Vijay Rupani Cabinet reflects a leadership crisis in Gujarat BJP. Here's why
The Gujarat Cabinet sworn in under Vijay Rupani on Monday reflects a leadership crisis, coupled with lack of experience that has emerged after the recent Assembly elections. The polls saw the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) tally getting reduced to under the three-figure mark in the 182-member House.
Several observers say that the Cabinet led by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel is a compromise that the party has had to make at multiple levels as it now faces the huge uphill task of delivering a favourable verdict in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The leadership crisis has emerged in the party at the state level with several bigwigs losing on their seats, particularly in Saurashtra, while some others have not been inducted in the first phase
The crisis is most visible in the all-important region of Saurashtra where the twin factors of a large number of Patidars moving away from the party along with the farm distress ensured that the party got a massive drubbing in the polls.
“These two factors combined to result in a massive anti-incumbency for the BJP. The result was that many important Patidar leaders of the BJP had to bite the dust. These included names like Raghavji Patel who had switched over from the Congress to the BJP and lost from the Jamnagar (Rural) seat, Kanti Amrutiya from Morbi, Dilip Sanghani from Dhari, Bavku Undhad from Amreli and Raghavji Gadara from Tankara which is the home turf of the sitting BJP Lok Sabha member Mohan Kundariya. The party has been compelled to bring in Saurabh Patel back into the cabinet while it had to elevate Jayesh Radadiya to send a positive signal to the Patidars,” points out veteran political analyst Suresh Samani who is based in Rajkot.
Another observer pointed out that it is because of a crisis of experienced leaders that has emerged that the party has had to retain veterans like Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Ganpat Vasava while bringing in former state unit chief RS Faldu into the ministry.
“The party has been giving tickets to leaders like Jay Narayan Vyas because he is minister material who can serve both in the government and also act as a government spokesperson. But he too lost. The same holds true for Saurabh Patel and Chudasama. They are experienced and have found a place in the Cabinet despite having won with very small margins,” pointed the observer.
The BJP has gone overboard to give maximum representation to Saurashtra-Kutch region to in a bid to woo back the voters that have deserted the party. This is the region where the party's tally came down by 18 seats in these elections and the party has given seven ministerial berths to it. Contrarily, the representation given to the party's urban base where it won 33 seats in the city areas of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot, is very little as only four berths have been given to the representatives from these cities with Vadodara getting none. The total number of cabinet members who took oath on Monday is 20.
Residents of Surat are also unhappy with the meagre representation that the city has got despite repeatedly giving a massive mandate to the party.
“It was expected that Rupani would give at least one berth to an original resident of Surat who has won the poll on the party ticket and another to a migrant from Saurashtra. But only a candidate from the latter in Kishore Kanani has been accommodated while the native Surtis have got nothing,” said another observer based in Ahmedabad.
Even before the polls, one of the BJP contestants from Surat had expressed the sentiment of the BJP ignoring Surtis when it comes to giving them representation in the cabinet.
“The party should honour the support given by the people. The same people can go the other way also if this continues,” the candidate said.
Meanwhile, the main challenge now for the Rupani government is to ensure a good performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the cabinet chosen is an attempt to win back the ground lost to the Congress in these Assembly polls.
In the 2014 elections, the BJP had won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats. It is in no position to repeat the performance in 2019 given the present circumstances.
“If the voting trend of the recent assembly elections continues, the BJP would lose nine of these Lok Sabha seats outright in 2019. The party has functioned miserably in the assembly constituencies falling under these Lok Sabha seats. The margin of loss has been less than 10,000 votes in four other Lok Sabha constituencies and less than 20,000 in yet another three parliamentary constituencies. This shows the arduous task Rupani and company face at this moment,” said an observer.
The constituencies where the BJP was behind the Congress in the 2017 Assembly polls include Patan, Mehsana, Sabarkantha, Surendranagar, Porbandar, Junagadh, Amreli, Bharuch and Anand. The BJP saw a decline in votes here against the numbers polls in the 2014 parliamentary polls.
If the average votes polled in the Assembly constituencies of three Lok Sabha seats – Dahod, Bardoli and Jamnagar are considered, the BJP’s lead has come down to below 20,000.
However, it also needs to be understood that the voters have been polling differently in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. In addition to this, one of the main factors in the mind of Gujarati voters in 2014 polls was the possibility of a candidate from their state becoming the prime minister. But one thing is clear that the BJP will be riding a rough patch for the coming parliamentary polls as anti-incumbency would also combine with other factors when it comes to polling.
“Rupani and his Cabinet will have to deliver in the next one year. His biggest advantage is that he is caste-neutral, something that suits the BJP in the present scenario in Gujarat, and can be a perfect rubber stamp for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP's national president Amit Shah in Gujarat. But at the same time, the party must get the required number of Lok Sabha seats. His future hinges on that,” underlined Samani.