Quelling Dalit protests, appeasing the Patels: New Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani has a lot of work to do

Vijay Rupani was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Gujarat on Sunday after his predecessor Anandiben Patel resigned on 2 August.

However, Rupani's new designation won't come without challenges. The Amit Shah-loyalist will have to face a number of challenges with just 14 months left for the next Assembly elections in Gujarat. He has to purge the BJP to ensure victory in the next elections. He will have to also lead the party and overcome challenges like the Patel quota stir and the Una incident, where Dalits were beaten up.

 Quelling Dalit protests, appeasing the Patels: New Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani has a lot of work to do

File image of Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel. PTI

Nitin Patel, who was "too optimistic" of becoming the next chief minister started his celebrations a bit too early. However, to placate him and the Patidars, BJP named him as the deputy chief minister. According to The Hindu, this was done to assuage the agitating Patel community.

It has been argued extensively that Rupani is a Jain Bania, which is considered a caste-neutral status and it suddenly became an asset for him.

As Sanjay Singh noted in this Firstpost piece, “The aggressive posturing taken by the Patel community during Patidar agitation had polarised other castes, particularly the OBCs against Patels.” It only made sense to annoint Rupani as the new chief minister.

It is considered that a caste-neutral person can better manage the numerous uprisings in the state.

Presently, the state is crippled by the Dalit uprising, which was stoked by the Una incident. Dalits have been protesting since seven members of a family were beaten up for skinning a dead cow in Una town of Gir Somnath district in Gujarat and four youths were dragged for allegedly possessing beef.

Thousands of Dalits pledged not to lift carcasses or clean manholes in protest and started a 10-day march on 4 August to protest against atrocities against the community in the state.

Organisers said the march called ‘Aazadi Koon’ (March for Freedom) has been planned to galvanise the community and will cover a distance of around 350 km, according to The Hindustan Times. They are also demanding alternate livelihood options, reservation for dalits under the reservation act from the government.

These massive protests have threatened the ruling BJP party in Gujarat and the first 100 days won't be easy for new CM Rupani. This should be at the top of his priority list.

The Patel agitation led by Hardik Patel to demand OBC status for the Patels is another issue which is yet to be addressed. The Patel community boycotted BJP’s Patel leaders soon after the agitation began. Former CM Anandiben Patel too couldn’t move around without facing protests.

“Gujarat is going through a very bad period. One the one hand, there is social unrest and on the other, the economy is in bad shape. Small and medium enterprises are shutting down,” The Hindu quoted a senior bureaucrat as saying.

The number of sick micro, small and medium units has increased from 20,615 in 2012-13 to 49,003 in 2014-15. The average farm wage is Gujarat is Rs 169, which is lower than that in most states. The government admitted in the Assembly that “on account of capital-intensive investment, industrial employment in Gujarat has gone down”, The Wire reported.

A global recession in industries like diamond polishing, machine tools, casting, ceramics has also affected some major communities who control most of these industries in the state.

The BJP even lost the district and block panchayat elections. A Gujarat minister said, “There was hardly any coordination between the government and the party (during Anandiben Patel’s tenure). Rupani will have to create synergy between the two.”

According to India Today, Patels comprise about 14-15 percent of the state population and the dalits constitute about 7-8 percent.

Rupani's first few months as the Gujarat chief minister, in no way, is going to be a cakewalk. Apart from social problems which plague Gujarat, the economy is in shambles too.

Anandiben's resignation was due to "old age" or so we were told. Like Sandipan Sharma argues in this Fristpost article, her resignation was not a question of 'if' but 'when'. And the failure of BJP's Dalit outreach programme in Uttar Pradesh, underlined by the Agra disaster, hastened her exit.

The very fact that the BJP had failed to retain the support of the Patels in spite of having a politician from the community as the chief minister meant Anandiben's days were numbered.

However, her resignation in the middle of the ongoing protests has only increased the work of her successor. She left a pile of issues unresolved and Rupani will now have to deal with them.

With inputs from agencies.

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Updated Date: Aug 07, 2016 13:53:51 IST