Bhupendra Patel | The CM who came from nowhere

A leader from the powerful Patidar community with experience in construction and urban management, the one-time MLA will lead the BJP to the 2022 Gujarat Legislative Assembly elections

Updated - September 19, 2021 09:54 am IST

Published - September 18, 2021 10:27 pm IST

It was around 10.30 p.m. on September 10 when the then Gujarat Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani, received a call from the party’s powerful national General Secretary B.L. Santosh, conveying the high command’s desire to effect a change of guard in the State. The next morning, Mr. Santosh and the Gujarat BJP in-charge, Bhupender Yadav, landed in Ahmedabad to prepare the ground for the change.

The next day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed via video conferencing an event to inaugurate the Patidar community’s social services campus on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Chief Minister Rupani and senior Patidar community leaders from the State, including Union Ministers Mansukh Mandavia and Parshottam Rupala, were present in-person.

As soon as the Prime Minister’s speech was over in which he talked about the human values that provide permanent solution to the menace of terrorism and tragedies like the September 11 terror attacks in the U.S., Mr. Rupani drove to the Raj Bhawan in Gandhinagar to hand over his resignation to the Governor, ending his five-year tenure as Chief Minister.

Mr. Rupani was installed as CM in 2016 in a dramatic manner when the then BJP chief Amit Shah, currently Union Home Minister, had thrown his weight behind him. After Mr. Rupani’s resignation, State BJP chief C.R. Paatil announced that the party’s legislature wing would meet the next day to select new CM.

“The successor would be announced tomorrow, but I am not in the race,” Mr. Paatil, who emerged as a power centre in BJP’s State politics ever since he was appointed as the party chief in 2020, said in a statement.

On September 12, at the party’s headquarters that resembles more like a farmhouse than a political centre, State leaders and central observers, N.S. Tomar and Prahlad Joshi, presided over the legislature party meeting in which all legislators and parliamentarians were present.

In the meeting, Mr. Rupani was asked to name his successor from a sealed envelope that was handed to him by the observers.

High command decision

When Mr. Rupani announced that the party high command has decided to pick Bhupendra Patel as the legislative party leader of the BJP, the first-time legislator was sitting on the sixth or seventh raw in the conference hall. After his name was announced, he was asked to go on to the dais, where the top leaders were sitting.

The buzz in the political circles is that while Mr. Patel was going to Gandhinagar to attend the party’s meeting, he received a call asking whether he would be the next CM. Clueless on what’s to come, ‘Bhupendrabhai’ apparently started laughing on the phone.

Before his name was announced, the 59-year-old Patel’s main political identity was that he was the MLA from Ghatlodia, a seat earlier held by Anandiben Patel, the former Chief Minister, who is now the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Patel is a known protege of Ms. Anandiben, who is popularly called Ben in the State’s political circles. It was Ms. Anandiben who ensured a ticket for Mr. Patel in the 2017 Assembly polls, when she was the sitting legislator.

Born on July 15, 1962, Mr. Patel studied in Ahmedabad. He has long been associated with the RSS. Mild-mannered and soft-spoken, Mr. Patel never had any previous ministerial experience or held any key positions in the State party organisation.

Before contesting to the Assembly, his career largely stayed limited to Ahmedabad city. He was the chief of Memnagar Municipality, a western Ahmedabad locality that was subsequently merged with the municipal corporation when the civic body’s boundaries were expanded in 2007-08. Later, he became a municipal councillor and was made the Chairman of the standing committee, the main decision making body of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in 2010-15, when Ms. Anandiben was a Minister in the Modi administration.

In 2015, he was made the chairman of Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA), a powerful body responsible for overseeing and sanctioning construction works across the suburbs of the city, when Ms. Anandiben was the CM.

A builder by profession, Mr. Patel has kept a low profile within the party and stayed away from controversies, qualities that political analysts believe may have helped him earn the attention of the BJP high command. “He is low-profile, but has a good understanding of of the State.

Also, has exposure in both AMC and AUDA in Ahmedabad, which is the commercial capital of the state,” said BJP Rajya Sabha member Narhari Amin, who earlier served as Congress deputy CM in the 1990s in the Chimanbhai Patel government.

He is a disciple of Akram Vignan Movement, a local spiritual stream that was founded by one Ambalal Patel known as Dada Bhagwan. Mr. Patel’s anointment suggests that the party leadership wanted a Patidar face ahead of the Assembly polls but someone without any independent political base. The party seems to have banked upon two factors while catapulting him on the CM’s chair: first he is a Patidar leader and has strong association with the community’s social services outfits in Ahmedabad and second, he is a builder by profession and has a long experience in civic and urban management so he can ensure that main cities such as Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara and others remain bastions of BJP in the coming polls, say analysts and BJP insiders. “In Bhupendrabhai, the party has found a grassroots leader who rose from the party’s cadre and base in the State,” said Yamal Vyas, a spokesman of Gujarat BJP. According to him, Patel is a non-controversial personality whose development works in the civic body AMC and AUDA are well-known among the party cadres.

The Patel clout

The Patidars, who make up roughly 15% of the State’s population, hold a huge sway over the economy with their control over lucrative sectors like private education, rural and urban cooperative banks and dairies.

Nitin Patel, who was the Deputy Chief Minister in the Rupani government, also found Bhupendra Patel as a “good” choice. “He is a good leader. He is my neighbour. We have worked together and have known each other for decades,” said Nitin Patel, a party veteran who was seen by many as a potential successor of Mr. Rupani.

On September 16, Mr. Patel’s government was sworn in by Governor Acharya Devvrat. What surprised many was that no Minister who served in the erstwhile Rupani administration found a slot in the new government. Out of total 25 members, including the Chief Minister, only a handful have previous ministerial experience that includes Rajendra Trivedi, who was a Minister in the Anandiben government, Kiritsinh Rana, who served in the government of Narendra Modi, and Raghavji Patel, who had served in the Shankarsinh Vaghela government in the mid-1990s.

The message the BJP’s central leadership wants to send is clear. They want the Gujarat government to start afresh and face the election as a new team. Bhupendra Patel would lead them from the front.

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