Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani resigned from his post on Saturday, 11 September. Submitting his resignation to Governor Acharya Devvrat, Rupani said that a change of guard is natural in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and he is ready to take on whatever "responsibility" is given to him next.
With this, Rupani has joined the list of BJP chief ministers who have resigned from their posts recently – BS Yediyurappa in Karnataka, Tirath Singh Rawat and Trivendra Rawat in Uttarakhand.
Rupani, who had served as chief minister of the state since 7 August 2016, is only the second BJP CM after Narendra Modi, and fourth overall, to complete five years at the helm in the state.
But as Gujarat gears up for the Assembly elections due next year, Rupani's resignation has taken many by surprise. In this report we look at the factors which led to Rupani's exit.
Election Year and Anti-Incumbency
Sources close to the BJP told The Quint that an internal survey conducted ahead of the election year did not predict a victory for the saffron party under the leadership of Rupani, which led to the party high command asking him to step down.
This is important in light of the massive two-decade-long anti-incumbency staring at the party coupled with COVID mismanagement and rural unrest.
Even though the BJP has performed satisfactorily under his leadership in the local body polls – registering thumping victories in municipal corporation, municipality, and district panchayat elections – this performance was largely credited to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, under whose name and banner the polls were contested.
Patidar Agitation & Rural Unrest
In 2016, when Anandiben Patel resigned as the chief minister of Gujarat, political observers expected another Patidar, possibly Nitin Patel or Saurabh Patel, to take over the reigns of the state.
Nitin Patel is the current deputy chief minister and Saurabh Patel is the state's energy minister.
While the appointment of Rupani, a lesser known Jain leader, shook many, we saw that Rupani over the years managed to survive the flames of the agitation mostly because, as a Jain, he is not seen as a threat or a rival by the Patidars or the OBCs in the state.
However, as rumours about Patidar leader Hardik Patel jumping ship from the Congress and joining the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) started doing the rounds in January this year, it is possible that the BJP predicted a revival of the movement ahead of the 2022 elections.
Further, unrest among farmer groups in rural areas over privatisation and unemployment did little to help Rupani's case.
As Rupani steps down, names of BJP Gujarat President CR Patil, deputy CM Nitin Patel, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, former Gujarat minister Gordhan Zadafia, Gujarat cabinet minster RC Faldu and union minister Parshottam Rupala are doing the rounds as his possible successors.
Pertinent to note that except Patil all others are Patidar leaders.
Infighting Within the BJP
It is public knowledge that Rupani's appointment as chief minister in 2016 did not go down very well with Patidar leader and now deputy chief minister of Gujarat, Nitin Patel.
The power fault-lines within the party started showing in early stages when Patel was visibly upset over portfolio allocations. Newly elected chief minister Rupani took away several key portfolios – notably, finance, petrochemicals and urban development – from Patel, leaving the latter visibly upset. To sort things out, the central leadership had to step in.
Since then, rumour circles have, multiple times over the years, predicted a change of guard in the Gujarat BJP, most recently after the state government's failure to manage the COVID pandemic.
Even though the rumours around Rupani's exit kept surfacing regularly over these years, the prediction of a change in guard caught steam particularly during the second wave of COVID-19 after reports of a monumental administrative failure in the management of the pandemic in the state came to light.
In fact, in May 2020, editor of a Gujarati news portal, Dhawal Patel was booked for sedition for a report suggesting a leadership change in Gujarat due to criticism over rising coronavirus cases in the state.
During the second wave of the pandemic reports by Divya Bhaskar and several other news outlets revealed massive undercounting of COVID deaths in the state.
Rupani's resignation, thus appears to be one of BJP's possible firefighting efforts ahead of the Assembly elections next year.