The Gujarat verdict announced BJP as the winning party with 99 seats on 18 Dec and so began the race of the contenders for the post of Chief Minister of Gujarat. BJP has been ruling in Gujarat for past 22 years and will continue the reign at least for another five years. During its tenure as the ruling party in Gujarat, BJP has given many Chief Ministers and prominent among them was also, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi ruled the state for twelve years and stepped down the post in 2014 when he assumed office as the Prime Minister.
A former Chief Minister of Gujarat is now the Prime Minister and the Gujaratis have always boasted about it. It was also one of the reasons BJP nailed the victory in this election also despite a tough fight from the Congress. Now that the elections are over, the next and most important question that arises is who will be the next Chief Minister of Gujarat.
When BJP came into the battlefield, the incumbent Chief Minister Vijay Rupani was being speculated to continue as the CM, but after seeing the results, the party is looking for more options. In past 22 years, this is the first time that BJP hailed to cross 100 seats and this is the main reason that Rupani may not continue to rule. The possible contenders who might come in the race are Nitin Patel, Smriti Irani, Purushottam Rupala, Mansukhbhai Mandaviya, RC Faldu and Vajubhai Vala.
As per the experts, the major factors that will be kept in mind may be to appoint a Chief Minister who has strong leadership skills, can have a strong foothold on the Gujaratis, and someone who might not represent a particular community. When Narendra Modi left Gujarat to assume office as the Prime Minister, the graph of BJP slowly started falling down. After the exit of Modi, Anandiben Patel was made the Chief Minister.
But during her reign, the major outbreaks of the Patidars agitation and the atrocities on the Dalits were handled badly, therefore in wake of her age she was respectfully showed the exit door and the path was paved for Vijay Rupani. The incumbent Chief Minister belongs to a Jain community, which comprises 1 or two percent of the population in Gujarat and hence he is was the choice of the BJP. Rupani is also a close aide of party President Amit Shah and it is being speculated that failing to reach Shah’s claim of 150+ seats and now replacing Rupani, will not have much of a good impact on the BJP leader. A BJP leader said that “Vijay Rupani is his choice. Changing the combination would mean Shah losing confidence in his men in the party.”
Another major fact that is being kept in the mind to decide the next CM according to the experts is the loss of seats in Saurashtra, which is a Patidar dominated region. The Patidars and the Dalits have emerged as challenges to the BJP and if the party has to gain the confidence back of these communities, it will have to decide the CM carefully. The main reason for incumbent information and broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani being the contender is, though she is not from Gujarat, but she has leadership skills which are praised even by Narendra Modi. Another fact for considering Irani is that if she is made the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the BJP can play safe by not nominating any Patidar or other community leaders as the CM.
Smriti Irani along with Amit Shah had earlier this year faced the Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls and marked their victory to make debut as the Gujarat Rajya Sabha members.
The Patidars are hoping that a candidate from their community become the CM, and same id the case with the Dalits, OBCs, and other community. If Smiriti is made the CM, she will not represent any particular community and hence BJP can escape the way by not displeasing anyone. But if analysed from the other side, Nitin Patel who is from Saurashtra and also from the Patidar community is also seen as a strong contender.
Nitin Patel was earlier also in the race after Anandiben, he was going to be made the CM, but at the last moment plans changed and Vijay Rupani assumed the post. If BJP chose Nitin for the position, there are chances that the seats it has lost in Saurashtra region, may reinstall their faith in BJP. Also, since Patel belongs to the Patidar community, there are possibilities that the leader manages to get back the support of the community in favour of the BJP.
Another fact that the BJP is keeping in mind before deciding the CM face is that the Lok Sabha elections are nearing and they will have to choose a candidate who will help BJP and Modi achieve the 2019 dream and according to the sources, Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes that Smriti Irani can be the one. However, when approached, Smriti said that “I am definitely not a contender. If there is a ‘gali’ ka election, you will hear my name. I am one of those fortunate ones who just make a name without making an attempt, whatsoever. I think that is just wishful thinking on someone’s behalf. I think the party president has spoken on it, the parliamentary board decides it. I am definitely not in contention.”
Significantly, Smriti has been for some time now tweeting in Gujarati, this cannot be some coincidence and experts are of the opinion that she might have got some signal from the central leadership, to have made these changes. Smiriti is also being considered as the favourite choice according to the sources because firstly, now that the number of seats for the Congress has increased in the assembly. Secondly, Congress has put forward 15 new faces among which Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Meavani are the firebrands. In order to control the situations inside and outside the assembly, Irani seems to have the potential.
According to the views of the experts, Narendra Modi will want to appoint a leader as the Chief Minister who can keep a control both on the government as well as the party.
Another name that features in the list is Purshottam Rupala, a Patidar leader from Saurashtra. O of the 16 seats that BJP could not win back, 13 were in Saurashtra and if BJP focuses on regaining faith in this region, Rupala might be the right candidate.
Besides Irani, Union Minister of State for Road Transport & Highways and Shipping Mansukh L Mandaviya is the second favourite candidate for the CM’s chair. He is also a Patidar who hails from Saurashtra and is considered to be close to the farmers.
According to the sources, Vajubhai Vala, the incumbent governor of Karnataka and former Speaker of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, is also among the frontrunners. Vajubhai has held several offices of finance, labour and employment in the Gujarat Cabinet. However, BJP’s top brass is tight lipped over the issue.
During the Campaigning, Amit Shah had announced that Vijay Rupani would continue to be the Chief Minister after BJP wins the polls. Even after the results were announced on Monday, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley indicated that there will be no change in the CM face in Gujarat. In his statement to the media, Jaitley had said that “I think a person who gets you 49% votes is a popular CM of a popular government and a leader.”
Even though the choices of Shah and Jaitley are more or less clear, BJP’s central leadership do not want to take a hasty decision regarding the Chief Minister of Gujarat. As soon as the results were announced on Monday the Central Parliamentary Board of the BJP decided to send two teams to Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, respectively to decide on the probable names for the post of the Chief Minister. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and party general secretary Saroj Pandey were chosen for the Gujarat team, while, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar for Himachal.
The final decision for who will be the next Chief Minister of Gujarat is most likely to be taken by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Party President Amit Shah. According to the sources, the two leaders along with the BJP think tanks and the BJP parliamentary board will be holding a meeting on Wednesday evening. It is being said that the Chief Minister for Gujarat will be finalised by Sunday and the most probably take oath on 25 December, Monday.
If seen the past records, Amit Shah has always given surprises, regarding the appointment of Chief Ministers. In Gujarat, when Anandiben was showed the exit door, it was almost final that Nitin Patel, who is also a close aise of Anandiben would be the next CM. Amit Shah did not share very good terms with either of them and making last minute changes, his close aide Vijay Rupani was made the CM. If seen during the Uttar Pradesh elections, the appointment of Yogi Adityanath, also came as a major surprise to many. Ahead of that the appointment of Manoharlal Khattar as the Chief Minister of Haryana was also a bit of unexpected move by Shah.
If taken into account the history of appointment of Chief Minister by BJP Party President Amit Shah, nothing can be clearly said as to who will be the next Chief Minister of Gujarat.