Vijay Rupani seemed the natural choice for the top job in Gujarat until he declared himself out of the race and left for Rajkot, his home town, to celebrate his 61st birthday on August 2. However, it was Rupani who emerged as the choice for Gujarat Chief Minister at a meeting of BJP MLAs, attended by party president Amit Shah.
Rupani’s constituency of Rajkot West is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi won his first electoral contest to become chief minister in 2002. Rupani is also the third CM of Gujarat to hail from Rajkot, after Ghanshyam Oza and Keshubhai Patel.
Rupani was born in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1956. His father Rasiklal was a grain merchant there. Months later, the family shifted to Rajkot due to instability in Myanmar.
Rasiklal became a trader of ball-bearings in Rajkot while Rupani, the youngest of his seven sons, became an RSS swayamsevak as a student. He became active in student politics while pursing his BA degree from Dharmendrasinhji Arts College. Rupani was also jailed during the Emergency.
He debuted in electoral politics during the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) polls in 1987. He won and served as chairman of the RMC standing committee for many years before becoming mayor of Rajkot in 1996. In the Keshubhai Patel government, he was made in-charge of a 20-point implementation committee. Later, Rupani was made general secretary of the BJP state unit and then elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2006.
Rupani oversaw the BJP’s wresting of power from the Congress in the RMC in 2005 and retaining it in 2010. After his Rajya Sabha tenure ended, he was appointed chairman of Gujarat Municipal Finance Board in 2013. The BJP swept all seats in Saurashtra in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Rupani further strengthened his position in the party.
Rupani’s breakthrough came when Vajubhai Vala, who held the Rajkot West seat for almost two decades, resigned as MLA after he was appointed Governor of Karnataka. The BJP gave Rupani a ticket for the October 2014 bypoll and he won. Weeks later, he was made cabinet minister and given portfolios of water supply, transport, labour and employment in the Anandiben Patel government.
With the Patel stir pot boiling in December last year, the BJP fared poorly in the district and taluka panchayat elections in the state. While the Anandiben government struggled to cope with the agitation, Ranchhod Faldu, a Patidar, completed his second term as Gujarat BJP chief. In a bid to bypass the anger of the Patidar community, Rupani, a Jain Baniya, was made the new party chief. He also continued as minister. With Rupani as party chief, the BJP won Talala Assembly bypoll and managed to corner Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation as a Congress corporator defected.
Rupani has stakes in Rasiklal and Sons, the trading firm his father had established. He is also a stock-broker. His wife Anjali is a member of the BJP women wing while nephew Mehul is member of the syndicate of Saurashtra University. Rupani also founded and is the chairman of Shri Pujit Rupani Memorial Trust, an NGO that works for the poor.