Rupani’s departure came after ruling the state for five years and 36 days, and with just over a year left for assembly elections. His departure, like his promotion to CM, was swift and decisive.
BJP lawmakers have been summoned to Gandhinagar to elect a new leader on Sunday.
Rupani’s predecessor, Anandiben Patel, Gujarat’s first CM woman, had succeeded Narendra Modi after he became Prime Minister in 2014. She resigned on August 1, 2016, following the violent Patidar Quota uproar and Dalit unrest that erupted after the lynching of four youths in the coastal town of Una.
Unlike Anandiben’s case, Rupani’s departure was without acrimony. However, observers say that his soft-spoken demeanor and weak grip on bureaucrats resulted in a strong current of anger among the people during the second wave of Covid-19. Certain decisions made during the deadly wave earlier this year earned the government the ire of even the Gujarat high court.
Seeking to downplay speculation about possible reasons for his unceremonious removal, Rupani said after handing over his resignation: “I served as CM for five years. That’s a long time.” He added: “The change in leadership is a natural phenomenon in the BJP. I have asked the leadership to give me a role in organizing the party.”
While the move seemed sudden, political circles had been anxious about rumors of the 65-year-old Rupani leaving for some time. Talking about a changing of the guard gained steam after the resignations of BS Yediyurappa in Karnataka and Tirath Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand. The countdown to Rupani’s removal began on Friday night when the BJP’s national secretary general, BL Santhosh, visited the CM’s bungalow in Gandhinagar to broadcast the party’s high command’s decision to replace him. On Saturday, the Gujarati chief of the BJP, Bhupendra Yadav, also arrived and held a series of meetings in the state capital.
“I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving a party worker like me the opportunity to serve the state for five years,” Rupani told reporters after submitting his resignation to Governor Acharya Devvrat. “I have contributed to the development of the state. I will continue to do what my party asks me to do,” he said.
Born in Burma (now Myanmar), the RSS Pracharak, who rose through the ranks – from mayor of Rajkot to Gujarat CM in his 40-year political career – has the distinction of being the only BJP politician after Modi to have completed a five-year term as prime minister.
Rupani was accompanied to Raj Bhavan by MP CM Nitin Patel, State Ministers Pradeepsinh Jadeja and Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, and Union Ministers Parshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya. He went to the governor’s residence after attending the inaugural function of Sardardham Bhavan in Ahmedabad, which was opened electronically by Modi.
Later, Rupani described the situation as a relay race for BJP workers. “One passes the baton to another,” he said.
Suspense swirled over the question of Rupani’s successor as various names began to circulate after the sudden resignation. Deputy CM Patel, Ministers of the Mandaviya Union and Rupala, state agriculture minister RC Faldu, former Gujarat interior minister Gordhan Zadafia, and Lakshadweep UT administrator Praful Khoda Patel were widely discussed as possible successors (all belong to the powerful Patel community). The name of the Gujarat BJP chief CR Patil, who is from Maharashtra, was also circulating. Nevertheless, Patil he was quick to debunk the speculation, saying he wasn’t in the race. In all likelihood, the new CM will be a Patel, as the BJP seeks to pacify its politically significant vote bank ahead of the crucial assembly elections next year.
While the Rupani government was criticized by the high court for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, his period as CM was largely peaceful, unaffected by any major controversy. Having assumed power after the Patidar and Dalit uprisings, Rupani led the BJP to some spectacular performances in successive elections to local bodies, the Lok Sabha, the polls, and the Rajya Sabha by-votes.
BJP, which made a big impact with the anti-incumbents in the 2017 polls, does not want to take any chances, especially when the threat of a third wave of Covid looms. Furthermore, poor rains could fuel the ire of farmers. Just one from the 100 seat mark in 2017, BJP then engineered an influx of MLA from Congress, giving some of them coveted ministerial positions.
Congress has alleged that Rupani was removed as CM because the state government did not act during Covid and did not provide relief to the public. Bharatsinh Solanki, a former Union minister, said: “We demand that Nitin Patel be removed as well, as he has not worked in the interest of the people either.”
“Over time, the responsibilities of the Karyakartas change. With my resignation, it is time for new leadership in the state government,” Rupani said.