Ahmedabad: After four days of intense discussions, the BJP on Friday named Vijay Rupani as Gujarat’s 16th Chief Minister, delivering a surprise along with it by naming the senior-most cabinet minister Nitin Patel as his Deputy.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party legislature party chaired by party President Amit Shah with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and MP Saroj Pandey as observers.
Anandiben Patel, the first woman Chief Minister of Gujarat, had announced her resignation in a surprise Facebook post on Monday. She had come under widespread criticism following the Patidar agitation for job quotas.
Anandiben had claimed she was putting in her papers to honour the unwritten code among BJP leaders to quit public posts at 75. Gujarat will hold assembly election next year — the first after Narendra Modi, who was Chief Minister from 2001, moved to New Delhi as Prime Minister in 2014.
The suave soft-spoken Rupani, a Jain-Baniya, is presently the party’s Gujarat unit president and a cabinet minister. Health Minister and government spokesperson Nitin Patel is a grassroots rustic Patel leader.
Both are 60 years of age but Patel is way senior to Rupani in political experience and running the government. Rupani was also a cabinet minister, besides being the party chief.
The announcement of Rupani’s name has come as a surprise since Patel was being presumed the final choice and had even started giving veiled interviews to Gujarati news channels.
Sweets were distributed and crackers burst in his Mehsana district and Kadi constituency.
By 4.45 p.m., newspaper offices had started receiving email and fax with Patel’s bio-data. TV channels had even got Patel’s wife on camera.
Indications of last-minute change came when the meeting that was largely meant to formally announce the new name in front of all the legislators at 4 p.m. got delayed by nearly two hours.
Patel had emerged as the consensus candidate because he is a Patel, from North Gujarat and has handled a variety of ministries, while legging it out at the grassroots party level.
“He was not a favourite or the chosen one but probably a no-other-alternative decision in the present circumstances,” a party leader said.
Rupani’s announcement as the state president in February this year was also considered a surprise decision. It was said he was soft-spoken, did not represent any caste aspirations and a friendly person like him was needed given the Anandiben and Amit Shah factions in the government.
Sources said this logic finally prevailed even when making him the Chief Minister though it is believed the decision had more to do with internal politicking. It is said Nitin Patel was outgoing Chief Minister Anandiben Patel’s choice while Rupani was believed to be Amit Shah’s preference.
Rupani, who holds an LLB degree, is not only close to Modi and Amit Shah but also believed to have maintained the right links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh since he started is career from the Sangh’s student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.