The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s decision to appoint Vijay Rupani as chief minister and Nitin Patel as his formal deputy is a recipe for disaster. Barring ensuring that the administration passes off from the hands of Anandiben Patel and providing a token gesture to the alienated Patels, the decision smacks of a hastily cobbled up compromise formula.
|What has been fulfilled is just Shah's aim of ensuring that the state was brought under his complete control.|
For a state that was ruled with an iron fist between 2001 and 2014 when Narendra Modi was at its helm, this is the beginning of open factionalism in the state unit of the BJP.
Friday's decision also underscores the rise and rise of Amit Shah in Gujarat. From the time when Anandiben Patel was considered the closest aide of Modi, her sidelining is now complete and Friday's decision underscores the emergence of Shah as the chief deciding authority in the state.
With this decision, the BJP will find it tough to placate any of the communities that are estranged from it. The primary objective of making a change in the state leadership - to improve the party's prospects in the next Assembly elections in end 2017 - has not been fulfilled. What has been fulfilled is just Shah's aim of ensuring that the state was brought under his complete control.
Rupani's elevation as chief minister will see the end of the old guard in Gujarat and the old Modi loyalists will now slowly make way for those who are personally beholden to Shah. This does not necessarily mean that Modi faces a rebellion in his coterie, but the increasing stranglehold of Shah indicates that he too has indicated that he requires as much control as Modi had if the state is to swing back in favour of the BJP.
Losing day-to-day control of Gujarat is a price that Modi has to pay for retaining his hold at the Centre and also the result of his faulty style as chief minister. It needs to be recollected that during his tenure as chief minister, Modi did not allow a strong second-ranking leadership to emerge in the state.
Consequently, after his departure, primary controls were exercised through a clutch of bureaucrats. It is now widely expected that Modi loyalists in the state machinery will be slowly eased out from sensitive positions.
Rupani will have to immediately grapple with a series of political agitations. Topping the list is the threatened agitation by the Patel community which is now incensed after the high court quashed the ordinance issued by the Anandiben Patel administration to provide 10 per cent quota for the economically backward among the unreserved category, promulgated to appease the agitating Patel community.
The state government responded immediately that it will challenge the decision in the Supreme Court. Consequently, the HC stayed the order for two weeks so that the state can approach the apex court.
The Patels had previously decried the decision to issue the ordinance. They have now threatened to revive the agitation within a fortnight and are demanding that nothing less than being recognised as OBCs will satisfy them. A section of the Patel community that had expected someone from their community to be appointed chief minister viewed Friday's developments as a fresh snub to the community.
Added to the revival of the stir by Patels, is the crisis looming ahead on account of government employees who were hired on a fixed pay during Modi's tenure. They have been demanding regular wages and parity with other government employees. Government employees account for a significant vote bank because of the family members whose electoral views are shaped by the economic fortunes of the breadwinner in the family.
Rupani will also have to contend with the rising anger among the state's Dalit population which though is lower than the national average, is politically significant for the BJP in other poll bound states, especially Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Being from the Jain Bania community, Rupani is being seeing as caste-neutral but in a state where several communities have been steadily getting alienated, he is seen as the best bet. The problem however is that in his attempt to maintain equidistance, the BJP may end up widening its gulf further with various communities.
As of now, BJP's hopes for staging a recovery would depend on the opposition's failure to get its act together. The Congress has not been in power in the state for more than a quarter of a century and many consider that rigor mortis has set in, in the party's organisational structure. Moreover, in the Modi era, he always had backchannels open with Congress stalwarts. As a result, the party never mounted a serious challenge to Modi.
The Aam Aadmi Party is still a new force in the state but its politics is suited in a state as urbanised as Gujarat. The AAP will get a shot in the arm if it is able to secure a credible performance in Punjab and Goa. Between now and March but when the results of UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur will be out, the BJP will hope that Rupani and Nitin Patel are jointly able to douse the fire in Gujarat.
If the party is on recovery path by then and the two are working as a team, the duo can be expected to lead the party in the polls in November. If not, Shah may yet become the face of the BJP as chief minister or not. It must always be remembered that Shah has always aspired to be in the saddle in Gandhinagar.