The first wave of Covid-19 just seemed to be ebbing in July 2020 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprang a surprise, for which he is known for, by pitching Navsari MP CR Paatil as the Gujarat BJP President. It surprised everyone for he is not a Gujarati though settled here for long and so it did not fit the cliched caste or regional logic of such appointments.
Few knew that Paatil would turn out to be the harbinger of change for the BJP in Gujarat, and a messenger of doom for Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. He had changed the spelling of his surname from Patil to Paatil on astrological advice.
It was just over a month for the first indications to come when Paatil asked Rupani’s Cabinet colleagues to sit twice a week at the State BJP headquarters, Shri Kamalam, to listen to grievances of the MLAs as well as the MPs.
This followed repeated complaints from the elected representatives that the Chief Minister was unable to rein in the bureaucracy, which was giving the legislators a short shrift.
This directive from the State party president did not go down well with the Chief Minister and the ministers. The arrangement was discontinued after some time, but the gulf deepened between him and Rupani. CR Paatil had by then sent the message to all and sundry that he was there with a mission.
The next time the chasm came out in the open at the peak of the second fierce wave of Covid-19 when the BJP chief announced his party would distribute 5,000 Remdesivir injections from the party’s Surat office.
This sparked off a major controversy given that the Vijay Rupani Government was scrounging for every vial of the crucial injection. There was huge public outcry over the shortage of hospital beds, oxygen, ambulance vans and injections as well as the paucity of space at crematoriums and cemeteries.
When Rupani was asked about Paatil’s injection promise while the government itself was facing a huge shortage, he screamed at mediapersons, “Go and ask him (CR).”
Two more recent developments before and during a meeting of the State BJP executive at Kevadiya were the clear indications that Rupani’s days are numbered. First, Ratnakar was brought in as the Gujarat general secretary (Organisation) after his assignment in Bihar replacing Bhikhubhai Dalsania, who was there for the last 13 years.
While Dalsania was known to be close to Vijay Rupani, Ratnakar has an excellent rapport with CR Paatil. Both of them go back to the days when they were overseeing Narendra Modi’s Varanasi campaign.
The second was the central leadership’s decision to appoint Paatil among the advisors of the Chief Minister just after the State Executive committee meeting late last month. This clearly was not to the liking of Rupani, who had only a month ago celebrated five years as the Chief Minister. Paatil was earlier in the advisory committee headed by Revenue Minister Kaushik Patel. All Cabinet ministers have advisory committees in Gujarat.
And, all this was when the Chief Minister was denying the umpteenth time that there was no change of guard in the offing. Rupani has been denying that he was being dropped for over a year now.