An RSS member close to BJP president Amit Shah has emerged as the new power centre in Gujarat, fuelling speculations of a change in guard in the state ahead of assembly polls next year.
The rise of 60-year-old Vijay Rupani, the state party president, has coincided with a series of setbacks for chief minister Anandiben Patel in the past two years which saw the BJP losing ground in local body elections and the state rocked by violent quota agitation by the Patidar community. There are also allegations of Patel favouring business partners of her daughter.
Shah’s decision to push Rupani forward at a press briefing in April to announce 10% reservation for the economically backward class (EBC) even though Patel was present was seen as the launchpad for the water minister who took over party affairs in January. A fortnight later, it was again Rupani who announced his government’s decision to accord minority status to Jains.
On both occasions, Patel remained away from the limelight and quietly announced the decisions of her government on social media.
“Rupani is close to both Narendra Modi and Shah. In the current lot, he is the only leader with wider acceptance among party cadre. As questions have been raised over Patel’s leadership…this close aide of Shah has emerged as new power centre,” said political analyst Jwalat Chayya.
Last week, Rupani walked away with the credit for wresting the Talala assembly seat from Congress in a by-election.
He led the campaign from the front, addressing three public meetings as Patel remained away from canvassing. Party sources said that in a constituency having a sizeable Patidar votes, Patel was not given even a single rally to address.
On May 15, Patel was conspicuous by her absence at a cricket tournament organised by party workers in Ahmedabad, even as Shah and Rupani were cheered by thousands of cadre.
The minister, however, brushed aside as speculations the reports of change of guard.
But for a party that generally follows one-man-one-post theory, Rupani seems to be an exception given a rare privilege.
As the state is battling a drought-like situation, Rupani continues to hold the important portfolio of water supply along with transport and labour welfare ministries despite his appointment as Gujarat BJP president in January.
“Both the party and the government need my time equally, and both are my priorities,” Rupani told HT.
A businessman from Rajkot, Rupani has built cordial relations with social and business leaders alike.
“His presence in the cabinet is crucial, be it for raising funds or keeping things under control when BJP is on the backfoot for the first time since 1995 before assembly elections,” said a party leader.