Vijay Rupani resigned as Chief Minister of Gujarat on Saturday in an unexpected turn of events ahead of an Assembly election in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state later next year.
“… has been a five-year journey for development of Gujarat… under guidance of PM Modi. Now, to further develop the state, with new energy and power, I have decided to resign as Chief Minister,” Mr Rupani was quoted by news agency ANI.
“It is well known the BJP, as a party, keeps changing as per requirements… it is a speciality of our party that every worker delivers to the fullest, and I too will continue to work for the party with the same energy,” he added.
Mr Rupani’s resignation (and, by default, his cabinet’s) leaves the ruling BJP with three options – appoint a successor, allow the state to come under President’s Rule, or have an early election.
Sources have said at this point no decision has been taken on early polls and a change of guard – a new Chief Minister – is likely to be the strategy.
Senior leaders BL Santosh and Bhupendra Yadav are in Ahmedabad to discuss replacements.
Sources have said Mansukh Mandaviya, sworn in as the Union Health Minister in July, and Nitin Patel, who was Mr Rupani’s deputy, are possible replacements. Both Mr Mandaviya and Mr Patel have reached the party office in capital Gandhinagar, ANI reported.
Another possibility, other sources said, is Praful Khoda Patel, who is currently the Administrator for the union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Lakshadweep.
Mr Patel was in the headlines in July after a series of controversial orders triggered massive protests in Lakshadweep and the mainland.
Mr Rupani resigned, sources further said, after the party’s central leadership expressed dissatisfaction with his performance; they have called this a “course correction” by a party eager to change things around if it feels unsure in its state leadership, particularly with key elections due next year.
The strategy, it seems, is simple – ‘if there is resentment against state leadership, sort it out now’.
There are recent examples – Karnataka and Uttarakhand – which make Mr Rupani the fourth BJP chief minister to quit his post in the last six months.
In July BS Yediyurappa resigned as Karnataka Chief Minister following resentment against him and his son, and unrelenting calls for his removal by a section of the party’s state unit. Before that, in Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat quit four months after replacing Trivendra Rawat.
Opposition reaction to Mr Rupani’s resignation was led by Hardik Patel, the Working President of the Congress’ Gujarat unit, who declared “it is now clear the BJP proved to be a complete failure”.
“Resignation of Chief Minister is a decision taken to mislead people of Gujarat…” he said, citing the “lack of oxygen during coronavirus (second wave)… ever-increasing inflation… rising unemployment… and shutting down of industries” as proof of the BJP’s misrule.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which produced solid results in Gujarat local body polls in March before confirming in June that they intend to contest the Assembly election, tweeted a sarcastic swipe.
And independent MLA Jignesh Mevani tweeted: “Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani resigns: People of Gujarat would have appreciated had Mr Rupani resigned for monumental mismanagement of Covid crisis. This resignation comes purely to take care of electoral arithmetic keeping 2022 Assembly polls in mind.”
Mr Rupani, 65, was sworn in for a second term in December 2017 in front of Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and over a dozen other BJP chief ministers.