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Friday, September 24, 2021

Vijay Rupani Steps Down: A CM who was ‘accessible and popular’ but ‘failed in nuanced political balancing’

Management of Covid-19, during the second wave, remained one of the weakest features of the Vijay Rupani government which faced some scathing strictures from the Gujarat High Court.

Written by Parimal A Dabhi , Gopal Kateshiya | Gandhinagar |
Updated: September 12, 2021 4:33:08 pm
Vijay Rupani (Express Photo by Javed Raja)

Even as cabinet colleagues and bureaucrats said they were shocked by the “suddenness” of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s resignation, top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat said they had seen it coming and was expected at least “15 days ago”.

With an assembly election in between, Rupani’s five-year tenure, which he celebrated alongside his 65th birthday in August, might have had its highs in the governance issues he tried to fix, and the fact that he was “accessible”, but he failed in the “nuanced political balancing”, say top leaders in the party.

A senior leader told The Sunday Express, “There is tremendous anti-incumbency against the party owing to skyrocketing inflation. Also, the party is facing a lot of public anger due to the handling of the Covid-19 in the second wave. Apart from that, the party is worried about growing distance with the Patidar community, its core vote bank, and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s entry in the state. The party also strongly believes that leadership change can divert people’s anti-BJP sentiments.”

Vijay Rupani Vijay Rupani submits his resignation to Governor Acharya Devvrat. (Photo: CMO)

According to another leader, “His only fault was that he started believing that he can survive only by focusing on good governance. Political balancing acts are also important, especially when you do not belong to Patidar or OBC communities in Gujarat… there he failed.”

A day before his resignation, on Friday, while addressing a public function of Rabari community in Ahmedabad, Rupani had said that in the past five years, his government “got cooperation from all the communities in the state” a statement that can be seen in context to the disenchantment his predecessor Anandiben Patel had faced during her tenure from the Patidars and Dalits.

While the party’s performance in the 2017 assembly elections was its worst since 1995, it won back a few seats in the by-elections after Congress MLAs defected or quit. In 2019, the party also won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat, for the second consecutive term.

Electorally, one of the high points of Rupani’s tenure was the historic win of the party in the local body polls earlier this year when the BJP won all the district panchayats, municipal corporations and most of the taluka panchayats and municipalities, virtually wiping out the Congress.

Rupani campaigned aggressively during the local body polls until he collapsed while addressing an election meeting in Vadodara and eventually testing positive for Covid-19. However, there are many in the party who give credit for this victory to the massive changes brought in by party president CR Paatil in the state party organisation.

Rupani’s tenure also marked the unprecedented floods in North Gujarat in 2017 when he camped in Banaskantha for five days and virtually ran the entire Chief Minister’s Office from there. In 2018, Gujarat witnessed a drought-like situation with the state facing challenges, including drinking water supply and fodder for livestock. This year, Cyclone Tauktae claimed several lives and caused huge damage to agriculture and infrastructure. There have been allegations of unfair distribution of compensation to people affected by the cyclone.

The main plank of Rupani’s government remained Samvedanshilta (sensitivity) and Nirnayakata (decisiveness). Later, the virtue of Majbut (strong) was also added to the hallmark of the Rupani government by the state PR machinery.

Rupani started an initiative Mukhyamantri Sathe, Mokla Mane (With Chief Minister, With Open Mind) in which he started meeting people from various sections of the society for open discussions with them. Being a Jain, Rupani also launched a helpline for animals and birds in the state and announced to make Gujarat a “vegetarian” state. Among his achievements, he would list enactment or amendments of laws on freedom of religion and anti-land grabbing law.

Management of Covid-19, during the second wave, remained one of the weakest features of the Rupani government which faced some scathing strictures from the Gujarat High Court. The authenticity of the figures of the Covid-19 cases and fatalities in the state remained under a cloud. Talks about his replacement got stronger after the appointment of CR Paatil as the president of the party’s state unit last year. It is hardly a secret that Rupani did not have a very comfortable relationship with Paatil. This was in addition to his strained relationship with Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel throughout the tenure. Rupani was elected as the CM in 2016 when Patel was considered a certain choice of the party high command.

A senior IAS officer said, “He will be always remembered as a humble CM who was sensitive and approachable by all. ”

Meanwhile, in Rupani’s home town, Rajkot, his exit came as a surprise to his trusted allies and rivals alike. A party functionary from Saurashtra said that while there were “media speculations six months ago” about him being replaced, they were laid to rest. “But he certainly was a leader who can be called popular and had acceptance among masses. But such are the ways of the BJP,” said the functionary.

Rupani’s stepping aside is as dramatic as his meteoric rise since winning his maiden Assembly election in October 2014 from Rajkot (west), a fortress of the BJP. Rupani got the chance to contest the election only because Vaju Vala, the BJP veteran who had held that seat for almost two decades, vacated it consequent to his appointment as the governor of Karnataka.

Soon after becoming an MLA, he was inducted as a cabinet minister in the Anandiben Patel government. In February 2016, amid the Patidar quota agitation, Rupani, a Jain Baniya, was made the president of BJP’s Gujarat unit. Six months later, he replaced Anandiben Patel as CM.

During his five-year tenure, Rupani didn’t make a secret of his government’s focus on Saurashtra, the region he hails from, when it came to big-ticket infrastructure projects. After much wrangling among BJP leaders about its location, Rajkot was chosen as the place for setting up the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). He also oversaw the proposal of developing a new international airport in Rajkot and the work is in progress. He also inaugurated the new bus port of the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation in the city.

At every public forum, Rupani will assure Rajkot residents that there will be no shortage of drinking water after he got a drinking water pipeline laid from Dholi Dhaja dam in Surendranagar to Aji dam in Rajkot for pumping Narmada water to Aji dam.

Despite being on the hot seat, Rupani kept his touch with Rajkot, his hometown, intact. He never missed flying kites with family and friends on Uttarayan in Rajkot or spending time with children on his birthdays. He did the same this year on August 2, his 65th birthday, by dining with children who were orphaned or lost one parent during the Covid-19 pandemic. He and his wife Anjali Rupani run Shri Pujit Rupani Memorial Trust, an NGO that works for the poor.

Born in Rangoon, (now Yangon) in 1956, Vijay Rupani was the youngest of seven sons of Ramniklal Rupani, a grain merchant. However, the Rupanis left Myanmar due to political instability and settled in Rajkot. Rupani has stakes in Ramniklal and Sons, the trading firm his father had established. He is also a stockbroker. His wife Anjali is in-charge of BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Rajkot city and maintained a low profile during her husband’s tenure as CM, while being a devout BJP worker. Rupani’s son Rushabh recently graduated from a university in Ahmedabad while his daughter Radhika lives in London.

With RSS roots, Rupani won the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) elections in 1987, became its mayor in 1996. He was made the general secretary of the Gujarat state unit of the BJP in 2006 and was also elected to the Rajya Sabha the same year.

After his term as Rajya Sabha member expired in 2012, Rupani was appointed chairman of the Gujarat Municipal Finance Board in 2013, a position that he held till he won the Assembly bypoll from Rajkot (west), the seat from where Narendra Modi had also won his maiden election in 2001.

After Ghanshyam Oza and Keshubhai Patel, Rupani was the third politician from Rajkot to become the chief minister.

With inputs from Ritu Sharma

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