Vijay Rupani is going to continue as Chief Minister of Gujarat and Nitin Patel as Deputy Chief Minister, top BJP sources said, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley heads to state capital Gandhinagar to oversee a meeting of the BJP’s newly-elected legislators. The legislators will formally elect the state’s next chief minister at the meeting being held today.
There is some speculation that the party could chose to appoint a second deputy chief minister as it did in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year. Former Gujarat Speaker Ganapath Vasavya, a tribal leader, is seen as a front runner if the party opts for two deputies to the chief minister.
Vijay Rupani is close to BJP chief Amit Shah who had earlier this year indicated that he and deputy chief minister Nitin Patel would continue in their positions post the assembly elections. Vijay Rupani also has a clean image and is caste neutral, but his chances were seen to diminish after the BJP’s won 99 seats, only seven more than it needed for a majority to form government and 16 less than it had won last time. The party now has 100 in the assembly with an independent MLA Ratansinh Rathod from Lunawada offering support to the party.
The Congress vastly improved its position winning 80 seats after a campaign focused on local development and Vijay Rupani’s critics blame him. But there are those who have pointed out that replacing Vijay Rupani will amount to an admission that the party has suffered a setback in Gujarat.
After the muted result the party has taken its time to make a decision and there has been speculation over other probable candidates for the top post, like union ministers Purshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya, both prominent Patel or Paatidar leaders from Saurashtra, the region where the BJP lost most heavily.
There has also been talk about Deputy Prime Minister Nitin Patel being promoted have he beat the odds and won his election by a slender margin in Mehsana, which was the epicentre of the Patel or Paatidar agitation for reservation in government jobs and colleges. Mr Patel being chosen chief minister would signal an outreach to the influential Patels, BJP loyalists for years, but a section of which went against the party in this election, angry at not being included among castes that benefit from affirmative action. The party will hope that his being retained as deputy chief minister will send the same message.
Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala, a seasoned Karadiya Rajput leader from Saurashtra has also been talked about as a dark horse. He is seen as a strong leader from the region, having a considerable clout in various communities as well as acceptable across the party.
A second deputy chief minister could be picked as the BJP re-calibrates its strategy in the state ahead of the 2019 national election, when PM Modi will seek a second term. Appointing Mr Vasavya will acknowledge the party’s gratitude to tribal voters, who solidly backed the party in this election as it contended with the anger of various key groups like farmers and castes like the Patels, Dalits and backward castes.
The BJP will be counting on Gujarat, the home state of both PM Modi and party chief Amit Shah, to deliver 100 per cent again in the 2019 election. In 2014, the BJP won all 26 parliament seats in Gujarat.