Gandhinagar : The old comrade-in-arms have turned new adversaries with Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel at loggerheads over distribution of the ”plums” of office in Gujarat. With the crisis escalating, the BJP High Command has gone into damage control and a senior leader is being rushed to Gujarat to soothen ruffled feathers, more-so after Congress began fanning the flames terming it an example of injustice to the Patidar community.
While the chief minister kept on playing the all-is-well tune, it was his sulking deputy who let it be known that his self-respect has not been honoured and abstained from attending office after the first Cabinet meeting on Thursday night where the allocation of portfolios was announced.
The deputy chief minister has cause to be upset since the allocation of new portfolios saw his charges drastically reduced. He was left with Roads and Buildings, health and Kalpasar project with the key finance, energy and petrochemicals going to Saurabh Patel who returns to Cabinet after being dropped from Rupani’s previous ministry. He also lost the important charge of Urban Development. Nitin Patel was at pains to say that it was not merely about departments but more about his self-respect.
The issue of reduction of the portfolios of the deputy chief minister found echoes both within the party and outside as it transformed into a case of yet another injustice to the Patidars by the BJP. No sooner did Hardik Patel, convenor of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) classify it as such and urge Nitin Patel to switch sides to the Congress along with 10 legislators, that Patidar leaders with the BJP also jumped into the tug of war, demanding that Rupani be replaced by Nitin Patel as chief minister.
Besides Hardik, senior Congress leader Virji Thummar, who was elected to the state Assembly from Amreli, offered Congress support from outside if Nitin was prepared to break away from the BJP with his supporters and form a ministry in the state. Hardik, though is not member of the Congress, gave a similar offer. “If Nitinbhai is ready to quit BJP, I will talk to the Congress leaders to ensure that he get a better post than the deputy chief ministership given by the BJP,” Hardik said in Botad, near Bhavnagar, where he was participating in a “Chintan Shibir” of the PAAS to prepare the future course of action.
Rupani avoided comment on the Nitin affair, but his deputy told his supporters that he would not quit BJP. “I have informed the party high command about my feelings and even spoken to Amitbhai (Shah). I expect a positive response.
A large number of BJP workers belonging to the Patidar community staged demonstrations in Ahmedabad, Rajkot and several other parts of the state demanding that Nitin be made the chief minister. Lalji Patel, the convenor of the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), which backed the PAAS in the quota stir, called on the sulking deputy chief minister and later told media-persons that the SPG would agitate for making Nitin the chief minister. The SPG also gave a call for “Mehsana Bandh,” the Assembly constituency of Nitin Patel, on January 1 in support of the demand for elevation of the Patidar leader as the chief minister.
Meanwhile, another BJP legislator, Yogesh Patel elected from Vadodara has questioned his being kept out of the cabinet despite being one of the senior and loyal party leader
Several other Patel leaders including the former minister Narottam Patel, the BJP state treasurer Surendra Patel, and others also called on Nitin to try to pacify his anger. Narottam Patel told media-persons that the party had done “injustice” to Nitin and had not been rewarded for his contributions for the party’s victory in the Assembly elections.
Several of the former PAAS leaders who joined the BJP before the elections also expressed displeasure over the alleged ill-treatment of Nitin in the party. Ketan Patel, one of the former PAAS convenor, Mafatlal Patel, husband of the former chief minister Anandiben Patel, and some others said Nitin was the “chief minister material” but the BJP had refused him his dues twice. “It was the style of the BJP to use a person to win the elections and then throw him away,” Mafatlal Patel said. Anandiben, however, demurred with her husband taking the stand that Nitin Patel should “abide by the decisions of the party high command.”