BJP president Amit Shah reached Ahmedabad on Thursday to pick the next chief minister of Gujarat.
Former Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel on 2 June submitted her resignation to Governor OP Kohli in the presence of ministers and party leaders at Raj Bhavan in the evening. Kohli had asked her to continue until the new chief minister takes charge.
Meanwhile, political circles are abuzz with the likely choice of her replacement. Interestingly, state unit BJP chief Vijay Rupani whose name was in the reckoning for the post, ruled himself out of the race, saying he would like to work for the party organisation. "I have told the party leadership that I would like to work for the organisation," Rupani said.
Firstpost, in an article published on Wednesday, had said that 60-year-old Rupani, considered as the most non-controversial of the lot, was the topmost contender for the CM post. However, The Economic Times quoted party sources and said that Anandiben was strongly opposed to Rupani as the next CM because Rupani was Shah's choice.
One of the biggest setbacks for Anandiben's government was the lack of tact and discretion when handling the Patel quota agitation. Patels have been BJP's loyal votebank in Gujarat till the protests over quota reservation begun. Rupani's appointment as the CM will not help the party quell the protests as he belongs to the Jain community. Incidentally, Rajkot is the heartland of Saurashtra and the stronghold of Patels.
This is where Patel comes in. His is the second name that comes up for the post after Rupani. Patel had shown his interest in the CM's post during the 2014 General Elections. According to many media outlets, the issue of who gets to helm Gujarat in 2017 Assembly polls remains a race between Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel. Patel is being seen as a daunting contender, as he belongs to the Patidar community, especially at a time when the BJP is trying to keep Patels on its side.
Even though his efforts did not yield much result, Nitin Patel has been the bridge between agitating Patel leaders and the government. Patel contested his first Assembly election in the state in 1995 and has been a member of BJP for the past 30 years.
When asked about his nomination for the CM post, Nitin Patel said, "The party central leadership will decide on who will be the chief minister."
The BJP Parliamentary Board met in Delhi on Tuesday, which was chaired by Shah and attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appointed Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and BJP general secretary Saroj Pandey as party's central observers to hold consultations with the MLAs for electing the new leader. Shah will hold will hold consultations with party leaders and attend the Legislature Party meeting on Friday to elect the new leader.
Venkaiah Naidu during a press conference (after the Parliamentary Board meeting) on 2 August had appreciated the work done by Anandiben Patel and the party has decided to honour her decision to step down on the ground that she is reaching the 75-age cutoff mark. Naidu emphasised that no names were discussed but ruled out rumours that Shah could be in contention for the post of Gujarat chief minister.
"Such a question does not arise. He is the party president and is going to remain the party president. The party needs his leadership at the national level. There is no such discussion at all," he said when asked about reports that Shah was also in the contention. Shah has taken the party to "great heights" and led it to many successes, he said.
This also rules out Rajya Sabha member and Union minister Puroshottam Rupala. Recently appointed in the central Cabinet as the Minister of State of Agriculture, Rupala is the national BJP vice-president. Rupala was a popular pitch for the CM post when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. Reports said that the minister is the most admired orator in party's state unit after Modi.
According to leaders in BJP, the decision on Anandiben's successor could be taken by Friday (5 August). "We are yet to decide the time of the Legislature body meeting (to elect new leader) as state Observer Nitin Gadkari is busy. It (meeting) can happen any time after 3 pm tomorrow or even a day after. Our national president Amit Shah will decide it," said state unit BJP in-charge Dinesh Sharma.
He said the legislature party meeting to decide the next chief minister will be held in the presence of state Observers as per the process. Parrying a query on likely contenders for CM's post, Sharma said, "A party worker will be chosen as next chief minister."
With inputs from PTI