Vijay Rupani, a confidante of Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah with deep roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, will be the Gujarat chief minister for the second term running, after the newly elected MLAs of the party chose him their leader.
Incumbent Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel will also continue to hold his post following his election as the deputy leader of the BJP legislature party.
Both of them were elected unopposed at a meeting of the BJP legislators here in the presence of central observers -- Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and party general secretary Saroj Pandey.
"A proposal to elect Rupani as the leader of the state BJP legislature party and Nitin Patel as the deputy leader of the legislature party has been adopted," Jaitley told a press conference.
Though the BJP retained power in the key western state for a record sixth straight term, there was speculation over whether Rupani would continue to hold the post given the party's narrow victory.
The BJP won 99 seats in the 182-member assembly, the first time its tally slipped below hundred since 1995, while challenger Congress clocked its best in many years, clinching 77.
Rupani's proximity to the top party leadership, his clean and caste neutral image apparently tilted the scales in his favour.
Jaitley said the central observers asked the MLAs for names for the posts of the leader and deputy leader of the legislature party, and one of them -- Bhupendra Sinh Chudasama -- suggested Rupani and Patel. Five other MLAs backed Chudasama's proposal.
The Union minister said he asked the MLAs to come up with more names for the two top posts, but as nobody came forward, Rupani and Patel were declared elected as the leader and deputy leader of the legislature party.
Asked why was there the suspense over who would be the next chief minister, Jaitley said, it was a 'media creation'.
He said Rupani will hold consultations with MLAs and senior leaders before forming the new government.
Rupani, he said, will meet Governor O P Kohli and finalise the date for the swearing-in.
The new government, according to party sources, is likely to be sworn in on December 25 to coincide with the birthday of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There is, however, no official confirmation yet.
Rupani was made the chief minister in August last year after his predecessor Anandiben Patel resigned in the wake of the growing Dalit unrest in the state after the Una flogging incident a month before, and the Patidar quota agitation, which had begun on a violent note in 2015.
Rupani, who successfully staved off a spirited challenge from the Congress, overcoming the incumbency factor, farm distress, angst and anger over demonetisation and GST in the state with a large population of traders, will have to show his political sinews and sagacity when Narendra Modi bids for a second shot at power in 2019.
Delivering Gujarat to the BJP is the least Prime Minister Modi will expect from him.
After his election, Rupani said although over 49 per cent vote share in the Assembly polls was a 'huge achievement' for the BJP in Gujarat, the party would analyse its defeat in districts like Amreli, Gir-Somnath and Morbi, where it lost a majority of seats.
"We will do an analysis of our defeat in districts where we won fewer seats. We will also interact with the local people (to understand the reasons for it)," he said, adding the government will work for all sections without discrimination.
Nitin Patel said the government will take forward its development agenda.
Before the BJP legislature party met in the state capital on Friday, independent MLA Ratansinh Rathod declared his support to the ruling party. With this the BJP now has the support of 100 MLAs in the 182-member Assembly.
The opposition Congress has 77 MLAs and the backing of three others.
IMAGE: Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani offer sweets to Deputy CM Nitin Patel after being elected as BJP Legislature Party leader at the party office in Gandhinagar on Friday. Photograph: Santosh Hirlekar/PTI Photo