Tightrope for Ru­pani in Sec­ond Term

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Uday Mahurkar

Ahead of the Gu­jarat polls, when se­nior Parsi cler­ics in­vited Vi­jay Ru­pani to a com­mu­nity event planned on De­cem­ber 23, he promised he would come if he re­mained chief min­is­ter. On the day, af­ter deput­ing a col­league to meet the gov­er­nor and stake claim to form the new gov­ern­ment, Ru­pani flew down to join the func­tion at the Parsi Fire Tem­ple in Ud­vada (south Gu­jarat). The priests were im­pressed.

Ru­pani is a ‘hum­ble’ man in a party in­creas­ingly known for its ‘ar­ro­gance’. But it will take the sec­ond-time CM a lot more than hu­mil­ity to win Gu­jarat for Naren­dra Modi in 2019. It’s a tough task given the BJP’s slen­der 99-seat win and the mount­ing agrar­ian dis­tress across ru­ral Gu­jarat.

Although he was un­con­tro­ver­sial dur­ing his first term, Ru­pani has of­ten been faulted for be­ing fee­ble in deal­ing with the state bu­reau­cracy. Be­sides ris­ing cor­rup­tion, he never re­ally had a grip on the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Like the tardy roll­out of the min­i­mum sup­port price (MSP) that he an­nounced for ground­nut and cot­ton, which saw bumper har­vests this year. The Cen­tre’s crop in­sur­ance scheme was also poorly im­ple­mented.

In his sec­ond term, Ru­pani’s big­gest chal­lenge will be to emerge from BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah’s shadow and build his own au­thor­i­ta­tive im­age. An­a­lysts say he needs to bring greater in­no­va­tion in gov­er­nance and project a clear vi­sion on de­vel­op­ment. And he must achieve this with his rel­a­tively thin ma­jor­ity in the as­sem­bly of 182 leg­is­la­tors. The num­bers could put him un­der pres­sure not just from caste lob­bies that have be­gun assert­ing them­selves fol­low­ing the rise of the Pa­tels, but his own MLAs too. Notably, Alpesh Thakor and Jig­nesh Me­vani, the BJP’s main chal­lengers, will be in the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly to take him on.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers see par­al­lels with the late 1980s when chief min­is­ter Amarsinh Chaud­hary, un­der pres­sure from his party MLAs, ac­cepted the de­mands of var­i­ous groups. Ja­pan Pathak, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, says, “The caste sit­u­a­tion is very fluid. For in­stance, a rape case could snow­ball into an ag­i­ta­tion against the gov­ern­ment by the sur­vivor’s com­mu­nity.” The op­po­si­tion Congress, he points out, will “ride pig­gy­back on such ag­i­ta­tions, as it did with Hardik Pa­tel”.

But some things could work Ru­pani’s way. Be­long­ing to the minis­cule Jain-baniya com­mu­nity, he is viewed as ‘caste neu­tral’ and in a better po­si­tion to tackle caste con­flicts than a politi­cian from a dom­i­nant caste. Ru­pani is also known to be ‘ac­com­mo­dat­ing’, ac­cept­able to most groups and in sync with the RSS, Shah and Prime Min­is­ter Modi. “We will ad­dress all con­cerns and aim for all­round de­vel­op­ment,” Ru­pani said af­ter be­ing sworn in as chief min­is­ter for the sec­ond time on De­cem­ber 26.

Al­beit with some hand­hold­ing from his men­tors, Ru­pani seems to have done well with the 20-mem­ber coun­cil of min­is­ters that has been sworn in. Sau­rabh Pa­tel, who worked with Modi (when he was CM) to bring 24-hour do­mes­tic power sup­ply and im­ple­ment power sec­tor re­forms in 2006, is back. Vet­eran Ra­jput leader Bhu­pen­dras­inh Chu­dasama has been re­tained, and deputy chief min­is­ter Nit­inbhai Pa­tel has joined the gov­ern­ment, fresh from his vic­tory in Mehsana. Old loy­al­ists like Ra­man Patkar and Bachub­hai Khabad have been de­servedly ac­com­mo­dated.

Ru­pani’s swear­ing-in was at­tended by Modi, Shah and 18 state chief min­is­ters—an in­di­ca­tion of the im­por­tance of re­tain­ing Gu­jarat for the BJP.

The CM as­sumes of­fice with a slen­der ma­jor­ity, amid agrar­ian dis­tress and caste tur­moil

SHAILESH RAVAL

SHOW OF STRENGTH PM Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and party CMs at Ru­pani’s swear­ing-in cer­e­mony in Gand­hi­na­gar

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