BJP can’t afford a new leadership in Gujarat

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 22, 2017

Party in no position to upset the cart after a hard-fought election victory

Cut to size in the recent Assembly elections, the BJP high command — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah — had little choice but to repeat Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel as the Chief Minister and Deputy CM in Gujarat.

The BJP, which had set a target of at least 150 seats in the 182-member Assembly, ended up winning just 99. On the contrary, it found its main rival Congress strengthening itself from 57 seats in 2012 to 77 now.

Barely scraping through to return to power, and without a comfortable three-figure majority in the Assembly for the first time, the BJP did not have many options but to fall back upon the existing leadership.

Unlike the ‘experiments’ it did in other States, where it crowned as CMs leaders representing Hindu caste ‘minorities’, it decided to continue with the Rupani-Nitin duo.

Rupani represents the numerically smaller Jain community (less than 2 per cent of the total population) in the State, and eminently fits the party’s strategy.

Tallest leader

The BJP also had no option but to repeat Patel as Deputy CM. After the near-exit of Anandiben Patel, he is seen as the tallest party leader from the Patidar community.

He will be the party’s chief firefighter, what with Hardik Patel threatening to continue with the agitation under the auspices of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), backed by a rejuvenated Congress. Indeed, the Gujarat duo has worked reasonably in tandem, giving hope to the BJP that they could continue to deliver.

A section of the BJP had floated the name of Union Minister Purushottam Rupala, a senior Kadwa Patidar leader from Amreli district, as a replacement for Rupani.

But Rupala could not make it for two reasons. One, he does not exactly enjoy the full confidence of the Modi-Shah duo — his utterances against Modi when the latter was the CM were rather well known. Two, the BJP did not want to be seen succumbing to the numerically powerful Patidars (15 per cent) or entrust the State with a leader it did not fully trust.

Back to the grind

The new-old Rupani-Nitin duo has its task cut out from the moment they resume work next week. Beside the Hardik ‘headache’, they now have to grapple with Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Alpesh Thokore in the Assembly. While Mevani contested polls as an independent, Thokore stood on Congress ticket.

Besides, the new BJP government will have to shoulder the difficult task of preparing for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, the party had won all the 26 seats and any dent in this number could directly reflect on the central leadership.

To begin with, Rupani and Nitin Patel will have to look into their party’s manifesto and start delivering on the promises.

That is a tall order: remunerative prices to farmers, creation of jobs, accelerating the pace of industrial growth et al.

These are more important than showpieces like the proposed bullet train or the seaplane. For, their performance on these issues will decide what lies in store for the BJP in 2019.

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Published on December 22, 2017
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