On the day when the BJP dipped to its lowest seat count of 99 in Gujarat Assembly, incumbent chief minster Vijay Rupani indicated that he may not be repeated as the next chief minister of Gujarat. This is despite the fact that days before the polling, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had said the elections will be fought under the leadership of Rupani and deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, giving the impression that Rupani will be repeated when the BJP returns to power.
However, the dip in seats is one of the primary reasons, BJP sources believe, Rupani will not be repeated. The soft-spoken rather non-controversial Jain leader was appointed as chief minister despite no prior experience of governance as he was on the right side of the powerful political forces in the party. Stepping into Narendra Modi’s shoes was never going to be easy. But after a year in the chief minister’s office, the sense derived from BJP sources is his mellow image was not matching up to the party’s aggressive and perceptible result-oriented leadership expectations.
Because the party has actually formed the government it will never come on record, but he is being blamed for the party’s poor final tally.
"Amit Shah camped in Gujarat in the last month to get the cadres going, but before that things were in a mess," a senior party leader told India Today.
"Rupani wasn’t perceived as an active and effective CM. He wasn’t popular among the masses. Perception really matters, especially in BJP’s scheme of things,” he added.
The second reason is that the new CM will be on a countdown of 15 months.
“Fifteen precious months to 2019 Lok Sabha polls where Modi will be standing for a second term. The next CM has to be one who can turn things around dramatically from the point that we are at present," a party veteran observed.
He went on to add: "It’s not an easy task and Rupani’s image at the moment is not of someone who can effect a massive change in perception. The BJP needs a much stronger and popular CM who can reach out to diverse sections of the society."
Vijay Rupani (Credit: PTI photo).
The third reason is the caste factor. Rupani belongs to a micro minority caste - Jains. He was a safe bet ahead of the polls, because they were confident at the time that they’ll be able to reign in the Patidar agitation and wanted a CM who appealed to all castes. The BJP wanted a non-polarising figure. But now with the party’s rout in Saurashtra’s Patidar-dominated seats, it has realised that it needs to reach out to the agitated community to regain its strongholds. Or, consolidate non-Patidar votes with a vengeance. This will be an important factor in determining the next CM. If the party decides it must reach out to the Patidars, it will likely field a popular Patidar leader as CM. If not, a strong figure to consolidate non-Patidar votes.
Which is why, three of the five candidates currently in the fray for the coveted top post in Gujarat are Patidars. Deputy CM Nitin Patel was almost set to be the CM when Rupani was anointed after Anandiben Patel stepped down in 2016. However, he has been facing the Patidar wrath on his seat Mehsana itself. He won by a slim margin of 7,137 votes. Pundits claim his strategy was consolidation of non-Patidar votes. Earlier the revenue minister and finance minister in Modi and Anandiben’s government, Nitin hails from Visnagar, which was the epicentre of the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel. He was blamed for not controlling the Patidar agitation, and later badly managing it. He was leading the multiple negotiation meetings with Patidar Anamat Aandolan Samiti (PAAS), which failed. While he is amongst the frontrunners, the reasons he was sidelined in 2016 continue to persist even today.
Parshottam Rupala is a tall figure in the Patidar community. He belongs to the Kadva Patidar community, the same as Hardik Patel. Known for his rustic plain speak, Rupala is currently a Rajya Sabha MP and Union minister of state for agriculture and farmers’ welfare. Rupala’s Rajya Sabha term ends in four months in April 2018. A school teacher-turned-politician, Rupala has also served as the state president of the BJP. He hails from Amreli in Saurashtra. Of the seven Assembly constituencies in Amreli Lok Sabha seat, BJP lost six in this elections. While he is still considered popular and close to Modi and Amit Shah, it remains to be seen how the latest results pan out for his political future.
Smriti Irani (Credit: India Today)
Mansukh Mandaviya is a low-profile surprise candidate for the post of the CM. If one argument against Rupani was that he is not known and popular among urban areas, which are the BJP’s stronghold, then Mandaviya is even less popular. But he is a favourite for the post at present given his caste equation and acceptability in the party as a senior leader known for organisational skills. He is a Leuva Patel from Palitana, Bhavnagar.
Mandaviya’s term is also coming to an end in April 2018 and he could be sent back to the state to head it ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He is currently the Union minister of state for road transport and highways.
An articulate person, Mandaviya started his career in ABVP in Saurashtra and holds a post-graduate degree in political science.
At 78 years, Vajubhai Vala is an unlikely candidate given his age, but his name is doing the rounds in political circles for a week now. The reason is his popularity among masses and leadership skills along with organisational expertise.
Vala has been the governor of Karnataka since 2014 and was appointed speaker of Gujarat Vidhan Sabha between 2012 and 2014. The popular Rajkot West constituency, from where Vijay Rupani contested in 2017, has been nurtured by Vala in the initial years of Jan Sangh and then BJP. He belongs to the Karadiya Rajput community, that is a part of the OBC.
If the party decides to consolidate non-Patidar votes, he could be the man headed for the CM’s chair. His acceptability includes different OBC communities and also urban areas as he is an affluent businessman himself. The only catch is as he is a strong leader in his own right, Vala wasn’t considered particularly close to Modi and Shah who are the neo-power centers of the BJP.
In fact, when Vala was appointed as the speaker of Gujarat Vidhan Sabha and later as Karnataka governor, the tattle in Gujarat was he is being forced to retire from active politics by the Modi-Shah combo.
The wild card entrant for this post is believed to be Smriti Irani, the high-profile bahu of Gujarat. The Union minister of textiles as well as information and broadcasting, Irani is a contender for the CM’s post owing to the confidence of Modi and Shah that she enjoys.
Also a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, she was re-elected in August 2017 and her term ends in 2023.
The rationale behind having her as the CM is simple - Shah will completely manage the show here while Irani will manage the trappings. Her advantage is her popularity, especially in urban areas. Coming from a non-Patel, non-OBC caste, she would be a non-polarising figure.
The only challenge she is expected to face is in-subordination by senior BJP leaders, who are organic strongmen in this region. She would be seen as an outsider imposed on them without sufficient understanding of local issues.