After the Close Contest in Gujarat, Will Vijay Rupani Remain CM?
The immediate impact on the BJP after its unimpressive victory in Gujarat is the question over who will be CM.
The immediate impact on the BJP after its unimpressive victory in Gujarat is the question of who will be the chief minister, leaving political observers to speculate whether Vijay Rupani, who headed the outgoing government, will be retained to lead again.
Rupani, who contested from Rajkot West, managed to hold on to the seat which is considered a ‘safe bet’ as it is an RSS stronghold. But Rupani fought tooth and nail against Congress candidate Indranil Rajyaguru, who wanted to bring down the BJP fortress.
In light of this, the party seems inclined to look towards other options to lead the government in the state. Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, who was a frontrunner for the job when Rupani was made chief minister in 2016, is a key contender.
How Rupani Became CM
After the Patidar agitation took shape in Gujarat in 2015, followed by a series of poor shows in the local body elections at the end of the same year, the BJP decided to sideline Anandiben Patel from the chief minister’s post in 2016.
Considering the way Patidar sentiments were hurt across the state, most political pundits assumed that Nitin Patel will take the mantle from Anandiben.
However, Amit Shah had different plans and appointed Rupani who was his close aide, as the new CM of Gujarat. Meanwhile, Nitin Patel was made the deputy chief minister in a move that pundits claimed was taken to placate the Patidar vote bank.
In addition, Rupani, a Jain-Baniya, a caste which forms only five percent of the state’s population, was perhaps seen as a ‘caste-neutral’ candidate at the time when the Patidar agitation was on in full force.
Nitin bhai has been politically active in the state since 1995. A seasoned politician, Patel is also a successful businessman. He is someone who can work through a political crisis and put the state back on the business (vikas) track.
Besides, Patel has, on more than one occasion, expressed his willingness and desire to step up to the job. He was denied the chance to become CM twice – first after Modi left the position vacant in 2014, and for a second time after Anandiben resigned from the post of CM.
Patel also belongs to the disgruntled Patidar community, which is not happy with him.
BJP can fight no election without its key strategist, Shah, leading the brigade. A Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, Shah is Modi’s right-hand and close aide, and runs BJP with an iron fist as the Party’s national president. Being appointed CM, however, would mean Shah would have to let go of his responsibilities as the party’s top boss.
The toss up would be between whether Modi wants to keep Shah closer to him at the centre, or deploy him to his home state.
Jitu Vaghani is another contender for CM. Though he entered politics with a loss in the Bhavnagar seat in the 2007 Assembly elections, he made up for it in 2012, when he won the Bhavnagar (West) seat with the highest margin in the entire Saurashtra region.
A quiet, low-key politician in the party, Vaghani has maintained a consistent performance and has retained his Bhavnagar seat in this election too. He was appointed state party president when Rupani left the position vacant to take on his responsibilities as chief minister in 2016.
Some Surprise Names in the List of Contenders
According to some media reports, Union ministers Smriti Irani and Mansukh L Mandaviya are also in the running to become chief minister. Quoting sources, an India Today report says Irani is a probable choice as she speaks Gujarati, and shares a close equation with Modi. Besides, she has a strong public appeal. Irani, however, has denied these reports.
Mandaviya, is a Patidar from Saurashtra, the region that chose the Congress over the saffron party in this election. He is considered a leader who the farmers favour. Rural Gujarat was the BJP's biggest setback this election, so a friendly face to appease this region could be something the party is considering.
The decision now rests with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and BJP general secretary Saroj Pandey, who have been appointed as observers to select a new chief minister for the state.
Sources in the know claim that as of now, there seems to be no need to replace Rupani as the elections were fought under his leadership in the state.
During Rupani’s press conference at Kamalam in Gandhinagar on Monday, 18 December after the saffron party crossed the halfway mark, he told media persons that, “Yes, I am the chief minister of the state and I was the face of the party during the elections. However, the party will meet and decide which MLA will be made a minister, and the same applies to me.”
When asked whether he wanted to continue as the CM of Gujarat, Rupani said:
Our party’s functioning is quite democratic in nature, and we will accept the unanimous decision taken by the party.
Speaking to The Quint, state BJP spokesperson Yamal Vyas said:
Yes rumour mongering is at an all time high in the state, but I see no reason to change our current chief minister. He has contested very tough elections and come out victorious. Even for the big elections slated for 2019, I personally do not feel a change will be brought in at the top post.
Whether Rupani will continue his innings, or make way for someone new remains to be seen.
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