GANDHINAGAR: In a surprise decision, BJP state unit chief Vijay Rupani, a Amit Shah loyalist, was today chosen as the new Chief Minister of Gujarat to succeed Anandiben Patel, pipping Nitin Patel who was considered a sure pick for the top job in the poll-bound state.
Nitin Patel, seen as the front runner for the top slot after Anandiben offered to resign, was made deputy Chief Minister. It is for the first time that Gujarat will have a deputy chief minister.
The announcement was made by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, who was assigned as the party's observer, after the BJP legislature party meeting which elected 61-year-old Rupani as its leader.
The names of Rupani and Nitin Patel were proposed by Anandiben Patel and seconded by several MLAs. The decision to make Rupani as chief minister and Nitin Patel, the incumbent health minister, as his deputy was taken at hectic parleys involving BJP President Amit Shah and Gadkari.
The BJP legislature party meeting, which was to start at 4 PM began two hours late, apparently due to parleys involving top leaders.
Earlier in the day, Nitin Patel's office had claimed that his name has been finalised by the BJP to fill the position that fell vacant by Anandiben's resignation.
Patel had given a series of interviews to national television channels listing how he intends to take the state forward when it is facing the challenges like Patel quota agitation and dalit unrest. Even sweets were distributed at his residence and a pooja was also organised.
However, in the two hours after BJP national president Amit Shah reached the party office at 4 PM, followed by observers Gadkari and Saroj Pandey, the top leaders of the state remained in a huddle in one of the conference rooms of BJP state headquarters at Koba village on the outskirts of Gandhinagar.
Shah, Gadkari, Pandey, Anandiben, Nitin Patel, Vijay Rupani and BJP joint general secretary (organisation) V Satish were present in the meeting, besides some other leaders. However, there is no word on what transpired at the meeting.
Rupani, who belongs to Jain Baniya community, is considered to be close to Amit Shah while Patel is said to be close to Anandiben.
Rupani, who represents Rajkot West seat, joined Jan Sangh in 1971 and has been associated with BJP since its formation.
He currently holds Transport, Water Supply, Labour and Employment portfolios.
Rupani's candidature is being seen as a way to pre-empt any conflict between the Dalit and Patidar communities, the latter on warpath with the hovernment over its demand for reservation on par with the OBCs.
He is being assigned the task of leading the BJP in the high stake assembly polls as the party is struggling to retain its political base and lacking in leaders who have the charisma of Narendra Modi, who had a tight hold on its affairs as Chief Minister before moving to the Centre.
The BJP, which has been on a winning spree for over last two decades, seems to have sensed a political setback in continuation of Anandiben, who took charge in 2014 as successor to her high-profile predecessor.
Anandiben, who turns 75 this November, had handed over her resignation to Governor O P Kohli on Wednesday.
Under her leadership, BJP had suffered reversal in the civic polls held last year, with the opposition Congress making handsome gains at the expense of its saffron rival.
In the last two years, the BJP was also at loggerheads with its loyal vote bank of Patidars who have been demanding OBC quota and launched violent protests.
Of late, flogging of Dalits at Una also caused a massive unrest, further denting the party's image.