For the Gujarat BJP, appointing a deputy chief minister was unprecedented. But ,the manner in which Nitin Patel got the post last August, spoke a great deal about the machinations that go on in the BJP. His announcement as Rupani’s deputy came in the wake of “almost confirmed” news that he will succeed Anandiben Patel as chief minister. Nitin Patel, 61-year-old leader of Mehsana, had also started giving interviews to news channels which began flashing news about the “impending announcement” as he began accepting congratulations from anchors and reporters alike. It seemed politically logical too — the Patidars were angry with the BJP government over quota demand and the police action they faced. This, however, didn’t happen. BJP president Amit Shah prevailed over other senior leaders at a meeting in Gandhinagar, and Rupani was given the top job.
The news surprised all. Rupani was a first time MLA unlike Nitin Patel who had served in various BJP governments since 1995.
One year down the line, sources say, a “cold war” is still brewing between the CM and his deputy. The sources give accounts of Cabinet meetings where the “differences” between the two leaders frequently surface. And, on most occasions Rupani manages to ignore it.
“Yes, a cold war is definitely there between the two. And many a times, even government officers face the brunt of it,” says a source close to the functioning of the offices of the CM and the Deputy CM.
Indicating the strained relationship between the top two in the government, an official said, “Take the recent floods in Banaskantha and Patan districts for example. The CM has taken a lead in relief and rehabilitation of the affected areas. Nitinbhai has remained almost aloof from the relief operations.” The latest issue of the state government’s fortnightly magazine — Gujarat, which was devoted to the flood — is full of pictures of the chief minister, whereas the presence of the Deputy CM is almost negligible.
“The Deputy CM did not participate much, so how can there be his pictures in it (the magazine),” said a government functionary.
Even as Rupani was camping along with his 10 ministers in the flood-affected areas for five days, Patel was also not handling the day-to-day government in Gandhinagar in CM’s absence. When reached, Nitin Patel dismissed talks of his differences with the chief minister or the brewing cold war between them.
“I have been in public life for the last 30 years. I do not pay heed to such bogus talks,” he said, dismissing claims that he did not visit the rain-affected areas. “I visited Radhanpur and Kankrej. As far as photographs (in Gujarat magazine) are concerned, I do not go to such places to get photographed…I had the responsibility of coordinating the entire state. While Banaskantha and Patan received heavy rain, so did places like Kalol. But, due to the intense gravity of flood situation in Banaskantha and Patan, they (Kalol and other places) got eclipsed… I was also actively involved in finalising the relief package,” said Patel.