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The newly elected BJP MLAs of Gujarat are likely to meet in Gandhinagar on December 22 to elect their leader who would be the next chief minister of the key western state, party sources said on Wednesday. Union minister Arun Jaitley and party general secretary Saroj Pandey, who have been appointed central observers for the election, will hold consultations with the MLAs before the new chief minister is announced. Though incumbent Vijay Rupani continues to be th a favourite for the coveted job, there is speculation about his continuance given the BJP's narrow victory in its bastion. The BJP has 99 seats in the 182-member Assembly, seven more than the 92 required for forming government but its lowest in a long time. The Congress and its pre-poll allies have 80 seats, with the main opposition party having 77. BJP chief Amit Shah had said during the campaign that the elections would be fought under Rupani.
Since Modi was the face of the BJP in the keenly fought electoral battle, a last minute change cannot be completely ruled out, sources said. Many in the party wonder if the top leadership would go for somebody from the Patidar community, as the party prepares for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Though the Patidars have traditionally backed the BJP, a section led by young community leader Hardik Patel turned against the party over the quota issue. The BJP leadership's propensity for springing a surprise while making its choices for top positions, be it a chief minister or the president, has left many guessing if someone new will be chosen to helm the state. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Manohar Lal Khattar and Trivendra Singh Rawat, his Haryana and Uttarakhand counterparts, were all surprise choices. So was President Ramnath Kovind. Even Rupani was seen as a surprise choice when the party decided to replace Anandiben Patel last year. While many thought Nitin Patel was an obvious replacement of Anandiben, he was eventually made the deputy chief minister. Rupani is known to be close to Amit Shah, has a clean image, and is seen as caste neutral, qualities which may finally tilt the scales in his favour.
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