All eyes on PM as Gujarat waits for its next CM

All eyes on PM as Gujarat waits for its next CM

Would it be status quo or would Prime Minister opt for a new hardline face to take over as Gujarat chief minister in the wake of forthcoming 2019 Parliamentary polls?

This vexed question would keep everyone in Gujarat guessing at least till Friday evening, when the 99 newly-elected legislators from BJP would meet to pick their chief minister. Finance minister Arun Jaitley and Saroj Pande would attend the meeting as Central observers.

The names doing the rounds are usual ones – current chief minister Vijay Rupani, his deputy Nitin Patel, Union ministers Smriti Irani, Mansukh Mandavia, Purushottam Rupala and Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala.

The rationale for continuing Rupani is that he had taken over reins from state's first woman chief minister Anandiben Patel in August 2016 under trying circumstances. The agitations by Patels, OBCs, dalits and section of government employees was at its peak. Moreover, he had only 15 months before he had to face elections. Despite the turbulence, Rupani's tenure has proven to be fairly fruitful for BJP in the end, with the party capturing power in the state for sixth consecutive term.

The minuses for Rupani has been that he is considered a remote-controlled chief minister, has little grip over administration and has failed to prevent a slide in electoral fortunes of the BJP in the state. BJP won 99 of 182 seats in Gujarat Assembly, its lowest tally in over two-and-a-half decades. Moreover, BJP has also lost Saurashtra to Congress, home turf of Rupani, who hails from Rajkot.

The other name doing the rounds is that of deputy chief minister Nitin Patel. The rationale being given is that   Patels have not deserted BJP to a large extent despite a massive wave of agitations over the last two-and-a-half years. Moreover, Nitin Patel has long administrative experience and won from Mehsana, the hub of Patel quota stir. He stands tall among all Patel leaders, if the party does decide to nominate a Patel chief minister.

The name of Vajubhai Vala was being dropped even before the last vote in the Assembly polls was cast. An OBC leader, Vala is one of the senior-most persons with a huge electoral and administrative experience.

Among the Central ministers, name of Textile Minister Smriti Irani, who is close to Prime Minister, is being heard but some party legislators are said to have reservations about her. Union Minister of Shipping and Highways Mansukh Mandavia, who is credited for working hard to nullify the negative impact of Patel quota stir on the party, is also in the race.

The other name in the reckoning is Union Agriculture Minister Purushottam Rupala. In fact, Rupala was congratulated by a large section of followers and some corporate honchos after the Assembly poll results were announced. He is considered to be among the top five in party leadership in terms of experience and seniority. However, a large section within the party is opposed to him taking over as chief minister.

"Everything boils down to what Prime Minister wants. We have absolutely no idea. He (PM) can even spring a rabbit out of his hat. It is all guess work till then," a senior BJP leader said.

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