If the first woman chief minister of Gujarat finds herself left out in the cold, two years and two months after she replaced Narendra Modi, Vijay Rupani who takes over from her has higher mountains to scale.
Anandiben Patel was as much a victim of internal machinations as of caste conflict manifestations. Rupani is a camp follower of BJP president Amit Shah and owes his present position in large measure to him. This is both an asset and a handicap.
Rupani’s senior Nitin Patel who was strongly tipped to replace Anandiben and was relegated to second place due to last minute manoeuvres is bitter as is the outgoing chief minister who backed him. This has ominous portends for the party’s future in Gujarat, with Vidhan Sabha elections due in the State next year.
Shah and Anandiben, both have been close confidantes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but bitter rivals in Gujarat politics. Anandiben is out and Rupani’s appointment is seen as Shah’s dominant control over the levers of power in his home State. She leaves behind a troubled legacy. The party is bitterly divided; governance has suffered and its popularity is on the slide.
The new chief minister faces a host of challenges with elections in the state due next year. The issue of reservation in government jobs and educational institutions demanded by the patidar community remains a live one.
The chief minister designate had the first taste of things to follow when his posters along with those of Amit Shah were burnt in Surat and Amreli to protest the injustice to Nitin Patel soon after the announcement. They are adamant that their stir will continue, more so after the High Court struck down the ten per cent reservation to the Economically Backward Classes(EBC) granted by the outgoing government.
The protests over lynching of four dalits in Una, that turned the national spotlight on Gujarat with serious repercussions in Uttar Pradesh, is an issue which still simmers even after consuming the Anandiben Patel government.
The Other Backward Classes (OBC) are also flexing their muscles, though for the moment their leaders are targeting the police over lax implementation of prohibition. As elections near so will the protests grow. All these are issues which will test the skills of the most astute administrators. It remains to be seen how Rupani who is a comparative greenhorn having largely worked on the organizational side ,tackles these complex issues, though being the choice of the RSS, Modi and Shah gives him some advantage.
The two years after Modi left for Delhi have also seen a revival in the fortunes of the Congress in the state. From control of 30 of the 31 district panchayats in the state during Modi rule, the BJP conceded 23 of them to the Congress in the last December local self government elections. This signifies large scale erosion of the ruling party in rural areas.
Though a divided house, the opposition Congress is upbeat at this rise in its fortunes more so after scalping a chief minister considered a close confidante of the prime minister. Another area of concern for the new chief minister is the attention the Aam Admi Party (AAP) is lavishing in the state.
Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi chief minister has made known his support to the patidar protest in no uncertain terms. He has, on numerous occasions openly criticized the arrest and detention of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel on sedition charges. He also visited Una lynching dalit victims and has announced a rally in the state.
The simmering ambers of these problems along with incipient anti-incumbency against a party which has been in power for four terms possess the potential of singing the BJP in the 2017 assembly elections. With patidars constituting about 14 per cent of the electorate and the dalits about seven per cent in Gujarat, it will not be easy for the new chief minister-to contain the fallout.
After all Anandiben failed and the BJP’s continued targeting of Hardik even in Udaipur, Rajasthan is only hardening the patidars stance against it. As of now it is evidently clear that Gujarat will go into elections next year under Rupani, and that the control of the state remains in BJP hands is critical for Prime Minister Modi. Any debacle here could seriously affect BJP chances in the general elections in 2019. A make or mar battle lies ahead for Rupani.