Vijay Rupani will on Sunday be sworn in as the chief minister of Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is grappling with unrest due to the Patel quota stir and attacks on Dalits ahead of the high-stake assembly elections scheduled next year.
Rupani on Sunday met Governor O P Kohli and staked claim to form the government, a day after he was elected by BJP legislators to succeed Anandiben Patel, with the central leadership playing a vital role in the choice.
After the meeting with the governor, BJP state in-charge Dinesh Sharma said Rupani will take oath tomorrow at 12.40 pm.
While Rupani was accompanied by Deputy CM designate Nitin Patel and other state leaders, outgoing Chief Minister Anandiben Patel was conspicuous by her absence.
“We have told the governor that the BJP Legislature party has endorsed the names of Vijay Rupani as new chief minister and Nitin Patel as deputy chief minister,” Sharma said after the meeting.
“The governor has given his go ahead for the oath taking ceremony which will be held tomorrow at 12.40 pm,” he said.
He, however, evaded a direct reply to a question on Anandiben’s absence, saying, “She was present when she resigned. Today those who have been chosen are present.”
In a dramatic turnaround the BJP central leadership on Friday decided on Rupani, an Amit Shah loyalist and state party chief, to replace Anandiben as the chief minister, instead of Nitin Patel who was the front-runner till the last moment.
Anandiben had insisted on Nitin Patel as her successor, while Shah stood firm by Rupani.
As a compromise formula, Patel was elevated to be deputy chief minister after intervention of the central leadership, including Modi.
Selection of Rupani, who belongs to Jain Baniya community, is being seen as a deft move by the party to avoid the impression of favouring any major segment of the society over others.
While the Patel community has been on a warpath with their demand for OBC quota, the state has witnessed Dalit unrest over the widely condemned Una flogging incident which seems to have dented the image of the government.
Rupani, who came up through the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is being assigned the task of leading BJP in the polls at a time when BJP is struggling to retain its political base. The party has also been affected by the absence of leaders of Modi’s calibre in the state.
Anandiben, who turns 75 this November, had handed over her resignation to the governor on Wednesday.
Under her leadership, BJP had suffered losses in the civic polls last year, with the opposition Congress making handsome gains at the expense of its saffron rival.
In the last two years, BJP has been at loggerheads with its loyal vote bank of Patidars who have been demanding OBC quota and launched violent protests for the same.
A devoted RSS member since his school days, Rupani, hailing from politically significant Saurashtra region, is known for hard work but keeps a low profile.
Rupani, who represents Rajkot West seat, joined Jan Sangh in 1971 and has been associated with BJP since its formation.
His elevation to the top post is also being seen as a recognition to the Jain community, which was recently accorded minority status by the state government.
Born in Rangoon (now Yangon, in Myanmar) to Ramniklal Rupani in 1956, he grew up in Rajkot where he joined RSS as a school boy. He pursued BA and then LLB.
As the chairman of the state tourism corporation, he headed ‘Khushbu Gujarat Ki’ campaign to popularise the state as a tourist destination.
Between 2006-12, he was a member of Rajya Sabha. During this period he was a part of various Parliamentary committees on water resources, food, public distribution and public undertaking.
In October 2014, he won the Assembly bye-election from Rajkot West after the sitting MLA Vajubhai Vala resigned upon appointment as Karnataka governor.
On February 19, Rupani became the state BJP president, replacing R C Faldu, which was seen as a victory for the Amit Shah faction in state BJP.