The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced that Vijay Rupani will succeed Anandiben Patel as the Chief Minister of its "bastion" state. Nitin Patel, the Heath Minister of Gujarat, will become Deputy Chief Minister.
Rupani is the state president of the BJP and was the minister for transport, water supply, labour and employment in Anandiben's Cabinet. He was elected to the legislative assembly for the first time in 2014, from Rajkot West.
Rupani, who enjoys the goodwill among the party cadre, was considered the most non-controversial successor to Anandiben, under whose reign the state faced major political jolts. He was picked for the top job by party MLAs at a meeting on Friday. BJP president Amit Shah and senior leader Nitin Gadkari were present as well.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the BJP is facing a backlash in Gujarat, which gave Modi three terms as Chief Minister even after he was blamed for failing to prevent the Hindu-Muslim violence that erupted in 2002.
In the two years since Modi left Gujarat for Delhi, both the Patels and Dalits have carried out massive protests to express their discontent with the state government.
It is widely believed that the top brass of the BJP hastened Anandiben's resignation in the midst of statewide protests by Dalits over the flogging of four youth from their community by cow vigilantes last month. The 74-year-old leader was also at the helm of affairs when the Patidar agitation for reservations spiralled out of control last year.
This change, just a year-and-a-half before the Gujarat State Assembly Election, suggests that the BJP was unhappy with the way Anandiben handled the protests by Dalits and the Patels. Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), had tweeted that Patel's resignation was a victory for AAP, which has been fighting corruption in Gujarat.
While short, Rupani's stint will be crucial for the BJP to stabilise its position ahead of the state polls. His first challenge will be handling the massive march from Ahmedabad to Una, which the Dalit community has planned between 5-15 August, to demand land rights and better protection from atrocities.
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