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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Explained: Five reasons why Bhupendra Patel was chosen Gujarat Chief Minister

The BJP is learnt to have decided to have settled for an MLA as chief minister in order to not go through another bypoll.

Written by Parimal A Dabhi , Edited by Explained Desk | Ahmedabad |
Updated: September 14, 2021 8:29:54 am
Bhupendra PatelBhupendra Patel was sworn in as the 17th CM of Gujarat on Monday. (Photo credit: Gujarat Information Department)

The BJP sprang a surprise by picking Bhupendra Patel as the successor to Vijay Rupani. On Monday, Patel took oath as the 17th chief minister of Gujarat. Here are five reasons why he was picked over others.

Bhupendra Patel is a Patidar

The Patidar community, which forms BJP’s core vote bank, was seen as drifting away from it over the last few years. This was reflected in the local body elections in February, where although the BJP won almost all the bodies, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stormed into Surat, home to state party chief CR Paatil, to become the main opposition in the municipal corporation, powered by anti-BJP Patidar votes.

The passing of late BJP CM Keshubhai Patel last year had created a vacuum in the community, as he had dared to put up a front to fight against the BJP in 2012 backed by many of its Patidar leaders. Younger Patidar leaders had openly begun demanding that the next CM be from the community.

Moreover, the recent Jan Ashirwad Yatra after the union cabinet expansion where union ministers and top leaders of the party hailed the importance given to OBCs in the central government, began to be perceived as the BJP distancing itself further from the Patidars.

The quota agitation of 2015, led by Hardik Patel, then an inconspicuous youth leader, was evidence of the fact that the community that is largely agrarian, orthodox and among Gujarat’s wealthier lot, felt the need to be a part of the government systems. Most Patidars are entrepreneurs, but the agitation made the community realise the need to be part of the government and therefore avail benefits of quota that could give access to higher education and jobs to their children.

Therefore, it became necessary for the BJP to bring in a Patidar face under whose leadership the elections would be fought in Gujarat next year. Bhupendra Patel is the fifth Gujarat CM from the Patidar community; the others being Anandiben Patel, Keshubhai Patel, Babubhai Patel and Chimanbhai Patel.

Bhupendra Patel takes oath as new Chief Minister of Gujarat. (Twitter/@Bhupendrapbjp)

Anandiben Patel’s exit 

Anandiben Patel was forced to quit after the party badly lost the local body elections largely on account of the disenchantment among Patidars following the quota agitation demanding OBC status for them. In 2016, the public flogging of the Dalits in Una which played out nationally ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, gave the party more reason to bring in change.

However, the party did not fare too well in the Assembly elections of 2017 where it won only 99 of 182 seats, its worst showing since 1995. Keshubhai had seen a similar unceremonious exit in 2001 which had led to revolts within the BJP, especially the Patidars from Saurashtra, leading to the formation of the MahaGujarat Janata Party (MJP) under the leadership of Gordhan Zadafia, and in 2012 the breakaway Gujarat Parivartan Party(GPP) under Keshubhai’s leadership. GPP went on to win two seats in the Assembly elections that year.

The BJP’s resounding victory in the local body elections held earlier this year, notwithstanding, the fragmentation of the Patidar votes became evident and the party saw sense in holding out an olive branch to the community. Patel, being from Anandiben’s team, and the decision bearing the stamp of Prime minister Narendra Modi, also marks the the return of a Patidar as CM. This could give the BJP the backing of several social, religious and community organisations run or dominated by Patidars.

A non-controversial decision

Patel, who rose from the ranks having won elections from the Memnagar Nagarpalika in 1990s, the area now a part of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation limits, will also be the first chief minister from Ahmedabad- Gujarat’s business capital and its largest city. Patel, who started out running a shop selling fire crackers in Dariapur in Ahmedabad’s walled city area, represents Ghatlodia, a BJP bastion. He had fought his first major election in 2010 as corporator from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and went on to become the standing committee chairperson, in the first term itself.

In 2017, his first Assembly election, Patel defeated Congress candidate Shashikant Patel by over one lakh votes, considered to be the highest winning margin. Holding a diploma in civil engineering, Patel is in the real-estate business for the last 25 years and therefore his appointment will also be accepted by the powerful builder community. His public life has been without controversy and people describe him as not being “very ambitious”.

Bhupendra Patel with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Balancing the Anandiben-Amit Shah equation

Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben and Union Home Minister Amit Shah are considered Modi’s closest confidants but are also known not to see eye to eye. Rupani’s appointment in 2016 as CM bore the Shah stamp, and Anandiben’s retirement by the party based on a norm to not have executive posts given to those above 75 years of age, did not go down well in the ranks.

Many veteran BJP workers and leaders resent the strategy of rewarding Congress turncoats with powerful positions, in a bid to attract their vote banks, a trend seen more since the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections. While Shah’s loyalists are happy with his becoming the first minister of co-operatives, a powerful sector that had helped Congress stay in power and is now with the BJP, Anandiben’s loyalists needed to be similarly rewarded.

Anandiben’s son-in-law Jayesh Patel is one of the trustees of the Sabarmati Harijan Ashram Trust which holds a large chunk of the land that is proposed to be a part of the redevelopment project funded by the Union Ministry of Culture and to be executed by the Gujarat government. Sources say Shah also endorsed Patel’s appointment as CM as someone who has handled important responsibilities of his Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency earlier. Patel’s Ghatlodia Assembly constituency is part of the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency.

Gujarat Assembly elections 2022

The BJP is learnt to have decided to have settled for an MLA as chief minister in order to not go through another bypoll. Being home to the prime minister, and a now to a host of powerful ministers in the union government, Assembly elections in Gujarat next year are crucial for the BJP. The electoral landscape in Gujarat was already changing with spaces being created for parties like AAP and All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) that won seats in the Surat and the Ahmedabad municipal corporation elections emboldening them to fight in the Assembly polls. The weakened and fragmented Congress only made these forces stronger. The BJP, which has been ruling Gujarat since 1995, except for the brief period when Shankersinh Vaghela’s rebellion led to a non-BJP Congress-backed government, anti-incumbency will also be a strong factor it will have to fight.

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