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