Seven Patidars and seven OBCs have made to the council of ministers headed by Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel. BJP is walking a tight rope balancing caste and regional aspirations.
An all ‘New’ Government in Gujarat
By SANJEEB KUMAR SAHOO
The political landscape of the country is in utter surprise when the new Government headed by Bhependra Patel does not have a single face who had served in the previous Vijay Rupani regime. The new Government has all new faces as the new council of ministers took oath on September 14 making it a complete overhaul. The total number of ministers inducted in the government are 24 and 21 members were deputed into ministries.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s central leadership has now adopted a formula of “no repeat” to beat the anti-incumbency and other issues facing the party in the crucial 2022 elections in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The BJP has not lost an election in about three decades in the state and anti-incumbency is real this time, according to party sources. The change is also a message to the leaders serving in the other states that performance and public image is non-negotiable.
In the new Gujarat Government ten ministers belong to the Cabinet rank and 14 are Ministers of State. Together with CM Bhupendra Patel, there are now 22 (21 Ministers) first timers in the council. Many of the heavyweights of the party have been dropped and there is no voice of agitation from any corner yet. Prominent among those dropped is Patidar stalwart and former Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and Bhupendrasinh Chudasama. The saffron party has said that there is no requirement of a deputy CM in the state as of now. Chudasama has served as education Minister in the Rupani government.
But there are some popular names who have made it to the new cabinet. Former state BJP President Jitubhai Vaghani and Speaker of the Assembly, Rajendra Trivedi are in the government. Although the majority in the council are first-time legislators, there are some who have previous experience. Rajendra Trivedi had served in Anandiben government and Kiritsinh Rana served when Narendra Modi was the chief minister. Similarly, Raghavji Patel was minister in Shankersinh Vaghela Government, that is more than three decades ago.
Politically significant Saurashtra and south Gujarat regions have landed maximum berths in the Cabinet formulation keeping in mind caste and regional balance. Present state President, Chandrakant Raghunath Patil comes from south Gujarat and observers say his clout is evident in the choice of ministers.
Sources hold that the transition was not easy for the party. Marathon meetings were held to finalize the names. The ceremony had to be postponed after upset sitting ministers, who were to be dropped, objected to the move.
Apart from anti-incumbency, the ruling BJP is facing several other challenges, battling negative perceptions and allegations of Covid-mismanagement in the state. Aam Aadmi Party is a new challenger to the BJP in the state. Observers say through the overhaul of the state leadership by the central leadership appears a new formula to overcome the challenges.
In any case, the central leadership is clear that those who create “trouble by poking or continuously raising issues which eventually lead to the ouster of any CM should not be encouraged by giving them posts they have been vying for”, a signal perhaps for other states amid the buzz of “some more similar changes” in coming days.
Rising Status of CR Patil
With the new Government in place in Gandhinagar, it seems that CR Patil’s status has risen dramatically. The Council of Ministers seems to have the stamp of approval from the state party president as a lot of representation is from South Gujarat. Most of the ministers are Patidars and Other Backward Castes with more young faces and women. Kanubhai Desai has been given the responsibility of the Minister of Finance, Energy and Petrochemicals. Desai is from Pardi Assembly constituency which is in South Gujarat. This also strengthens the equation between the party and the Government ahead of the elections, with Patil getting his way mostly. It’s a reminder to many that CR Patil is an old and trusted aide of Narendra Modi. At present, Patil is Member of Parliament from adjoining Navsari Lok Sabha constituency.
Patil is actually a non-Gujarati migrant in the state. He has previously worked in Uttar Pradesh and other states as a key member in the team of former national BJP President Amit Shah. He is considered a troubleshooter and mega fundraiser. In the past he had led the Parprantiya (other state) Nagarik Morcha in Gujarat and mobilised migrant workers's votes in Surat and south Gujarat is known as one of the most grounded leaders with a strong mass base. Former constable turned politician has a record of winning with highest votes.
Who Got What
Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel kept the portfolio of the Home Ministry along with several other departments while Kanu Desai was made the Finance Minister. Besides Home, the Chief Minister has the portfolios of Administrative Reforms and Planning, Housing and Police Housing, Information and Broadcasting, Capital Planning, Urban Development and Urban Housing, Industry, Mines and Minerals, Narmada, Ports and other departments that are not allotted to any Cabinet Minister. Rajendra Trivedi has been allotted the Department of Revenue, Disaster Management, Law and Justice, and Statutory and Parliamentary Affairs.
Jitu Waghani will take over as the Education Minister while Rushikesh Patel has been assigned the portfolio of Health and Family Welfare, Medical Education and Water Resources and Water Supply. Purnesh Modi has been made the Minister for Roads and Transport while Raghavji Patel will take charge as the Minister of Agriculture.
Kirit Singh Rana was appointed as Forest and Environment Minister. Naresh Patel has been assigned the portfolio of Tribal Development, Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection. Pradipsinh Parmar will take charge of the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment. Arjun Singh Chauhan will take over as Rural Development Minister. Harsh Sanghvi will have Sports Ministry but with Independent Charge and Manishaben Vakil will serve as Women and Child Welfare minister.
Will Other CMs Change?
BJP is wary of the unpopularity of their leaders in the states because that has cost them heavily in the assembly elections. In 2019, BJP lost elections to the alliance led by Hemant Soren; a result which was foretold by some in the party citing the extreme unpopularity of Chief Minister Raghubar Das. There were voices in the party to drop him from the race in the run up to the elections, but the party chose to go into the polls with him. The result is too well known to be retold here. Similar has been done with ML Khattar in Haryana who just failed to get BJP a majority in the next elections and the party had to go for an alliance with first Dushyant Chautala.
Sources say that the Jharkhand result and the near-brush in Haryana with defeat made BJP realize that unpopular and non-performing CMs will have to go. And they have to go well in time so that the party can prepare for the next elections. Experts are saying that a similar change in leadership can take place in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.