The suspense over the next Gujarat chief minister is likely to end on Friday evening after a meeting of the party legislators in Ahmedabad.
But the real challenge before party chief Amit Shah is to find a leader who can step into the shoes of Narendra Modi, who ruled the state for 13 years before becoming prime minister.
The new CM will have their task cut out – provide good governance, placate irate Patel and Dalit communities, battle two decades of anti-incumbency and repair ties between the government and party machinery.
And all this will have to be done in less than a year, before polls in early 2017.
Modi took over in October 2001 to calm waters in the party that was riven with infighting at the time. Within months of taking charge, he dissolved the assembly following the 2002 riots – where more than 1,000 Muslims died – and called for elections. The future PM romped home in the poll and never looked back.
He proved himself an able administrator under whose watch Gujarat prospered. Despite hailing from a small community, Modi expanded his influence among every caste and kept law and order under control.
He not only exercised total control over the government but also on the party unit, weeding out any chances of conflict. His detractors were marginalised as Modi fastened his grip, establishing “Brand Gujarat”, which became a talking point in the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign.
The comparison with Anandiben couldn’t be starker. In less than a year after taking over from her mentor, Anandiben ran into trouble with the influential Patel community, who launched violent protests demanding quota in jobs and colleges.
Patel, who turns 75 in November, was hardly the leader of the future. Egos clashed as Shah expanded his influence on the party. Ties between the two leaders, who were ministerial colleagues under CM Modi, are at best frosty.
Her exit mirrors that of Modi’s predecessor Keshubhai Patel, who was forced to quit after defeat in three byelections and allegations of tardy handling of earthquake rehabilitation.
The crisis in the state unit and BJP’s plummeting fortunes in the countryside has party leaders wishing for a second Modi. Many think this is time for Shah to step up to the mantle.
Slogans of “BJP ni majboori, Amit Shah Jaruri (Shah is the only option for the BJP)” are doing the rounds in party circles, pointing at the need for a strong leadership.
“A major drawback of the Modi rule was that it did not see the growth of second-rung leaders. And, today it does not have a single option when it comes to finding a strong leader who can steer the party home in the 2017 elections,” said political observer Achyut Yagnik.
The party needs a strong leader if it has to regain the ground lost by last year’s drubbing in panchayat polls, simmering Patel anger, nationwide outrage over the flogging of four Dalit men in Una and anti-incumbency sentiment after two decades of BJP rule.
The BJP needs a face that can pacify both the dominant Patidars and marginalized Dalits at a time when the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress are leaving no stone unturned to uproot the BJP.
“Losing Gujarat in 2017 will be end of the road for the party’s bid to retain power at the Centre in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” said Yagnik.
On Wednesday, Union minister Venkaiah Naidu ruled out Shah’s return to Gujarat as CM, citing his requirement at the national level but many in the party are still hopeful of the BJP chief succeeding Anandiben.
The other options such as health minister Nitin Patel and state unit president Vijay Rupani do not have either wider acceptance within the party or the required administrative experience.