Loved equally by the Sangh (RSS) and the sangathan (party), transport and water supply minister Vijay Rupani is the front-runner for the Gujarat chief minister’s spot, as Anandiben Patel on Monday offered to step down.
For this MLA from Rajkot, the heartland of Patidar-dominated Saurashtra region, even his caste — Jain — may work in his favour. “Facing the heat of the Patidar agitation and Dalit outrage, the BJP also wants a face that can pacify all communities,” said a senior BJP leader.
Meanwhile, Gujarat’s health minister Nitin Patel is likely to be chosen as the next deputy chief minister.
Rupani, an aide of BJP president Amit Shah, has been seen within the party as someone who enjoys the trust of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was evident when in a press conference, Shah put Rupani ahead to make an announcement for 10% quota for the economically backward among upper castes while Anandiben Patel remained a mute spectator.
It’s no surprise that the 60-year-old has been allowed to retain his cabinet portfolio despite his appointment as state chief in February. From RSS volunteer to Rajkot mayor and the party’s general secretary, the soft-but-outspoken Rupani has emerged as a leader who can keep the cadre intact.
Similar to the selection of ML Khattar in Haryana, RSS leader Bhiku Dalsania, a Leuva Patel, can prove to be a dark horse. Dalsania, Rupani’s senior and an organisational secretary, has been a vital figure for the party for decades. But unlike Rupani, who can claim clout over the Saurashtra region, Dalsania is not a people’s leader.
Unconfirmed reports of minister of state for agriculture and farmer’s welfare Parshottam Rupala’s meeting with PM triggered speculation of him being in the race. A Kadva by caste, Rupala’s prospects were seen to be increasing when the party sent him to Una to visit the families of the Dalits who were flogged on suspicion of cow slaughter. But Rupala’s elevation to the Rajya Sabha was seen within the party as a move to distance him from the CM race.