Nitin Patel gets Finance Ministry, rebellion should be warning for BJP

The Deputy Chief Minister of Gujarat, Nitin Patel rebelled against the party and indicated to quit the BJP three days after the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani took the oath, when the portfolios were distributed to the cabinet. Nitin Patel who was also in the race to become the Chief Minister of Gujarat was once again disappointed when Rupani was announced to continue as the CM of Gujarat. His disappointment further reached heights when on 29 Dec during the meeting of the Cabinet Minister organised at the residence of Vijay Rupani, he was not assigned the desired portfolios.

On 29 Dec during the meeting, the row of anger burst out when Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel expressed his displeasure at the portfolios assigned to him. He was hoping to get home and urban development but neither was given to him. In fact, the other two important portfolios revenue and finance were also taken away from him. This significantly portrayed him as the biggest loser in terms of the distribution of the portfolios and also the discontentment between Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel could be sensed.

The Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, Smriti Irani and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel were seen as the prominent contesters for the Chief Ministerial face of BJP, after the results of the Gujarat assembly elections were announced on 18 Dec. Although, BJP won the polls, but the tally of the party declined and for the first time in 22 years it could nail only 99 seats. This was seen as a marginal win for the party, and, after its performance is was being assumed that Vijay Ruapni will no longer be the Chief Minister.

But as it has always been, the BJP party President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, once again gave a surprise by announcing Vijay Rupani as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. This was the second time that Nitin was declined the position after been seen as a major contestant. Earlier, when Anandiben Patel stepped down from the post, it was Nitin Patel as the first choice to assume the position, however, Vijay Rupani was chosen than too over Patel.

It is being speculated that since Rupani is a close aide of Amit Shah and Patel do not share very good relations with the BJP Party president, he missed the chance twice of becoming the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Earlier, Nitin Patel had the portfolio of Finance, Health, Medical Education, Family Welfare and Transport. He was elevated as the Deputy Chief Minister in 2016 when Vijay Rupani became the Chief Minister.

On 29 Dec when the portfolios were being distributed, with Finance, that he already had, he was hoping to get home and urban development also. But when he was not given any of them, he expressed his displeasure and even indicated that he will resign from the party, if he was not given the desired portfolios. While his other colleagues took charge on 29 December, he refused to assume office and threatened to resign.

In his statement to the media on 30 Dec, Patel had said that it was not about the post, but it was a question of his prestige. “This is about my prestige and not a post. I will be talking to the high command, and I am assured that the party will solve the problem,” he said. He further added that “I had conveyed to the party high-command to either give me respectable departments or relieve me from the cabinet.”

Trying to take advantage if this rebellion within the BJP, soon after it formed the government in Gujarat, the Congress tried to take advantage of this. The Patidar agitation spearhead Hardik Patel, who had backed the Congress during the elections, invited Nitin Patel to quit BJP and join Congress. According to the sources as many as, 19 BJP MLAs were ready to leave and BJP and join Congress, if Nitin did so. If this would have happened the newly formed government in Gujarat would have lost its majority in the assembly and Congress who gave a tough fight to BJP would have taken up as the new ruling government in Gujarat.

Senior Congress MLA Virji Thummar was quoted as saying that Nitin Patel would be made the chief minister with the Congress’ support if he quit the saffron party. But soon the Congress had clarified that this comment was a personal view of Thummar and the row over the distribution of the portfolios is an internal matter of the BJP.

However, on Saturday, senior Gujarat BJP leader Narottam Patel, rubbished the rumours of Nitin resigning. “No, he didn’t say any such thing (of resignation). I know he is upset and that’s why I am here. This is a mistake, and must be rectified: Narottam Patel, BJP on Nitin Patel upset over not being given departments of his choice.”

After much chaos and rumours of Deputy Chief Minister Niin Patel resigning from the party, the BJP high command duo, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, took the decision of handing over the Finance department back to Patel. Hours after Amit Shah and Nitin Patel had a telephonic conversation, on 31 Dec, the Deputy Chief Minister took charge of the finance ministry. “BJP president Amit Shah called up in the morning and assured me that I will be given a portfolio which befits my stature as the number two in the cabinet and as the deputy chief minister. Shah asked me to take charge of my departments, so I will take charge today,” Patel had said on Sunday.

This entire episode that began with announcing Vijay Rupani and distributing the portfolios and then Nitin Patel openly showing discontent with the given portfolio, should be taken as warning signals by the BJP high commands. Even though the BJP won the Gujarat elections, but the party must not forget that it had only seven seats more to the desired number to form the majority and in such critical situation, the rebellion of Nitin Patel could have cost the party dearly.

Another thing that was noticed during this entire scene was that the differences between the Gujarat Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister are quite clear now. And secondly, major decisions like assigning the portfolios are still taken by the high command and not the Chief Minister in Gujarat. It is not just Nitin Patel, who is or may be was unhappy with the distribution of the portfolios, but sitting senior cabinet minister Babubhai Bokhiria from Porbandar has been dropped in the new government and so has a minister of state, Rajendra Trivedi, from Vadodara. It is believed that both of these ministers do not share good relations with Rupani. Though they are silent and did not raise any opposition like Nitin Patel, but after the Nitin raising his voice, this silence may not be for long.

The BJP Central leadership should learn from this and keep a check on the reality within the party before it is too late, as it is said that ‘When the leadership stops listening to what is happening on the ground, it gets more and more alienated from the reality.’