Hours before Vijay Rupani was sworn in Chief Minister and Nitin Patel, his deputy, the duo drove to the residence of former CM and the BJP’s old warhorse, Keshubhai Patel, to seek his blessings.
Then, just before the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went up to Keshubhai and chatted with the man he replaced as Gujarat chief minister in October 2001, amid acrimony. Modi then spoke to his own mentor-turned-foe-turned-coalition partner, Shankersinh Vaghela. They were all special guests on the occasion, seated on the massive podium alongside other veterans LK Advani, former CM Anandiben Patel and others.
In fact, Keshubhai and Vaghela were seen at a BJP event after a long time. In 2012, Keshubhai’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) challenged the BJP, won two Assembly seats, and damaged the ruling saffron party in a dozen constituencies. In 2017, Vaghela’s Jan Vikalp Party (JVP), seen as BJP’s B-team, contested a hundred seats, won none, and damaged no one. While Keshubhai’s GPP merged with the BJP in 2012, it remains to be seen if Vaghela follows suit — he had parted company with the BJP in 1996 and with the Congress only five months ago!
In this month’s Assembly elections, the Gujarati voter gave the BJP a scare, and stopped short of crowning the Congress. In doing so a moribund Congress found revival, and the BJP got not just a haircut, but chop of its braids, reducing its tally to 99 of a total of 182 seats, the party’s lowest since 1995. Chastened, the BJP now appears afraid of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and is trying to mend fences with those it had junked. It is now recalling its ‘halcyon’ days led by the veteran leaders dead or sidelined now. Last week, Modi showered encomiums on many a party veteran, starting with Atal Behari Vajpayee, and wept at the BJP Parliamentary Board meeting. This is seen as a prelude to the party’s unfolding attempts to woo the sidelined veterans back into active mode.
So, in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony were a host of high-profile leaders of the party, the NDA leadership, Central ministers, 18 CMs including Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, saints, industrialists and others. But despite all this razzmatazz, the ceremony held to mark the return of the BJP to power in Gujarat, for a sixth consecutive term, was a rather tame affair. The simple majority the party won hardly called for popular jubilation, except by party workers.
No Congress or UPA leader was present at the extravaganza, nor were members of the BJP’s own members of the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ (veterans’ club) — Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha, etc. Advani was, of course, present but he represents Gandhinagar in the Lok Sabha. Arun Shourie, who was among the first to have seen prime ministerial material in Narendra Modi, much before the BJP anointed him in 2013, was also absent. Clearly, not all veterans could be brought on board.
Even before the BJP battles eight other Assembly elections in 2018, it has to escape the many booby traps being laid for its leadership not only by a resurgent Congress, but also by estranged brothers from within the Sangh Parivar.