On 1st August 2016, the then Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel announced her resignation on Facebook, citing that in November she will turn 75 years old and as per BJP policy, no leader can hold any constitutional or party post once they cross the age of 75. While this was put as official reason, inefficient handling of the Patidar agitation & Dalits’ protests by Anandiben was also said to be one of the major reasons for her ouster.
With this, the hunt and race for the next Chief Minister of Gujarat started. State BJP Gujarat Chief Vijay Rupani, senior most Minister Nitin Patel, Purshottam Rupala (Rajya Sabha MP who was recently made a union minister in Narendra Modi), Tribal leader and current Gujarat Vidhan Sabha speaker Ganpat Sinh Vasava, and prominent Dalit leader Raman lal Vora were all in the fray. Apart from these, there were rumors of Amit Shah becoming the next CM of Gujarat.
The Parliamentary Board of BJP authorized Amit Shah to take the decision and Venkaiah Naidu made it clear that Amit Shah will be not be sent to Gujarat as he was very much needed at the national level for bigger battles. The board further decided to send Nitin Gadkari and Saroj Pandey as observers. Amit Shah also arrived in Ahmedabad to steer the decision-making process.
Shah held multiple round of discussion with all senior leaders at his Sarkhej Highway residence on 3rd August and post the meetings, Nitin Patel looked jubilant and Rupani claimed he was out of race. From that moment onward, everyone including the media assumed that Nitin Patel was going to be the next Gujarat CM and only formal announcement was needed on 5th August. Nitin Patel even started giving interviews to various TV channels and shared his vision to tackle Patidar agitation as Gujarat CM.
On 5th August, all MLAs were asked to arrive at Kamlam, Gandhinagar at 4.00 PM to decide on the next Gujarat CM but the meeting started only at 5.30 PM, which sources say is because of intense arguments between Anandiben Patel, who was pushing for Nitin Patel’s candidature, and Amit Shah, who wanted Vijay Rupani as next CM.
Vijay Rupani was an ideal candidate for Amit Shah and PM Modi as he is non-controversial, a staunch RSS man, a grassroots leader connected with party workers, and additionally, not a powerful mass leader who could later rebel against Modi and Shah in Gujarat.
On the other hand, there was no incentive of making Nitin Patel as CM as he was not able to control Patidar agitation. During peak of the agitation, Patidars even attacked and burnt his home in Mehsana. Nitin Patel is himself a Patidar, but he is not a popular figure in the community. On top of that, he is reported to be belonging to the Anandiben Patel camp, which doesn’t see eye to eye with Amit Shah’s camp.
With final word coming from PM Modi himself, Anandiben Patel had to back off from her demand and Vijay Rupani’s name was finalized. To pacify Anandiben Patel, Nitin Patel was declared as Deputy CM. Official declaration was made by Nitin Gadkari in the ensuing press conference and entire episode came to an end with sudden twist in the tail.
This entire episode once again reiterated that Amit Shah was the real boss of BJP Gujarat. This was rude shock for the media as well as their sources as everyone had started claiming that Nitin Patel was the next Gujarat CM.
Vijay Rupani was born in a Jain family in Rangoon, Burma in 1956 and soon his family shifted to Rajkot, Gujarat in 1960. He first joined ABVP and later RSS at very young age of 15 years. He is the only state cabinet minister in the current regime who was jailed during the emergency. In 1987 he entered into electoral politics and become a councilor from Rajkot and later he served as Mayor from 1996 to 1997. He was also made Rajya Sabha MP from 2006 to 2012. In 2014, veteran leader Vajubhai Vala was made Karnataka Governor and Rupani contested his vacant seat from Rajkot and won with a very handsome margin.
Earlier this year in February, he was made Gujarat BJP Chief to steer BJP during the ongoing Patidar agitation and to make sure BJP remains in power in their bastion Gujarat. He is perceived to be very close to leaders like Keshubhai Patel, Narendra Modi, and most importantly National BJP President Amit Shah who tilted the balance in his favor.
Vijay Rupani lost his son 15 years ago in a tragedy in Ahmedabad and post that Rupani formed a trust in his son’s memory, which serves poor kids with education and other basic amenities. Rupani’s daughter stays in London and her younger son is studying in Nirma University in Ahmedabad.
Patidars have already started opposing Rupani’s elevation as CM and there have been mass protests in Patidar dominated areas in cities like Ahmedabad, Surat, Mehsana, and Rajkot. Parties like AAP and Congress are trying to catch on this sentiments to get their slice of Patidar vote bank.
On the other hand Dandi Yatra is planned by Dalits from Ahmedabad to Dandi to protest the Una incident. Impact of the Dalit agitation is seen as more severe than Patidar agitation and can severely impact BJP’s fortune in Gujarat.
BJP’s clear stand on Patidar reservation has ensured that Gujarat’s second most influential community Koli Patels and other OBCs remain with BJP. On top of that, BJP still enjoys unprecedented support among the urban class in Gujarat.
Rupani has a tough challenge on his hand to ensure Patidar and Dalit agitations are controlled as soon as possible, and to make sure that BJP retains its bastion for the record 5th Time in a battle, which will be a very close fight unlike earlier elections.
Dhaval Patel is a Project Management Consultant based out of Mumbai. He holds interest in Bollywood, Entertainment Industry, Politics and Public policy.