Vijay Rupani was unanimously elected president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Gujarat unit at the state party headquarters here on Friday.
An MLA from Rajkot (West) and a cabinet minister in the Anandiben Patel cabinet, Rupani, 60, is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national party chief Amit Shah. He also shares a rapport with party veteran Keshubhai Patel, a bete noire of Modi.
Rupani takes over as the 10th president of the Gujarat BJP in the wake of the party’s drubbing in the recent local body elections.
Besides, it is a huge challenge for the party to hold together its traditional Patel vote bank following the eight-month-old agitation by a youth brigade of Patels seeking reservation in government jobs and educational institutions on par with the Other Backward Classes.
The agitation is learnt to have cost the BJP dearly in the municipal elections. The Patel agitation has also spawned an uprising among the OBCs who are steadfast against any dilution in their quota.
The new party chief was to be named at least a month ago in place of the outgoing president R.C. Faldu, who is a Patel, but it got delayed.
The delay in appointment of the new Gujarat BJP president was because of the fact that the party could ill-afford to antagonise either the Patels or the OBCs while going in for the restructuring of the state unit and was looking for a balancing force.
Informed sources said the BJP leadership went for a compromise in deciding on Rupani, who is a Jain Vanik and so neither a Patel nor an OBC Rajput.
Second, Rupani hails from the Saurashtra region which sends the maximum number of legislators to the state assembly.
A student wing activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Rupani began his political career as a councillor in the Rajkot Municipal Corporation in 1987, becoming mayor of Rajkot in 1996. He also headed the 20-point implementation panel during Keshubhai Patel’s rule in the state before taking over as party general secretary.
He contested and won the by-election to the Rajkot West assembly seat in 2015 to join the Anandiben Patel government as transport minister.