Vijay Rupani pips Nitin Patel as next CM of Gujarat


Vijay Rupani - Gujarat New Chief Minister

BJP announces 61-year old Vijay Rupani as the next Chief Minister of Gujarat. In a move that surprised many within the state and those outside of it, no one was more surprised than Nitin Patel himself, who was all but declared the next CM just a day earlier.

So how did Vijay Rupani, a Jain Bania, come from behind to pip Nitin Patel, a Patidar, to the hot seat? The answer lies in Amit Shah’s shrewd political moves and his penchant to take calculated risks and walk a path that his opponents often find difficult to predict.

In many ways, Amit Shah’s choice of Rupani ahead of Patel is in line with moves made in other states like Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, where he dumped conventional wisdom to choose a candidate that was not from a majority community.

In Haryana, a non-Jat was chosen to be CM in a Jat-dominated state; same for Jharkhand, where a non-tribal leader was chosen as CM in a tribal-dominated state. Ditto in Maharashtra, where a non-Maratha was chosen in a Maratha-dominated state. And these seem to be working in party’s favour.

Risky gamble or calculated move?

But Amit Shah is not repeating the move in Gujarat for the sake of it. There is a shrewd political calculation and gamble at stake. One has to understand the background of BJP’s rise in Gujarat and the current political situation, in order to understand why Amit Shah chose Vijay Rupani ahead of Nitin Patel, as the next CM.

When Narendra Modi took office as CM of Gujarat in 2001, it came in the backdrop of factionalism and infighting within the state unit of BJP. It was Narendra Modi’s strong leadership and aggressive development agenda that won support from all communities in Gujarat, including Patidar, which is a dominant community in the state and forms the backbone of support to the BJP.

When Narendra Modi moved to national politics and eventually became Prime Minister, Anandiben Patel was handpicked by Modi as the next CM and nurture his political legacy. The Patels of the Patidar community have two sub-castes in Leva and Kadva. Anandiben happens to be a Leva and is married to a Kadva.

Her Achilles’ Heel, Hardik Patel, who has been the face of the Patidar agitation seeking reservation for the community, is a Kadva, as is Nitin Patel, who has now been selected to be the Deputy Chief Minister. Amit Shah has tried to kill two birds with one stone by choosing Vijay Rupani as CM. With this move, he has sent home a clear message to the Patidars that the party will go along but only upto a point. However, by appointing Nitin Patel as the Deputy CM, he has also ensured that he has enough room to win back support of the Patidars, who form 18% of the state population.

The choice of Rupani, a soft spoken Jain Bania from Rajkot, will also help Amit Shah in repairing the alienation that Dalits in the state feel, coming in the backdrop of recent Dalit youths being beaten up by self-proclaimed right wing cow vigilantes. With state assembly elections coming up in Gujarat in 2017, Amit Shah has to build bridges with both Patel and Dalit communities, without whose support, BJP will have a tough time keeping a resurgent Congress and the newcomer AAP, from eating into BJP’s support base in the state. Although the Jain community forms just 1% of the state population, they are rich and carry influence within the state.

In Vijay Rupani, BJP has a face that should be acceptable to most communities and factions. His term as the state BJP President will be an advantage as he is viewed favorably by most within the party.

Nitin Patel could be the X-factor

Vijay Rupani may have been chosen as the next CM but Amit Shah’s key man in the run up to the Assembly Elections in 2017 is going to be Nitin Patel. Although Patel jumped the gun in assuming he was going to be the next CM, he still retains power to be the x-factor in the new administration.

Amit Shah is banking on Patel’s political skills in winning back support of the Patidars and the next couple of months are going to be crucial for both Nitin Patel and BJP.

With Hardik Patel-led agitation turning violent, the Anandiben-led government was forced to cede 10% reservation quota for the poor among upper castes. This did placate the Patels to some extent but with Gujarat High Court turning down the proposal last week, the Patidars have been threatening to renew the agitation, something Amit Shah wants to avoid at any cost.

So will Nitin Patel be able to come good where Anandiben Patel failed? Amit Shah is hoping so. His strategy is to get Nitin Patel to work on the Patidars while Vijay Rupani will work towards bringing the Dalits and other communities back into the BJP fold.

At this point, PM Modi can do little but leave it to Amit Shah and his team to hold fort in Gujarat. With Punjab and UP elections proving tough for BJP, a loss in Gujarat would prove to be a disaster. Vijay Rupani knows this, and he will have to step up and succeed where Anandiben Patel failed.

Let’s see if Gujarat continues to remain ‘Vibrant’.