There is a striking similarity between Narendra Modi and Mahendra Dhoni. Dhoni walks in late, doesn’t speak, looks around and hits the six to snatch victory from defeat. Modi specialises in suspense, walks in the last — and has the last laugh.
Reams and reams of paper, thousands of bytes, lakhs of social media messages must have been exchanged in less than 24 hours on who would be the new chief minister of Gujarat. All probable and improbable names, including that of Amit Shah, were flung all over. And suddenly, out of the blue, a name is announced at the BJP Legislature Party meeting on Sunday and stands up a man sitting in the corner of the fourth row of 112 MLAs. He was bespectacled, balding, hefty, 59-year-old Bhupendra Patel.
The new chief minister of Gujarat. Left high and dry, the media that was ready with half a dozen profiles of a probable CM was making a scramble for Wikipedia and the know-your-neta portals. Nobody had Patel’s profile ready. And as it often happens with Modi, his logic can only be understood in hindsight.
There are a variety of reasons why Bhupendra Patel was picked up from the crowd, but there are two major takeaways. One, a Patidar has been made the chief minister realising that this powerful and politically volatile community with nearly 14 per cent population could not be ignored. The BJP had a first-hand experience in 2017 when it attempted to crush Hardik Patel’s reservation agitation with an iron hand and snatched defeat by seven seats to bag 99 in the 182-member House.
In recent months, there has been a consternation among the Patidars whose two otherwise estranged denominations are getting together more than once. The central theme has been that there is no Patidar chief minister or State BJP president, and significantly, they praised the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP has been trying to find a constituency among them. And Modi has picked a Patidar, who is a first-time MLA, has never been a minister, has a clean slate and a fresh face.
This is his 2002 strategy to get new faces as municipal councillors and as MLAs. This is one of the reasons, among several others, why Nitin Patel was not considered the second time for the CM’s post though he was the most experienced minister in the Vijay Rupani Cabinet. Two — and this provides a clue to Modi’s strategy — his attempt to end the hegemony of the influential Saurashtra and North Gujarat regions and create a parallel force in Central and South Gujarat.
Bhupendra Patel is the first Chief Minister from Ahmedabad city. He represents the real estate industry and was chairman of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority as well as chief of the Standing Committee of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
This started with the appointment of CR Paatil, an MP from Navsari, in South Gujarat. He is the first Gujarat BJP president from Surat-Navsari area, which is a cash rich region with the diamond and textile industries. The previous state chief, Jitu Vaghani, a Patidar, and the outgoing CM are both from Saurashtra. Or Nitin Patel is from North Gujarat.
In the recent Cabinet expansion, Modi inducted MP Darshana Jardosh from Surat and Devusinh Chauhan, an MP from Kheda in central Gujarat. A BJP leader says there is an overdose of Saurashtra and North Gujarat in both, the BJP and the Congress, which gave a bright performance in the 2017 elections from these regions. As against this, the Congress hardly has a regional satrap in the rest of the State. In the final calculation, any setbacks elsewhere could thus be offset from the central and South Gujarat regions.