Putting all suspense and speculations to an end, the BJP has decided to continue with Vijay Bhai Rupani as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. In the wake of the politically significant and keenly contested election this message of continuity at the apex of what is called a BJP citadel or Laboratory of Hindutva assumes a lot of importance and this article attempts to analyse the reasons behind this decision and its effects.
Shri Vijay Rupani was born in Rangoon, Myanmar, but brought up in Rajkot, Gujarat in a Jain family and has been associated with the RSS, ABVP and BJP since a very young age.
He started his career as a Corporator in the Rajkot Municipal Corporation before going on to become its Standing Committee Chairman and Mayor. He served for a term in the Rajya Sabha from 2006-12. In August 2016 he was appointed the Chief Minister of Gujarat and now he has got a second stint in the same post.
His appointment as Chief Minister mirrors that of Narendra Bhai Modi in many ways. Both were appointed Chief Ministers mid-way into a challenging term after failure of their predecessors (Keshubhai’s mishandling of the 2001 Earthquake and Anandiben’s mishandling of the Patidar agitations) and incidentally both chose the Rajkot West constituency to be elected to the Vidhan Sabha. This constituency in itself has a very interesting history. It has been held by the BJP since 1985, with Vajubhai Vala (presently Governor of Karanataka) winning it in 1985, 1990, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2007 and 2012, Narendra Bhai Modi in 2002 by polls, Vijay Bhai Rupani in a 2014 by poll and now 2017 elections. In short it has been a fortress of the BJP. This time around though, Congress put up a strong candidate in Indraneel Rajyaguru (the second richest candidate across Gujarat) and invested both caste and money power in order to clinch this seat from the BJP and defeat its Chief Ministerial candidate like it did in Himachal. It was believed it would be a tough fight for the Chief Minister and many felt he might just lose his own seat too. The fears heightened when news of him trailing in the initial rounds of counting began to emerge. But by the end of the counting, he had put his rival far behind, winning by a margin of 53, 755 votes more than doubling the 2012 margin of 24978 votes. Moreover, BJP won all four seats of the Rajkot city which is at the heart of Saurashtra (where the Congress trumped the BJP). This strong showing in his own seat itself could be one of the reasons which influenced the decision of the BJP in his favour.
Moreover, as admitted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, after a towering figure leaves a state it is always a challenge to match up to him or her and keep the hold of the party intact (one can look at the fate of the Congress in Andhra post YSR or AIADMK in Tamil Nadu post Amma for example). The election of 2017 brought with it many a challenge for the BJP- it was the first election it was fighting post Modi leaving for the centre, there was accumulated anti-incumbency of 22 years, dirty politics of caste at play by the Congress, anger over GST and demonetisation in a mercantile state to name a few of them. The election was fought with Rupani as the face and CM candidate and now that the BJP has managed to beat all of these challenges, increase its vote share and clinch a victory for the sixth straight term it is only fair both to the mandate and the man himself that he continue to be at the helm of affairs.
Though it is no mean feat winning six elections in a row in state, the media and some vested interests are already busy potraying the reduction in the BJP’s seats and a corresponding rise in the Congress’s as a moral victory of the Congress. Imagine, if the BJP had replaced its CM in such a situation, it would have been another chance for them to run stories of how a resurgent Rahul Gandhi had shaken the BJP into panicking and changing its Chief Minister. Persisting with Vijay Bhai, gives an important message of continuity to the cadre and masses at large, that all is well.
In his short stint of over a year, Mr. Rupani has shown his grit and abilities as a leader. He was appointed at a time when the Gujarat BJP was in doldrums, had lost the local body polls (especially in the rural areas) and there was anarchy on the streets with the Patel Reservation Agitation and murmurs of discontent against the CM Anandiben Patel. Over the past year, he has managed to bring the state back on track and has ensured no controversies or feuds harm the interests of the state and the party. When floods struck the state in this monsoon and Congress MLAs were busy camping in Bengaluru, the CM himself set camp in the flood hit areas to ensure adequate relief and rescue operations were undertaken to minimise the damage. In the heat of the election campaign, when Cyclone Ockhi struck the Gujarat Coast, the CM again ensured all necessary precautions were taken. All of this proves his grip on the administration and acumen as a leader.
Mr. Rupani, a Jain, continues to enjoy the trust of the Modi-Shah duo and fits in well with their narrative of having a caste neutral CM (Yogi, Fadnavis, Raghubar Das and Khattar). This assumes significance as the campaign preceding the elections was one of the most caste dominated in the history of Gujarat, which saw the emergence of the so called caste satraps Hardik, Jignesh and Alpesh. He, at 61 years old, also has age on his side.
The challenges in front of Mr. Rupani are formidable. The party has returned with a reduced majority and would have to take on the likes of Jignesh and Alpesh in the Assembly and Hardik outside it. Having tasted blood in this election, they are likely to continue their divisive caste oriented politics and it would be interesting to see how Mr. Rupani counters it. Matching up to the standards set by Mr. Modi and ensuring that the urban voters who reposed their faith in the BJP are justly rewarded while some of the disgruntled rural and agrarian masses are won over too, is another task that the new CM has cut out for himself. We wish him all the very best and hope that he has a wonderful stint in office and roars back to power in 2022 as well.