Even after returning to power for a sixth time in Gujarat, although with a reduced chest-size, the incumbent BJP is yet to figure out how to make itself 2019-ready for the next Lok Sabha elections. In the current muddied waters left by the Assembly elections, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is trying to assert himself at the cost of his sulking Deputy, Nitin Patel, at a time when the party’s bête noire Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani are sharpening knives even before the first session of the newly-elected 14th Vidhan Sabha begins early next year.
With only 99 Assembly seats, of whom 20 are now ministers, including the CM, the BJP leadership seems rather confused. After boasting for a week about its all but pyrrhic victory, and even two days after taking oath, neither the freshly-minted nor the experienced ministers could be allocated portfolios. Many of them were seen trooping into the Secretariat Complex time and again, some trying to locate their new offices, at a time when the CM, Deputy CM and State BJP President Jitu Vaghani struggled on Thursday at the CM’s residence with the allocation of portfolios.
Anti-incumbency had hit hard five experienced BJP ministers and Vidhan Sabha Speaker Ramanlal Vora who all lost elections. The ruling party, therefore, faced a real ‘talent crunch’ and had to wait for directions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. In this subterranean chaos, the first to get rewarded was the one seen as the “power-behind-the-throne” K. Kailashnathan (KK), Chief Principal Secretary to the CM. Modi’s Man Friday, “KK” had retired from the IAS in 2013, but has been getting extensions repeatedly, this time for two years! He is seen as the eyes and the ears of the PM in Gujarat.
The first Cabinet meeting was deferred time and again on Wednesday and Thursday due to deadlocks and delays. It finally took place on Thursday night. All through, a curious media was seen running between the CM’s residence and the Secretariat.
Finally, the list of allocated portfolios revealed the facts. That Rupani, who had in his first term been seen as docile greenhorn, has successfully asserted his position, keeping a dozen portfolios. That Deputy CM Nitin Patel has been cut to size the way the Gujarat voters cut the BJP to size in the recent elections. Patel, a close confidante of former CM Anandiben Patel, both Kadwa Patels, had almost been running the show due to Rupani’s relative ‘inexperience’.
In this intra-party turmoil, Nitin lost out the Finance portfolio, perceived as the most important, to Saurabh Patel, a Leuva Patel, who also got the prestigious Energy department. Saurabh, a relative of the powerful Ambani brothers, has staged a comeback in the BJP Government, and with a bang. In the previous government, he had been left out in the cold. Amid murmurs of dissatisfaction from Vadodara and Surat MLAs, among others, about under-representation or “wrong” choices, the BJP leadership appeared directionless. Even senior ministers like Bhupendasinh Chudasma, who scraped through with a paltry 327 votes, were seen angry at the “short-shrift” they got in portfolio allocation, while returnees like Kaushik Patel were blessed with the Revenue portfolio.
While Rupani, who also stripped Nitin’s Urban Development portfolio, left Patel with only six portfolios/ departments. A tense, fuming at times, Nitin was seen skipping a press briefing after the Cabinet meeting. Earlier, he used to brief the media routinely with glee.
Even as the newly-appointed ministers fought for portfolios, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PASS) leader Hardik Patel announced plans for a Chintan Baithak (Brainstorming Meeting) on December 30, aimed at taking his agitation to the next level. He has already announced a coalition of the Patidars, farmers, Dalits and others and to launch a series of agitations to support their different demands in different regions.
On the other hand, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, now a Congress-supported Independent MLA, has been taking up popular demands ever since he was elected on December 18. As an “angry young man”, he has evolved the tactic of leading mobs to storm into the offices of senior officials and prompt posting on social media. On Thursday, he stormed into an office in Ahmedabad demanding total prohibition — a demand raised originally by OBC leader Alpesh Thakore before the latter became a Congress MLA recently!
Twice in a week, a maverick Mevani has “advised” Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “retire from politics, renounce the world and go to the Himalayas” in view of his “advanced” age and leave the country to the younger generation to handle.
Clearly, the ruling BJP has its plate full of woes and will have to settle its ‘domestic’ affairs sooner than later, and start delivering on its promises as 2019 is only 12 months away.