Why was Bhupendra Patel chosen to helm Gujarat ahead of Assembly polls?

After Vijay Rupani’s sudden resignation, 15 months before assembly elections are due in the state, there were whispers of not just a course correction, but also a demand for a Patel Chief Minister

Bhupendra Patel

It was an eventful weekend in Gujarat where in a shocking political development, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani resigned suddenly on Saturday September 11, 2021. The following day, Bhupendra Patel, a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) representing the Ghatlodia constituency was appointed Rupani’s successor.

It is noteworthy that Rupani was the fourth Chief Minister to be replaced in a state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) this year. Previously, Tirath Singh Rawat who himself replaced Trivendra Singh Rawat as Uttarakhand CM in March, was replaced by Pushkhar Singh Dhami in July. Later in the same month, BS Yediyuappa was replaced as Karnataka CM by Baswaraj Bommai. This suggests that the BJP is deeply invested in course-correction, ahead of the crucial polls coming up next year. This was most likely because of the shoddy manner in which the previous administration handled the Covid-19 crisis in the state. Even now skeletons keep tumbling out of the closet revealing the true extent of the pandemic’s toll in the state.

The decision to choose Bhupendra Patel to lead what is clearly the state that is dearest to the Prime Minister, appeared to have come out of the blue. This is because, while there had been growing demand for a Chief Minister from the influential Patel community, the names being tossed around in the immediate aftermath of Rupani’s sudden exit comprised a very different list of contenders. These included Gujarat State BJP President CR Patil, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, and prominent Patidar leader Purshottam Rupala who is a Cabinet Minister in the Union government.

But eventually Bhupendra Patel emerged as the dark horse. So, who exactly is the man who now takes over the mantle as Gujarat Chief Minister?

The 59-year-old, believed to be a close associate of former Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, and in fact is the MLA from the same constituency she once represented. Bhupendra Patel is also a member of the Vishwa Umiya Foundation, a body of Kadva Patidars. This is a politically valuable group of voters that the BJP has been trying to woo for a very long time. In fact, the drubbing the BJP received during this year’s Surat Municipal Corporation election, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) romped home with 27 seats mainly in Patidar-dominated areas, was a wake-up call.

It is also noteworthy that Anandiben herself was replaced as Chief Minister after the Patidars started viewing Hardik Patel as a representative of the community’s youth and their aspirations. His meteoric rise, especially when he led protests demanding justice for a Dalit family was publicly flogged by “upper- caste” men in Una in 2016, even as Anandiben failed to manage the aftermath of the shocking incident, are what mainly necessitated her replacement at Chief Minister.

Bhupendra Patel is also a trustee of Sardardham, another important organisation of Patidars. According to Sardardham’s website, “Sardardham Vishwa Patidar Kendra is established to spread awareness about the immense strength of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s persona among Patidar youth as well as to strengthen the Patidar Community socially, financially, administratively and politically.” In fact, this weekend, just before Rupani tendered his resignation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated via video-conferencing a Kanya Chhatralaya (girls’ hostel) as part of phase two of the organisation’s development plan.

Patel is an engineer by qualification and has been in the real estate business for over 20 years. However, as far as electoral victories go, he is a relative newbie compared to several seasoned hawks in the state. He began his journey into political from Ahmedabad’s Memanagar Nagarpalika in the 1990s and kept a low profile as he served in various capacities – as civic body president in 1999-2000 and then again from 2004-06, and AMC School Board Vice Chairman form 2008-10, before finally throwing his hat in the ring as a serious contender.

His first significant electoral battle was in 2010, when he became a corporator for the AMC from the Thaltej ward. Here in his first term as a corporator, he became chairman of the standing committee of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). It was during his two terms in this position that the Bust Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and Sabarmati riverfront beautification projects were completed. He has also held the post of chairman of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) in 2015 and is known to have played a key role in the Bopal Ghuma area that is part of Amit Shah’s constituency. Thus, throughout his career, Patel was present in places where the people that mattered could spot him.

In fact, Anandiben Patel, who is now Governor of Uttar Pradesh is seen as somewhat of a mentor to him. In 2017, he emerged victorious as MLA from the Ghatlodia seat after it was vacated by Anandiben Patel. But given how this was a BJP bastion, he alone cannot claim credit for his landslide victory. Everyone needs a mentor. In fact, Vijay Rupani was hand-picked by Amit Shah himself. Given how Bhupendra Patel has Anandiben’s blessings, it means he is clearly endorsed by Modi himself. Moreover, Patel is not seen as a limelight hogger. Various publications have reported on how his colleagues have described him as soft-spoken, humble and god-fearing. In fact, so far, he has managed to steer clear of any controversies. Perhaps, this is what won him the coveted Chief Ministership.


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