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Gujarat: Will BJP continue with Vijay Rupani or look for a new face?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 21 December 2017, 17:21 IST

The outcome of Gujarat polls has left the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rattled in its own citadel, despite a victory. While it is expected that the party would continue with Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel at the helm when the new government is formed, some more names for the post of the chief minister are also doing the rounds. This is because the party has got less than the expected number of seats in the polls that have seen the resurrection of Congress in the state thus making Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream of a Congress Mukt Bharat a far-fetched one.

The foregone conclusion is that like in the previous days the name of the chief minister will be decided upon by the central bosses, Modi and BJP's national president Amit Shah. It would be announced by a central leader at the meeting of the party MLAs who have been elected. There would be no second opinion or noise about the name announced and the chief minister elect will take the oath some days later after due consultation with astrologers.

The party is likely to continue with Rupani at the helm because it does not want to take any decision that could cause further damage before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls that are barely a year and a half away. This is despite the party getting a thrashing in its stronghold of Saurashtra to which Rupani belongs. Rupani, being a Jain, also remains a factor that helps the BJP walk the caste tightrope. With a strong disillusionment prevailing among the masses, particularly the Patidars and Dalits, the wise step at this point will be to let a person from another community continue at the top while the government may take decisions to woo the other communities. A loud and clear message that has gone down to the BJP leadership from the polls is that the party will soon have to take steps to curb farm distress while also presenting an inclusive face of governance.

“One thing needs to be understood that Rupani was always seen as a chief minister remote-controlled by Modi and Shah. The anger on the ground in Saurashtra was against the Modi-Shah duo and not Rupani. There was no agitation or even slogans against Rupani as such,” says a political analyst based at Rajkot. He says that Amit Shah had declared before the polls that Rupani would be the chief ministerial face of the party.

He further pointed out, “Another thing that should be kept in mind is that Rupani won the Rajkot (West) seat, the BJP's strongest constituency, with a margin which was greater than the time when even Modi had won it. So with what face can Modi or Shah ask him to step down?”

However, the less relatively poor performance by the BJP in these elections has led to the tongues wagging and throwing up names that might be an alternative to Rupani. With Modi's departure to Delhi, the party is lacking a leader of his stature as he never allowed a second rung of leadership to emerge.

There is a talk of the possibility of the party once again asking Anandiben Patel to take over as the next chief minister given her administrative experience and her being a Patidar. “This remains quite improbable because of her differences with Amit Shah as many see the latter behind her removal earlier. Secondly, it may sound far-fetched but for a party whose leaders are firm believer in astrological predictions its Patel leadership seems to be jinxed because no leader from the community has been able to complete his or her five year tenure. Even a stalwart like Keshubhai Patel was first forced to quit after the rebellion by Shankersinh Vaghela and on the second occasion was removed to make way for Modi. Anandiben too was asked to make way for Rupani in the middle of her tenure,” the media analyst added.

Then there is the probability being aired of the party bringing back the party veteran Vajubhai Vala who is presently the Governor of Karnataka. “The former finance minister was the obvious choice whenever Modi moved out of Gujarat but he was marginalized by first being made the Gujarat speaker and later the Karnataka Governor. Had Modi been in his favour, he would have never marginalized him in this manner. Interestingly, Vala is the leader who has a pan Gujarat popularity and acceptance. Although Governors are not called to head state governments but nothing should be ruled out under the ruling dispensation at the centre,” said a senior media person.

Another name that is doing the rounds right from the time of the campaign is that of Union minister for textile and information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani, although she has denied being in the race. Many people including a large number of party supporters on the ground see her closeness to Modi as a factor that could work in her favour. But her disadvantage is that she has never contested in a direct election in Gujarat. She is a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat but doesn’t originally hail from the state.

The name of Mansukh Madaviya is another one doing the rounds. He is the Union minister for road transport and highways along with shipping, chemical and fertilizers. Observers say that he can be a surprise pick like Rupani on the previous occasion. He had become the youngest MLA in Gujarat in 2002 polls from Palitana in Gujarat after having worked his way from the ABVP ranks in the state. He is known for his padyatras on issues of education, particularly for the girls, along with de-addiction of alcohol and tobacco. He was sent to the Rajya Sabha in 2012.

Yet another name being talked about is that of Parshottam Rupala who is presently a Rajya Sabha member and Union minister of state for agriculture and farmers' welfare. He has been a three time MLA and has been a minister in Gujarat government for irrigation and water supply. He belongs to Amreli district where the BJP has been washed out in the polls.

First published: 21 December 2017, 17:21 IST