The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday decided to make Finance Minister Arun Jaitley
and party general secretary Saroj Pandey
as observers for the selection of chief minister in Gujarat.
The decision was taken at the party’s parliamentary board meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and other senior leaders, Union minister J P Nadda told reporters. According to a PTI report, sources in the BJP claimed the observers would arrive in Gujarat in a couple of days. “MLAs will propose their candidates and a decision will be taken through consensus. Deciding on the chief minister will take four or five days,” a source said.
During the campaign, Shah had said incumbent chief minister Vijay Rupani
was the party’s face for the Assembly elections. But Rupani is not being hailed as the leader who led the party to a victory in the state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed 36 rallies in the state in the run-up to the elections, while all top Cabinet ministers from Delhi as well as several chief ministers from other BJP-ruled states chipped in to clinch this victory in Gujarat.
Rupani is the first BJP chief minister after Modi to face elections in Gujarat. He fought from a constituency (Rajkot West) from where Modi had contested his first election. He won by a comfortable margin from a seat that is considered safe and an RSS stronghold. However, the Congress candidate Indranil Rajyaguru, a local businessman, has given Rupani a close fight in a safe seat.
A surprise candidate picked by Amit Shah to replace Anandiben Patel as chief minister in August 2016, Rupani has been fighting fires ever since he assumed office last year. A Jain-Baniya, a caste that makes up 5 per cent of Gujarat’s population, Rupani was considered a neutral candidate at a time when his predecessor had failed to curb the Patidar agitation and Dalit movement in the state. However, while the movements are far from over — Patidar leader Hardik Patel on Monday claimed that their movement would continue in full fervour — perhaps the BJP’s need for a caste-neutral candidate as chief minister is over.
Surat’s Patidar community had chosen to vote pro-incumbent. The Patidar vote is split among merchant Patidars (pro-BJP) and farmer Patidars (anti-BJP). The Congress managed to gain a foothold in the Patidar-dominated agrarian belt of Saurashtra and the BJP retained the urban Patidar belt of Surat in south Gujarat.
As a leader from Saurashtra, the party expects Rupani to exercise considerable clout over the region. Rupani has not been able to douse the fire among the region’s Patidars where Hardik Patel led an aggressive campaign. This is despite the chief minister visiting Rajkot almost every weekend in the past year.
Names are being thrown around, including that of Shah, who could be keen to take over as chief minister of Gujarat. Rupani, some speculated, was chosen as a caretaker chief minister. However, political observers said Shah might choose to concentrate on state elections next year by staying in Delhi.
Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel is another candidate. He was a close contender for the chief minister’s post when Anandiben Patel stepped down. A political veteran and a Patidar himself, 2018 may just turn out to be Nitin Patel’s year.
Another name doing the rounds is that of Gujarat BJP President Jitu Vaghani, who won a tough battle in Bhavnagar. Vaghani, 47, is young and just might make the cut.
An RSS worker whose political career began in 1987 when he was elected to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation
By February 2016, he was declared the new state BJP president
Has a clean, controversy-free image, also seen as Shah’s protege, who was brought in as a caste-agnostic face in the heat of the Patidar agitations
Prior to being appointed as the BJP state party chief, Rupani was a Cabinet minister with portfolios like transport and labour and employment in the Anandiben Patel regime
A Leuva Patel, could be the next closest contender to Rupani for the CM’s post. A seasoned politician, Patel has contested elections way back in 1995
Patel has held portfolios in health, education, and finance, among others
Last elected as a member of the Gujarat Assembly from Mehsana in 2012, Patel had been facing challenges from his own community in north Gujarat. However, in 2017, all apprehensions were put to rest with Nitin Patel winning by 12,784 votes