BJP had ruled out Amit Shah from returning to Gujarat saying he was needed at the national level to help party win future battles. On Friday, when new Gujarat chief minister was elected, Shah’s stamp was all over the new pick. State BJP chief Vijay Rupani was appointed as new Gujarat chief minister, while the front runner for the same post, Nitinbhai Patel, has been made the deputy CM - a first for the state.
By appointing both Rupani, considered close to Shah, and Patel, who had close relations with Narendra Modi and even served as a minister in his state cabinet, the BJP has tried to do the balancing act by accommodating a Patel leader ahead of the assembly elections in December 2017. Outgoing Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel’s tenure was marked by massive agitation by the Patel community which demanded reservation, which was followed by strong Dalit mobilisation in the state, which led to her being eased out of post.
Even the run up to Friday’s denouement was not without its share of twists. A day earlier Rupani had ruled himself out saying he would rather serve the organisation, while Nitinbhai primed himself saying he would accept any responsibility. Interestingly, Patel was first speculated to be the next state CM in May this year. Even during the day, his office was sure of his name. Shah had reached Ahmedabad on Thursday and had been holding hectic consultations with the state MLAs before arriving at the decision.
At the BJP’s state legislature meeting, which started two hours late due to last minute hectic parleys, 61-year-old Rupani was elected as CM, while Nitin Patel as his deputy after their names were proposed by Anandiben Patel and seconded by other MLAs. Union Transport Minister and former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, who was assigned as the party's observer, made the announcement after the meeting in Ahmedabad.
It was the best birthday gift for Rupani who had turned 61 on August 3. A LLB graduate, Rupani belongs to Jain/baniya caste and has been associated with the RSS and Jan Sangh since 1971. His rise has been dramatic, as he was elected as a MLA in October 2014, when a Rajkot West assembly seat was vacated by a BJP MLA. By November, same year, he was inducted as minister in Anandiben’s cabinet and given portfolio of transport and water.
After the Patidar agitation that singed Anandiben government, Shah appointed Rupani as state BJP chief in February, this year. Within six months, came his elevation to the top post. Ironically, Patel faced a little embarrassment as he jumped the gun and gave interviews to several channels listing how he intends to take the state forward. Sources said even sweets were distributed at his residence and a pooja organised. But things changed dramatically.
Even Anandiben had initially favoured him over Rupani, but she went by the high command decision. It was for the first time, a post of deputy CM was created in the state.