Gujarat elections: Vijay Rupani, the CM who came in from the cold

New Delhi: Vijay Rupani, the current chief minister of Gujarat, has won from Rajkot West seat of Gujarat.

Rupani, the man who made his debut in politics in 1987, but won a legislative seat only in 2014 before this win.

Rupani spent a huge part of his political career laying a solid foundation for himself, both as a politician and within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And all that effort finally paid off when he was chosen as Anandiben’s successor.

The 61-year-old became Gujarat chief minister on 7 August 2016 after Anandiben stepped down. And while occupying the office once held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no easy task, Rupani seems to be trying his best.

Born in Yangon, Burma, Rupani moved to India as a child with his parents. He was introduced to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP’s ideological arm, as a student and joined the organization. But it was only in college that he started actively dabbling with politics.

In 1987, he was elected to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation as a BJP candidate and eventually became mayor in 1996. He rose steadily in his political career, becoming general secretary of the BJP state unit in 1998 and getting nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2006.

He won the assembly elections from Rajkot West in a 2014 bypoll, after Vajubhai Vala, the man who had held the seat for almost two decades resigned to become Karnataka governor.

Rupani has held several portfolios, including transport, labour and employment in the Anandiben government, and was, interestingly, not really considered a front-runner for the post of chief minister. Soft spoken and affable, his elevation, it is believed, was due to two factors—his closeness to BJP president Amit Shah as well as the Patidar agitation that rocked Gujarat last year and exposed the party’s fault lines. Then, health minister Nitin Patel was considered a shoo-in for the job after it became obvious that Anandiben had to go, but the BJP took a calculated decision to not have a Patel for the top job.

With both the Patels and Dalits protesting against the BJP in Gujarat, Rupani was considered a non-controversial choice. Since his elevation to the top post, Rupani has been keen to be seen as an efficient administrator who is tough on corruption. In October itself, the Gujarat home department transferred 57 IPS officers and four state police service officers.

But that probably won’t be enough for the party which has been in power in Gujarat since 1995. On record, Rupani denies any such thing as an anti-incumbency factor and claims that the party will easily win 150 seats in the Gujarat legislature. The Patel agitation led by Hardik Patel has shown that the party cannot fully bank on the support of the community, while demonetisation and goods and services tax (GST) have hit the state’s traders badly. In an interview to The Hindu this week, Rupani claimed the Patidars, other backward classes and Dalits will remain with the BJP.

Both Shah and Modi are pulling out all the stops touring the state which has been with the party for over two decades now. “Unlike Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or any other state, the contest in Gujarat is between two parties and two parties alone, BJP and Congress. There aren’t others to muddle the equation. Rupani is the CM but the face of BJP in Gujarat is Narendra Modi. And this is Modi versus Rahul Gandhi,” said Ahmedabad-based political analyst Pravin Mishra.

Gujarat went to polls in two phases on 9 and 14 December. Now it remains to be seen whether the results will enable Rupani’s further growth.