A DAY after the abrupt resignation of Vijay Rupani as Gujarat Chief Minister, with just 14 months to go for the state polls, the BJP Sunday sprang another surprise by picking first-time MLA Bhupendra Patel for the top job.
Party leaders told The Indian Express that 59-year-old Patel’s name was proposed by Rupani at the BJP legislature party meeting and seconded by outgoing Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel. Bhupendra Patel, who represents Ahmedabad’s Ghatlodia constituency, will take the oath of office Monday and is expected to announce the new Council of Ministers “in a day or two”.
Following Sunday’s decision, Patel staked claim to form the state government after meeting Governor Acharya Devavrata in the evening. An official release stated that the Governor has invited Patel to the Raj Bhavan for the swearing-in Monday afternoon. A BJP release said Union Home Minister Amit Shah will attend the ceremony.
Patel belongs to the Kadva sub-group of the influential Patidar community, and is the first Chief Minister from this segment. Party leaders said he ticked most of the boxes for the BJP ahead of the 2022 Assembly elections for which state party chief C R Paatil has set an ambitious target of winning all 182 seats.
Most importantly, said a leader, Patel’s elevation “bears the clear stamp of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. “The party observers had come with the name of Bhupendra Patel as the next Chief Minister,” the leader, who attended Sunday’s meeting, said.
Over the last two years, Modi was the chief guest at two major events held by the biggest Patidar organisations: a foundation ceremony in 2019 for a socio-religious complex by Vishv Umiya Foundation of Kadva Patidars, and the inauguration Saturday of a community building of Sardardham, which is run by Vishwa Patidar Samaj that includes Leuva and Kadva Patidars.
Bhupendra Patel is a key member of both these organisations.
Incidentally, Patel won his first Assembly election in 2017 from the seat that had been represented earlier by UP Governor Anandiben Patel who was replaced by Rupani as Chief Minister. The new Chief Minister is believed to be a close confidante of Anandiben Patel.
Speaking to reporters later, Bhupendra Patel thanked Modi, Shah and BJP chief J P Nadda “for putting their faith in me”. “I also thank (Gujarat) party president C R Paatil and his team and Vijay Rupani and his team for putting their faith in me. And the blessings of honourable Anandiben have always been with me and will remain so,” he said.
Patel said he did not have any inkling about his name being in contention for the CM’s post. Asked about the Assembly elections next year, he said: “BJP is not a party that is in the habit of only doing election-oriented work. Every worker works for the people every day and will continue to do so.”
State party chief Paatil said there was “no discussion” on the post of Deputy CM. He said the party will decide on new roles for Rupani and Nitin Patel.
Following Rupani’s resignation Saturday, the BJP’s central parliamentary board had appointed Union ministers and senior leaders Narendra Singh Tomar and Pralhad Joshi as observers to oversee the election of the new CM.
Tomar and Joshi arrived in Gujarat early Sunday along with BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh, a day after the party’s national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh and state in-charge and Union Minister Bhupender Yadav had reached the state.
Sunday’s meeting was attended by Rupani, Nitin Patel, party MLAs, MPs and top office-bearers of the state unit including Paatil. Earlier, the names of Paatil, Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, Gordhan Zadafia and Lakhshadweep administrator Praful Patel were floated as top contenders. Mandaviya and Zadafia are Leuva Patidars from the Saurashtra region, which has already been represented by several chief ministers.
“None of us had any inkling about Bhupendra Patel being the next CM. It was a surprise. This is a move to pacify the Patidar community,” said a BJP MLA. “With this appointment, the party can neutralise the damage caused by disaffection in the community, which is our core vote bank,” said a party source.
The party also hopes to win back votes it lost to AAP, especially in Surat where Arvind Kejriwal’s party secured sizeable support from the Leuva Patidars who felt sidelined by the BJP and saw no point in voting for the Congress.
UP Governor Anandiben Patel took to Twitter to congratulate Patel and expressed the wish that “Gujarat achieves new heights of development under his experienced leadership”.
Amit Shah posted a message for the new CM on social media and expressed confidence that, “under the guidance of Narendra Modi and your (Patel’s) leadership, Gujarat’s continuous journey of development will get new energy and momentum”.