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Neutrality, strong RSS background helped Vijay Rupani become Gujarat CM

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 7:51 IST
The appointment
  • New Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani is known to be close to Modi, Amit Shah as well as Keshubhai Patel
  • As a Jain Baniya, he wouldn\'t be seen as partisan in Gujarat\'s caste war
More in the story
  • What clinched the deal for Rupani?
  • What is his background?

Neutrality in both the ongoing the turf war within the BJP and the caste conflict in Gujarat, a strong RSS background and his turf of troubled Saurashtra were some of the key elements that catapulted Vijay Rupani to the post of Gujarat chief minister.

The soft spoken Rupani has been chosen by the BJP to lead the party when it is on shaky ground owing to the alienation of the powerful Patel community on one side and the Dalits on the other. He is currently the state unit chief of the party.

It was just three days back that Rupani had celebrated his 61st birthday in his hometown of Rajkot. He had spent the day inaugurating projects and attending functions. He comes from the economically powerful Jain Baniya caste. This holds significance in the light of the ongoing problems for the BJP from both Patels and Dalits.

Also read - Why choosing Vijay Rupani over Patel is a typical Modi-Shah decision

Observers say that being a Jain, a community perceived to be non-Hindu, might help him reach out to the agitated Dalits whom the RSS is desperately trying to woo back into the Hindu fold and also towards the BJP. Similarly his clout in Saurashtra which is a Patel stronghold and his closeness to the former Patel chief minister Keshubhai Patel will help him reach out to the Patels as well.

A Jain Baniya, Rupani won't be seen as pro-Dalit or pro-Patel or pro-OBC

Rupani holds a law degree and has been very good at debating issues on various platforms. Having spent his student days being affiliated to the ABVP, the student wing of the RSS, Rupani had gone on to become a worker of the RSS and then the erstwhile Jan Sangh.

He had joined the Jan Sangh in 1971 and was perhaps the only person in the outgoing cabinet of Anandiben Patel who was imprisoned during the emergency.

While he was close to Keshubhai Patel, he has also been in the good books of Narendra Modi as he served as Gujarat BJP general secretary and chairman of the Gujarat Finance Board during Modi's tenure as the chief minister.

He was elected to the Gujarat assembly in 2014 from Rajkot (West) assembly seat when it was vacated by former speaker and finance minister Vajubhai Vala who went on to be nominated as Karnataka Governor. He had won the by-poll with a handsome margin.

Rupani was immediately inducted into Anandiben Patel's cabinet during its first expansion and was given the transport, water supply, labour and employment portfolios.

In February 2016 Rupani was made the state BJP president after the party had suffered reverses in the local and civic body polls. He had replaced a Patel party president RC Faldu. His appointment had been reportedly delayed on account of the ongoing turf war between BJP's national president Amit Shah and Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel. Incidentally, Rupani has been on good terms with Shah also and is being seen as Shah's choice against Nitin Patel who was being widely tipped to succeed Anandiben.

What does his appoint mean?

His appointment as the new chief minister signify a couple of things. The first is the assertion of the RSS on retaining absolute control over Gujarat that is often being described as the laboratory of Hindutva. Observers are drawing a parallel with the time when Modi had been brought in to replace Keshubhai Patel in similar circumstances when the latter's popularity was at an all time low owing to the Bhuj earthquake of 2001 and the successive losses in the urban civic body polls. Modi was a former RSS pracharak and the organisation's choice to lead the state in difficult times.

"Rupani's closeness to both Modi and Shah is his biggest asset. Secondly his being a non-Dalit, a non-OBC and a non-Patel would help him address both the agitated Patels as well as the Dalits while avoiding tricky situations," said a senior political observer.

In fact his rising stature in Gujarat politics was hinted at by political observers when he had come out to announce 10 per cent reservation for the economically backward classes in the wake of the Patel agitation few months ago. Ideally the announcement should have come from the chief minister Anandiben but this was not the case.

His belonging to Saurashtra is another major advantage since this is the region witnessing maximum unrest from both Patels as well as Dalits. Even most of the Patels in Surat and adjoining areas that have been a theatre of Patel unrest have their roots is Saurashtra. BJP expects Rupani to address the concerns of these two communities in the coming one year before the state goes for assembly polls in December 2017.

The announcement of Rupani's name has come as a surprise as the feelers coming from the BJP were that it would be Nitin who would be the new chief minister. But Nitin's drawback of not being a mass leader who has a base outside his home district of Mehsana seems to have turned out to be his biggest disadvantage.

Secondly, he was seen as Anandiben's man which meant that Shah came out with full support for Rupani. Rupani's presence in Gandhinagar as chief minister would also help Shah keep a close tab of what is going on both in the government as well as in the party.

Nitin has been alleviated to the post of deputy chief minister to send across the message that the party is not alienating its Patel support base.

Observers say that his easy accessibility, being soft spoken and the ability of an efficient organizer also worked in his favour. Known for his conciliatory approach, his administrative capabilities are also said to be far superior to those of Nitin Patel. His skills at organising things were visible when this correspondent had visited parts of Saurashtra after the Bhuj earthquake.

Lastly, age is another factor in his favour. He turned 61 recently. As compared to Anandiben who is 75 years old, Rupani is comparatively much younger and energetic. The BJP expects that his long stint with the RSS and his clean image will work in the favour of the party in the days to come.

Rupani will have his hands full right from day one. His priorities would include addressing the agitated Dalits and Patels.

More in Catch - Why choosing Vijay Rupani over Patel is a typical Modi-Shah decision

Vijay Rupani named new Gujarat Chief Minister after Anandiben Patel's resignation

First published: 5 August 2016, 11:31 IST