cabinet is evident – besides Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, at least eight other Patel leaders have been given important positions. This means there are nine Patels in the team of 25 – not counting the speaker – which is 36 percent of the new cabinet.
The Patels make up 12.8 percent of the population of Gujarat. This means the BJP, scared of losing Patel support, has given the community three times more representation to keep them in its fold.
“Whatever the BJP arithmetic is, this is the last BJP government in Gujarat,” declared Hardik Patel.
You might like to add some salt to the Congress leader's claim. While the BJP has changed its chief minister – and, indeed, entire cabinet – in a smooth transition, the Congress has been sniffing around indecisively in choosing their general secretary in-charge, a post that has been vacant for 16 months after the untimely death of Rajeev Satav.
Not only that, after a miserable showing in the self governing body elections, both Gujarat Congress President Amit Chavda and Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani have resigned. This backstory also is seven months old.
Opposing BJP in Gujarat
The Congress has been claiming that “defeating Modi in his home turf in 2022 will be the beginning of the 2024 war,” but they have not yet displayed any signs of reviving the party for the fight.
On his part, AAP's Gujarat President Gopal Italia claimed that Gujarat was tired of both the BJP and the Congress and this time the state was turning to his party.
Bhupendra Patel may be a debut MLA-cum-CM, but he knows he has the firepower despite the Opposition's muscle-flexing.
“The youth is the face of India,” the new Gujarat CM told The Quint. “Mine is the youngest ever ministry in the history of Gujarat. We have the guidance and directions of PM Modi, HM Amitbhai, state president C R Patil and of course Anandiben Patel. Nothing can stop our victory procession. Not only shall we win, but we will erase Congress and AAP completely from Gujarat.”
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP bagged all 26 seats in Gujarat. The state became nearly Congress-mukt when the BJP also bagged 31 of the 33 district panchayats in Gujarat.
Fresh Faces: Analysing the New State Cabinet
Most of the new ministers are extremely popular in their respective constituencies. Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel had the highest victory margin in Gujarat – of over 1.17 lakh votes – in the 2017 assembly elections.
The Congress claims that this was before the COVID-19 wave but it needs to be noted that BJP won all the six municipal corporations and 31 district panchayats in February 2021, very much after the first COVID-19 wave.
The Patidars are overall happy with such a big representation in the government. Saurashtra and South Gujarat, where most Patidars live, have never got such an impressive representation before.
However, two major concerns remain.
One, with the accumulated inexperience of new ministers, would bureaucrats once again take over Gujarat and rule in a manner not beneficial for the BJP as a party?
Second, how can the party be cent percent sure that all the dropped ministers will actually support the BJP in 2022?
The only thing certain is that this ministry is too inexperienced to let Modi or Shah to even dream of an early election in Gujarat.
All ministers in Gujarat have been instructed to not analyse the ministry or their portfolios. However a senior minister from North Gujarat who has been dropped as part of the no-repeat theory told The Quint:
“I indeed am feeling hopeless after spending four decades in BJP. However, I have to admit that though it is a difficult proposition to face Assembly elections with a totally inexperienced team, PM Modi is so clear that he must already must have chalked out a strategy. He is a man who has no interests and thinks and consumes politics 24/7. I personally feel that if CR Patil is removed as the BJP chief from Gujarat, things would be easier for the BJP.”
An MLA from South Gujarat, who was not included in the ministry, said the new team suggests that CR Patil will be the kingpin.
“Look at Harsh Sanghvi. Harsh is his man and just 39,” the MLA pointed out. “He is 9th pass but still has been given the much coveted home portfolio with independent charge. All of C R Patil's men and women have been accommodated and this shows the increase in his clout.”
"Bhupendra Patel will be a super puppet chief minister with too many operators handling him,” the South Gujarat BJP MLA said.
(Deepal Trivedi is the CEO and Founder Editor of Vibes of India. She tweets at @DeepalTrevedie. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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