The newly formed Vijay Rupani-led BJP government found itself in the middle of a crisis on Saturday with Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel staying away from office for the second day, and Patidar leaders calling the portfolios allotted to him an “injustice to the community”. Some groups have called for a bandh in Mehsana, which is represented by Nitin Patel, a seven-time MLA.
The Deputy CM has been given the portfolios of Health and Family Welfare, Medical Education, Roads and Buildings, Narmada, Kalpasar and Patnagar Yojana. According to sources, he is unhappy about important portfolios such as Finance and Urban Development being taken away from him in the new Cabinet, despite him still being the second in chain of command. While Rupani has kept the Urban Development portfolio this time, senior leader Saurabh Patel has Finance.
While Nitin Patel refused to speak to the media, TV9 Gujarati channel reported him as denying any plans to quit the BJP, but admitting he had grievances which he had conveyed to the party high command. He said he felt the party would take appropriate action, the channel reported. “Rupani could be Chief Minister, I have no problem with that, but the party do something to keep my self-respect,” TV9 Gujarati quoted Nitin Patel as saying.
Patidar community leaders like Sardar Patel Group’s Lalji Patel and Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel have rallied behind Nitin Patel. A string of BJP leaders called on the Deputy CM at his residence Saturday, including senior leader from Surat and former minister Narottam Patel. “Yes, I met Nitinbhai today at his residence in Ahmedabad. I am with him in his resistance against the injustice done to him,” Narottam Patel said.
By late Saturday, a shamiana had been erected outside Nitin Patel’s house, for the people who had gathered outside. The minister, who stayed indoors the whole day, came out around 11.15 pm to thank the people waiting, and asked them to leave.
Last August, Nitin Patel’s name had done the rounds as Anandiben Patel’s replacement for CM till the last minute, before the party had picked Rupani and made him deputy CM instead. Nitin Patel is senior to Rupani in the government, having held ministerial berths in the Narendra Modi-led regime.
Nitin Patel’s win from Mehsana this time was hard-fought, with the constituency a Patidar bastion.
Narottam Patel said, “Nitinbhai is a senior minister and his dignity has to be restored. His main grievance is against taking away of the two important portfolios Urban Development and Finance from him. The BJP has done well in urban areas and Nitinbhai played a key role in managing the Urban Development portfolio. And still the Chief Minister took away the portfolio and kept it with him.”
Trying to take advantage of the BJP dispute, Hardik Patel suggested that Nitin Patel quit the BJP with 10 MLAs and “join the Congress”. Speaking to mediapersons on the sidelines of a PAAS meeting, Hardik said, “As a veteran politician, Nitinbhai (Patel) worked hard for 27 years to ensure that (the BJP) stays in power. The community members need to understand that such politicians are being sidelined. I am not giving any suggestion, but asking him to ponder as to why he is not being given respect despite working so hard. I would request Nitinbhai to join us and together we will fight against the arrogant people (of the BJP)… If Nitinbhai makes up his mind and says he is ready to resign from the party and that 10 more MLAs are ready to tender their resignation, we are ready to fully support him.”
He added, “To ensure good governance in Gujarat, we will talk to the Congress to include Nitinbhai and give him the post he deserves.”
Hardik also said he had messaged the Deputy CM on Friday expressing “solidarity”.
While asking the BJP to restore Nitin Patel’s “honour”, Lalji Patel said he supported the call for a “bandh” in Mehsana on January 1 if the issue was not resolved.
BJP general secretary in-charge of Gujarat Bhupender Yadav could not be reached for comments.