By Ashima Makhija
On 26th December 2017, Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel were sworn-in as the Chief Minister and Deputy CM of Gujarat respectively for the second time. After a nail-biting election, in which the BJP secured an eroded majority of 99 seats, the reinstated CM and his 19 cabinet colleagues took the oath of office and secrecy in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) National President Amit Shah and the chief ministers of various states ruled by BJP and its allies, in Gandhinagar.
Despite its sixth consecutive victory, the BJP faces significant challenges in Gujarat. Rupani will have to tackle the large-scale agrarian crisis and the economic slowdown. He will also have to precariously deal with the discontent of the Patidars, Dalits and OBCs with the BJP. Furthermore, Gujarat’s poor performance on indices like infant mortality rate, literacy rate and girls’ enrolment in schools suggests that Rupani has his tasks cut for him.
Is Rupani the right choice?
After a sub-charged electoral battle in Gujarat, there were speculations about a change in leadership in the state government. This is because BJP recorded its lowest tally of seats since 1995 whereas Congress improved its tally to 77 and won its largest share of seats since 1985. However, in the end, BJP maintained status quo by backing Rupani-Nitin combine to lead the state for next five years as any change of guard may have sent signals that the party had conceded defeat in their eroding victory tally.
Vijay Rupani’s proximity to top leadership, comparatively clean image and caste-neutral image along with Patel’s resurgent victory from Mehsana seat, which was the epicentre of Patidar quota agitation, tilted the party to favour the duo again. Rupani’s roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) further strengthened his claim for the apex position.
The caste disequilibrium
The discontent among the Dalits, Patidars and OBCs became one of the essential determinants of the results of Gujarat polls. The BJP lost crucial vote banks while the Congress capitalised on this gigantic wave of anti-incumbency. Now, Rupani has carefully created his cabinet by ensuring representation of all. The Patidar community, which had upped the ante against the previous government demanding reservation, has six MLAs in the new Cabinet – five having cabinet rank and one MoS.
The Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities have also been given fair representation in the cabinet with six prominent OBC faces getting a ministerial berth.
The mounting agrarian crisis
The agricultural sector in Gujarat has been plagued by an economic slowdown, repeated droughts, and lowering prices of agricultural produce. In the last five years alone, Gujarat has faced droughts, floods and delayed monsoons. Farmers are caught in a debt trap as falling prices have made agriculture unprofitable and the queues at government procurement centres are unending.
Invariably, the BJP suffered an extensive electoral loss in rural regions and lost as many as 14 seats to the opposition as a consequence of this grave crisis. The election results revealed a vast urban-rural divide wherein a majority of urban centres voted in favour of the saffron party whereas it suffered defeats in its rural strongholds. Considering this fact, Rupani chose 7 ministers from the urban constituencies including himself and the deputy chief minister, while the remaining 13 ministers represent the rural population of the state.
As the Rupani-Patel duo steers towards its second term in the state, several chinks and weaknesses of the Gujarat model are coming to light. In order to sustain BJP in its dominant position in Gujarat politics, the renewed CM must cautiously tackle all these challenges. With Congress expanding its popularity in the state, the BJP now faces a major opponent. If the BJP doesn’t respond adequately to the woes of the peasants, Patidars and OBCs, then the opportunistic Congress may capitalise on popular dissatisfaction and significantly alter the direction of Gujarat politics.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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