Ahmedabad : Gujarat’s ruling BJP saw fireworks on Friday as it picked Vijay Rupani as the 16th Chief Minister, dramatically edging out earlier favourite Nitin Patel who was named Deputy Chief Minister.
Outgoing Chief Minister Anandiben Patel was at her aggressive best as she passionately opposed Rupani’s elevation but she lost out to Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah.
The sudden decision to name Rupani, president of the Gujarat BJP, was taken amid heated arguments at a meeting of BJP MLAs chaired by Amit Shah. Union minister Nitin Gadkari and MP Saroj Pandey were observers.
Anandiben, the first woman Chief Minister of Gujarat who quit through a surprise Facebook post on Monday, registered her protest against Rupani.
Her long-time bete noire Amit Shah stuck to his guns and finally his word prevailed.
Anandiben charged Rupani and other party leaders with engineering the Patidar agitation that shook her government, party sources said.
She added against Nitin Patel’s long experience, Rupani was a first-time MLA and had no administrative experience.
Amid all this, BJP organising secretary V. Satish once came out of the meeting and spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on phone. Gadkari also had a chat with party leaders in Delhi.
Later, a dejected Patel told some journalists: “God only knows what happened.”
The meeting that was largely meant to formally announce the new Chief Minister in front of the legislators at 4 p.m. got delayed by nearly two hours. This was the first indication that something was amiss.
Anandiben, who had come under widespread criticism following the Patidar agitation for job quotas, had claimed she was putting in her papers to honour the unwritten code among BJP leaders to quit public posts at 75.
Gujarat will hold assembly election next year — the first after Modi, who was Chief Minister from 2001, moved to New Delhi as Prime Minister in 2014.
The Rangoon-born, soft-spoken Rupani, a Jain-Baniya, is also a cabinet minister. He represents Rajkot West in Saurashtra region in the assembly.
Health Minister and government spokesperson Nitin Patel is a grassroots rustic Patel leader.
Both are 60 years of age but Patel is way senior to Rupani in political experience and running the government.
The announcement of Rupani’s name came as a surprise to most people since Patel was being presumed the final choice and had even started giving veiled interviews to Gujarati news channels.
Sweets were distributed and crackers burst in his Mehsana district and Kadi constituency. By 4.45 p.m., newspaper offices started receiving email and fax with Patel’s bio-data. TV channels interviewed Patel’s wife.
Patel had emerged as the consensus candidate because he is a Patel, from North Gujarat and has handled a variety of ministries, while legging it out at the grassroots party level.
A BJP leader said Rupani was not a favourite “or the chosen one but probably a no-other-alternative decision in the present circumstances”.
Rupani’s announcement as the state president in February this year was also considered a surprise decision.
It was said he did not represent any caste aspirations and a friendly person like him was needed given the Anandiben and Amit Shah factions in the government.
Rupani, who holds an LLB degree, is not only close to Modi and Amit Shah but also believed to have maintained the right links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh since he started his career from the Sangh student wing ABVP.