Who can better tell than Vijay Rupani that patience pays dividends. Just three days after his 60th birthday, the low profile BJP leader was chosen as the new chief minister of Gujarat after his predecessor Anandiben Patel quit from office midway. Another contender for the same office, Nitin Patel, has been appointed as his deputy.
Reacting on the development, a senior Gujarat BJP leader told Firstpost that "Amit Shah had the last laugh."
There was intense speculation in the past two days as to who would get to head the Gujarat government between the two of them. However, Nitin got too optimistic and by Friday afternoon he even started publicly accepting congratulations and spoke to news channels as if he was going to be the next chief minister. But BJP chief Amit Shah had a surprise in store and finally the climax ended with Rupani being given the responsibility of taking over as the chief minister. Dishing out surprises has become the norm under the current Modi-Shah dispensation, even catching the media on the back foot. Probably, it was too big a surprise for Nitin.
The deputy chief minister-designate committed the mistake of becoming impatient and start celebrations a bit early in the day. His premature interviews to media remind one of May 2014 when Arun Shourie after meeting the then prime minister-designate had started giving interviews in the media as to how the economy was to be managed and how the prospective Modi government would function. Then Shourie had read the script wrong, now Nitin read it wrong. But Nitin still has great deal of things to cheer for as official number two in the government and hope for better luck at a later date.
It was a toss up between Rupani and Nitin. Initially, Rupani was believed to be ahead of Nitin in the race but since Thursday when central BJP observers – Nitin Gadkari and Saroj Pandey – landed there, Nitin's name gained more circulation. But in the end, it was Rupani with his non-controversial, low-profile and sincere organisational man credentials which prevailed. Also, Rupani is a Jain Bania, which is taken as a caste-neutral status at a time when the state, society and polity seemed to be broadly divided into caste lines.
The aggressive posturing taken by the Patel community during Patidar agitation had polarised other castes, particularly the OBCs against Patels. Thus, even as Nitin was taken to be a very strong contender, eventually he lost it out to Rupani. But Nitin and the Patel community have been placated by designating him as deputy chief minister and the same announcement was made by central party observer and Union Minister of Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari. The announcement on Rupani as the new leader of BJP Legislature Party, and consequently as the next chief minister of the state was also made simultaneously.
For Rupani, his Jain Bania background suddenly became his asset. But the biggest of all the plus points, which went in his favour was that he had absolute trust of Shah.
This is not to say that he was not Prime Minister Narendra Modi's favourite. Rupani couldn't become a chief minister without the blessings of Modi. Nobody in Gujarat BJP, and now elsewhere can meaningfully survive without being on the right side of Modi. The fact that Gujarat is Modi's home state, every single leader out there owe his or her allegiance to Modi. But after initial clarity on Rupani's name, there was a sudden surge of consensus like situation for Nitin and there were reports that the former had conceded ground in favour of the latter. But in the end, as they say, a day is a long time in politics – Shah convinced Modi that it would be better to have Rupani at the helm. Outgoing Chief Minister Anandiben Patel was opposed to Rupani and favoured Nitin but, obviously, she ultimately had to bow before Shah's wishes.
That was the reason that Modi-Shah didn't show any undue hurry in naming the new leader in Gujarat. Shah and central observers took two days time in Ahmedabad and prior to that Modi and Shah took their own time in Delhi in convening the meeting of the Parliamentary Board and dispatching observers a day later. Before arriving at a conclusion, they mulled over all possible factors.
A chief minister has a great deal of say in elections, both in ticket distribution and campaign. Rupani will work in close coordination with Shah. Modi will, of course, have a hawk eye on developments there but given his responsibilities as PM, he can't micro-manage election management. The party hopes to swing election on Modi's star power. Sources said once Shah finishes with next round of elections, Uttar Pradesh in particular he will start spending sufficient time in Gujarat to reverse the perceived process of current downward slide in BJP's fortune. With Rupnai at the helm, Shah would rule by proxy, it is suggested by the party sources.
Rupani has risen from the ranks, getting into saffron politics as an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activist, then elected as a municipal councillor, a Rajya Sabha member but his wait to get into the state assembly was long and it came through luck.
When Vajubhai Wala, Speaker of Gujarat assembly was appointed as Karnataka Governor in August 2014, he vacated his Rajkot West seat. Rupani was nominated as BJP candidate in the ensuing by-election from that seat. He won handsomely from an otherwise Patel dominated constituency and was made Minister of Transport, Water Supply, Labour and Employment in Anandiben Patel's government. Subsequently, he also got the distinction of getting to hold position of state BJP president while retaining ministry in state government. The soft-spoken leader from Rajkot had suddenly turned into a powerful BJP leader from Saurashtra region.
Rupani has the unique ability to work smoothly with leaders of all shades within the party. He remained close to Keshubhai Patel, Narendra Modi, Anandiben Patel (it's a different matter though that she was opposed to his elevation as CM) and Amit Shah.
Like Rupani, Nitin too is 60-year old and served the party for last three decades. He has been Minister for Health, Medical Education, Family Welfare, Road and Building, Capital Project in the outgoing Anandiben government. Previously, he was a cabinet minister for water supply, water resources, urban development and urban housing.
He had the support of around three dozen Patel legislators in the party, as also some others. A number of MLAs had openly voiced their preference for him in the legislature party meeting. But this was not his time and place. Nitin didn't have Amit Shah's support for the top most, something which mattered most.