Bhupendra Patel (left) and Vijay Rupani in Ahmedabad on Sunday (Image : Special Arrangement)
Bhupendra Rajnikant Patel, the newly appointed chief minister of Gujarat, is a first-time member of legislative assembly (MLA) from the Ghatlodia constituency.
The 59-year-old political lightweight defeated Shashikant Patel of the Congress in 2017 Gujarat assembly polls by a record margin of 11,70,00 voters, the largest for any constituency in Gujarat for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in that election. The seat in Ahmedabad was earlier held by former chief minister Anandiben Patel who is now Governor of Uttar Pradesh.
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Union Home Minister Amit Shah congratulated Patel on September 13.
"I am sure under the guidance of PM Narendra Modiji and your leadership, the state's continuous development journey will get new energy and momentum," Shah said in a tweet in Hindi.
Patel’s appointment defied speculations much like in the case of Pushkar Singh Dhami who was picked as chief minister of Uttarakhand in July by the BJP. The electoral arithmetic, it seems, had a key role in Patel's election.
Born on July 15, 1962, Patel has a diploma in civil engineering. A builder by profession, Patel is a member of the Kadva Patidar community, a sub-caste of the Patidar community mainly found in north Gujarat and Saurashtra region. The Patidar community is considered key to electoral success in Gujarat, where it is a dominant caste with a sizeable control over the economy, especially in the cooperative sector, real estate, education and construction.
The community is said to form the backbone of the BJP in Gujarat. The party’s first chief minister in 1995, Keshubhai Patel, was a Patidar leader from the Saurashtra region.
Bhupendra Patel’s proximity with the Gujarat business fraternity also worked in his favour, sources said. Though the party said that Patel’s name was unanimously approved at Sunday’s state legislative party meeting held in Gandhinagar that was chaired by party’s national observers – Union Ministers Pralhad Patel and Narendra Singh Tomar, he is a choice of Delhi leadership, according to sources.
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The BJP, sources said, was contemplating a change of guard in Gujarat ahead of polls considering the criticism outgoing chief minister Vijay Rupani's government faced, especially regarding the COVID-19 management.
“The BJP didn’t want to take chances in the assembly polls. Bhupendra Patel may not be a minister before, but he has the experience needed. He is also a Patidar which will help obviously,” said a BJP leader.
Patel, a surprise pick, is a non-controversial leader who will lead the BJP's fight in the assembly elections scheduled in fifteen months. In the 2017 polls, Rupani survived the incumbency factor amid a quota stir by the Patidars and returned as the chief minister. The BJP won 99 seats in the 182-member assembly while the Congress managed 77 seats in what many saw as a stiff fight.
The BJP will now go to the polls with a fresh chief minister and new cabinet of ministers, perhaps, to counter the anti-incumbency factor of the previous dispensation.
Patel previously served as chairman of Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority from 2015 to 2017. He has served two terms as the standing committee chairman of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in 1995 and 1996. He has also been a member of the Ahmedabad School Board.
"Bhupendra Patel is capable. We believe the BJP will win the upcoming elections in the state under his leadership," outgoing chief minister Vijay Rupani was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.