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Vijay Rupani is a lucky man to have completed his five-year term as Gujarat chief minister considering that his record is a fraught one.
Maybe his exit as chief minister of Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s model state, is a message the high command is sending to some other powerful chief ministers of party-ruled states — that in the BJP the party matters more than the individual.
Of course, the party was “compassionate” enough to let Rupani complete his weeklong celebration of five years in power about four weeks back, where he showcased the vikas done under his leadership.
The five reasons that cost Vijay Rupani the chief minister’s chair appear to be:
- the Patel agitation;
- COVID-19 mismanagement;
- failure in public perception management;
- friction with Gujarat BJP chief C.R. Paatil; and
- the party high command wanting to establish that if the chief minister of the party’s “model” state of Gujarat can be replaced, any other chief minister could also face the same fate.
The Patidar angst has not subsided in Gujarat ever since the Patidars started their agitation demanding reservation in government jobs in 2014, soon after Narendra Modi became the prime minister. Over this issue, Gujarat saw violence in August 2014 after 12 years.
More than 14 people lost their lives in the Patidar agitation and over 230 people including 203 police personnel sustained injuries.
The bloody agitation spread like wildfire and ultimately resulted in the chief minister Anandiben Patel losing her job in 2016. It was then speculated that Nitin Patel, her senior-most cabinet minister, would be made the chief minister but Anandiben could not have her way. Amit Shah appointed his man Vijay Rupani, a completely unexpected choice, as the chief minister.
This hurt Patel sentiments – Vijay Rupani is a Jain, not a Patel – and whispers began that it was a mistake to have got Anandiben replaced. This sentiment intensified after Rupani did not do anything substantial for the Patel community in Gujarat. Nitin Patel, as his deputy chief minister, never questioned his party as to why he was dropped in the last minute in 2016 after he had already distributed sweets and was in celebration mode.
On August 10, 2021, the Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2021 paving the way for states and Union Territories to prepare their own Other Backward Classes (OBC) list. Prime Minister Modi was widely credited for this historic legislation to uplift the OBC communities across the nation.
As an aside, the allegation doing the rounds that Modi himself included his caste in the OBC list, is untrue. Modi’s community – Modi Ghanchi (oil pressers), earlier classified as Vaishya or Bania – was included in the OBC category by the Congress government in 1994.
Now the Patidars in Gujarat are demanding exactly this – that they may be included in OBC category. Chaudhry Patels, also known as Aanjanias, were included in OBC category in the early 1990s, which saw them getting more representation in government services. This angered those left out, who mostly belong to Saurashtra, central and south Gujarat.
Patels have several sub-sects among whom Leuva and Kadva are the most prominent. The Patidars, who were classified as Patels for the first time by the British in 1931, believe that the Leuvas and Kadvas are descendants of Luv and Kush – Ram’s sons – respectively. The Patels of Gujarat hence blindly supported the Ram Mandir agitation and were singularly responsible for electing the first BJP majority government in Gujarat in 1995. This was the reason Keshubhai Patel was made the chief minister instead of Shankarsinh Vaghela.
With Modi’s new OBC Bill, the Patidars of Gujarat were confident that they would soon find a place in the OBC category but whispers began when the Rupani government expressed no such intentions. The Patidars are a wealthy community. Their seeking reservation has been scoffed at because their agitations often see expensive cars. But Patidars believe that while they have money, they do not have powers, which only reservation can give them.
This is a major reason why Rupani had to go.
What could also affect BJP’s chances in the December 2022 Gujarat assembly elections is the fact that AAP has started building a strong base in Gujarat and is attracting mainly Patels to their fold.
“If Nitin Patel or any other Patel is made chief minister of Gujarat, it means the BJP has lost its battle against the Patidars. And a war has begun,” Patel leader and now Congress vice-president Hardik Patel told the author.
Despite the data fudging, threats to media in various forms, and of late, a new PR drive to cover up flaws, the idea that Rupani has completely failed to take timely action to tackle the pandemic is an all-pervading one. The BJP is understood to have lost a large number of of its loyal supporters during this period.
There were several foolish decisions taken. First of all, Rupani in 2020 went ahead and promoted his Rajkot-based friend’s mechanised ambu-bags as the latest invention in ventilators. Dhaman, as they were called, were launched with much fanfare until they were exposed. From letting Donald Trump hold an ‘election’ rally – with chants of ‘ab ki baar Trump sarkar‘ – in the then Motera stadium to allowing an England-India cricket match in the same venue (christened Narendra Modi Stadium) Rupani consistently made decisions that paid little attention to the massive COVID-19 spread in the state. All decisions were taken on the instructions of the BJP high command, it is understood.
Soon after Trump’s visit and after the hasty lockdown announcement, Rupani remained in complete denial about the migrant issue, resulting in a messy, chaotic situation.
His worst decision, for which he may never be forgiven, was to make ambulance 108 compulsory for all COVID-19 admissions. This resulted in several deaths. In both the waves of the pandemic, the bureaucracy took over, resulting in various anti-public decisions. Data was fudged and Gujarat was peddled as a state that was outstanding in its COVID-19 management.
Pubic perception management failure
Despite the terrible COVID-19 mismanagement, the BJP did manage to handsomely win all the self-governing bodies in Gujarat except for an impressive AAP entry in Surat, Ahmedabad and Godhra. The hero of that victory was, however, not Vijay Rupani. Gujarat BJP chief C.R. Paatil stole the thunder and Rupani was sidelined even in his own constituency, Rajkot.
Thus began the decline of Rupani’s image.
Paatil, as the party president, started convening meetings at the BJP headquarters of Kamalam. In these meetings, he would announce the name of a minister in advance and ask people to come with their problems to the party office. A parallel government at the party headquarters further sullied Rupani’s image.
The appointment of a PR official after the first wave became the last straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Rupani’s public image was concerned. He not only became overconfident but started fumbling in public and became a figure who was often ridiculed due to his mannerisms. Memes mocking him flew thick and fast. This author’s sources said that even his closest bureaucrats informed the chief minister that he was heading towards a real PR disaster.
Sour relations and a lesson
It is an open secret that Rupani and Paatil were not in sync.
The BJP is not a party to tolerate parallel power structures. With Modi and Amit Shah already keenly involved in their home state, Rupani has always maintained a quiet demeanour never missing a chance to credit the prime minister for everything good that has happened in the state and taking personal blame for everything that did not work out. This equation changed after Paatil became the BJP president.
With his money, muscle and manpower, Paatil was successful in creating an overpowering image that overshadowed the chief minister. While Rupani never lost his grace but Paatil was often crude and contradicted what Rupani said. The “parallel government” that Paatil kickstarted at Kamalam became a key point of friction despite several friendly and perhaps fabricated photo ops.
While Rupani was labelled an Amit Shah man, Paatil became the new Modi man in Gujarat. This further dented Rupani’s image because Paatil made no effort to hide that he was Modi’s ears and voice in Gujarat.
Gujarat, of course, is a model state where all BJP experiments are conducted. Be it consolidation of Dalits in the otherwise Brahminical Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the consolidation of OBC groups against Muslims in India – such clinical trials were always held in Gujarat first.
The BJP has recently changed two other chief ministers — in Karnataka and Uttarakhand. Maybe they want to send a message to Uttar Pradesh to be on guard and not to take the party high command for granted. If a chief minister can be changed in Gujarat, surely it can be done in Uttar Pradesh also.
Deepal Trivedi is the founder of Virago Media Pvt Limited, of which Vibes of India is a division.