Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Saturday resigned from the post, his sudden announcement coming over a year before the state goes to polls.
It is not clear what prompted the development in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state where elections to the 182-member assembly are due in December 2022.
Rupani, 65, the fourth chief minister to demit office in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states during the coronavirus pandemic, was sworn in as chief minister -- his second stint as CM -- in December 2017.
BJP's general secretary (organisation) B L Santosh and Gujarat state unit in-charge Bhupender Yadav met party functionaries soon after Rupani announced his resignation.
Party sources said the issue of Rupani's successor will be discussed in the legislature party meeting likely to be held on Sunday.
"I have resigned as chief minister of Gujarat,” Rupani told reporters after meeting Governor Acharya Devvrat and submitting his resignation letter.
"I was allowed to serve the state for five years. I have contributed to the development of the state. I will further do whatever is asked by my party,” Rupani said.
“In BJP, there has been a tradition that responsibilities of party workers change from time to time. I will be ready to take whatever responsibility that the party will give me in the future,” Rupani said.
“I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving a common worker like me this opportunity to serve the people of the state as chief minister,” Rupani said.
Rupani and state cabinet colleagues met the governor and submitted their resignations.
Asked about reasons for his resignation, Rupani said, “In BJP, it is like a relay race for party workers. One gives the baton to the other.”
On who will be the next chief minister, Rupani said that the party will decide about it.
He denied that he had any differences with state BJP president C R Paatil.
Rupani comes from the Jain community which has around two per cent population in the state. There is speculation that his successor may be from the patidar community.
He first became the chief minister on August 7, 2016, following the resignation of incumbent Anandiben Patel, and continued in the office after the BJP's victory in the 2017 assembly elections.
Rupani, who completed five years in office on August 7 this year, was present at the inauguration on Saturday of Sardardham Bhavan where Modi was present virtually.
The names of Gujarat Deputy CM Nitin Patel, state agriculture minister R C Faldu and Union ministers Purshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya are doing the rounds amid speculation over who will succeed Rupani as
CM, but it is impossible to say who will be the chief minister as the decision will be taken by Modi, a party leader said.
Union health minister Mandaviya, who like Patel belongs to the influential Patidar community, is considered a front-runner for the CM's post.
Rupani is the fourth BJP CM leaving office since the pandemic began.
The saffron party had also replaced Lingayat stalwart B S Yediyurappa as Karnataka CM with another Lingayat leader Basavaraj S Bommai.
In Uttarakhand, it replaced two Thakur chief ministers with another Thakur leader, and speculation was rife that Rupani, who comes from a numerically insignificant Jain community, may make way for a Patidar, the largest community in the western state.
Assam also saw the BJP replacing its chief minister of five years Sarbananda Sonowal with Himanta Biswa Sarma following the assembly elections earlier this year. However, this was considered more a case of the party rewarding Sarma than it taking any dim view of his predecessor, who was later made a Cabinet minister in the Modi government.
Meanwhile, reacting to Rupani's resignation, Gujarat president of Aam Aadmi Party Gopal Italia said it is BJP's “tradition” to change chief ministers and claimed it was the “moral pressure created by AAP” in the state which resulted in Rupani's resignation.
“It is the tradition of the BJP to change chief ministers. After the earthquake in 2001, then chief minister Keshubhai Patel was changed. Then Anandiben Patel was replaced during Patidar quota agitation which started in 2015. Now Vijay Rupani. The reason behind changing the faces in Gujarat by the BJP leaders is that they are power-hungry, and they don't want to lose their power in the state,” he said.
Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani took a dim view of Rupani's tenure, blaming him for the alleged Covid mess in the state.
"People of Gujarat would have appreciated had he resigned for his monumental mismanagement of the Covid crisis," Mevani said.