In a sudden but not unexpected move, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani resigned on Saturday after completing five years at the helm, paving the way for a change of guard ahead of crucial Assembly polls next year.
Mr. Rupani, accompanied by the Union ministers Mansukh Mandavia, Parshottam Rupala, Bhupender Yadav and his cabinet colleagues met the Governor Acharya Devvrat, and submitted his resignation.
Interestingly, just an hour before the meeting with the Governor, the CM was attending a Patidar community event in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech via video-conferencing.
“I have resigned as chief minister of Gujarat,” Mr. Rupani told reporters after meeting the Governor. “I was allowed to serve the State for five years. I have contributed to the development of the state. I will further do whatever is asked by my party.”
“In the BJP, there has been a tradition that responsibilities of party workers change from time to time. I will be ready to take whatever responsibility that the party will give me in the future,” he added.
He also expressed his gratitude to the party high command for giving him an opportunity to be CM for five years in Gujarat.
The party is likely to announce his replacement on Sunday as the BJP general secretary B.L. Santosh, office bearer V. Satish and Union Minister Bhupender Yadav held a series of meetings at the State party headquarters. All MLAs have left for Gandhinagar after the sudden resignation.
The BJP has been contemplating a change of guard in Gujarat given Mr Rupani’s lacklustre administration. “It was just a matter of time. His ouster was certain,” a top party leader told The Hindu , adding “main reason for his ouster is that the top leadership was not happy with his performance in governance and he did not inspire confidence in the leadership about facing Assembly polls with him at the helm.”
The first indication of the party high command’s displeasure came in April 2020 during the first wave of pandemic when the situation in Ahmedabad spiralled out of control and Delhi had to force administrative changes in the State.
“In the entire period of pandemic, he failed to deliver,” a senior legislator said. “At every step, Delhi had to intervene and guide the local administration.” The State High Court also came down heavily on the local administration when the State’s health services were stretched as hospitals ran out of beds and essential medical supplies amid rising cases and deaths.
“Particularly, PM was not happy with him with regard to administrative matters,” a retired bureaucrat said, adding that this was the reason most of the bureaucratic appointments were first cleared by Delhi.
Mr. Rupani had taken over as the Chief Minister in August 2016 after the sudden resignation of the then CM Anandiben Patel. He took charge with the blessings of then party president and now Home Minister Amit Shah, who did not want another Patidar as the Chief Minister after Ms Patel’s departure.
The change of guard came after the violent Patidar agitation demanding quotas in jobs and education and a counter agitation by the OBCs rocked the State. The Patidar agitation, spearheaded by Hardik Patel, had shaken the BJP’s foundation in Gujarat since the community formed the backbone of the party’s base.
The Patidar issue also is likely to have forced the party’s hand, as the powerful community has sizeable hold over the political economy of the State. While there is no word yet on the next chief minister, it appears that a Patidar leader is most likely to be chosen with Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, Deputy CM Nitin Patel and administrator of Damand and Diu and Lakshawdeep union territories Praful Patel among the top contenders.
Out of 112 party MLAs in Gujarat, more than 35 MLAs are from the Patidar community.
Though the party won the 2017 Assembly polls with 99 of 182 seats after the Prime Minister himself took the control of the campaign, the Rupani administration was perceived as falling short of high command’s expectations. “In 2019 parliamentary polls, again it was the PM who delivered,” a BJP parliamentarian said, adding that immediately after the 2019 polls, there was a plan to effect a change of guard in Gujarat but was delayed for one reason or another.
Despite her absence from State politics after her appointment as governor — first of Madhya Pradesh and subsequently of Uttar Pradesh — Ms. Patel remains a formidable force in Gujarat politics.
According to the party insiders, Ms Patel made no bones about wanting Mr Rupani replaced with a person of her choice. The latter’s underwhelming performance provided the right opportunity.
The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party, which has worked hard to create a base in Gujarat, is another crucial factor in the change of guard. Last February, the AAP won 27 seats in the Surat Municipal elections, shocking the BJP which commands complete control over the major cities of Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara and Jamnagar.
Subsequently, AAP fielded a young Patidar face Gopal Italia as its party chief and a popular TV anchor and journalist Isudan Gadhavi as its main face in the State. A leading businessman and Patidar community leader Mahesh Savani joined the AAP in Surat and AAP leaders have been touring the State in the run up to the Assembly polls.
“AAP’s rise in urban pockets in Gujarat certainly does not go down well with BJP,” a party leader said, adding the BJP can take on Congress, which remains rudderless but AAP is something the party cannot take lightly.