New Delhi: In his first cabinet expansion since taking oath as Gujarat’s new chief minister on 13 September, Bhupendra Patel inducted 24 ministers in his cabinet, who took oath during a ceremony held at the Raj Bhavan Thursday.
Patel, however, dropped all former ministers who were part of last CM Vijay Rupani’s cabinet, in a move that is being tagged as “Operation Clean” by many.
Those dropped from Patel’s cabinet include former deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, and other senior ministers like Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Pradipsinh Jadeja and R.C. Faldu.
In their place, Bhupendra Patel — a first-time MLA, who was unanimously elected CM Sunday, after Rupani resigned from the post — has chosen all fresh faces as ministers. The new cabinet has eight ministers from the Patidar community, six OBC ministers, two Kshatriyas, three from the tribal community, two Dalits, one from the Jain community, and two Brahmins.
Of the new cabinet members, eight are from Saurashtra, seven from south Gujarat, six from central Gujarat, and three from north Gujarat.
While the dropping of the senior ministers has fanned resentment among many in the party, the strategy of “no repeat” is not new to the BJP’s politics in Gujarat.
Ahead of the 2005 municipal elections in the state, when PM Narendra Modi was the chief minister, he had denied tickets to all existing members and brought in fresh faces. The only exception to this experiment then had been the Ahmedabad municipal area.
‘New cabinet face to beat anti-incumbency’
The new faces inducted Thursday include former Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani, former Gujarat Assembly Speaker Rajendra Trivedi, MLAs Rushikesh Patel, Purnesh Modi and Raghavji Patel.
The selections seem to have been made with the 2022 assembly elections in mind and the ability of the ministers to reach out to specific votebanks.
BJP Youth Morcha Vice President Harsh Sanghavi was also included in the cabinet, the youngest of its members. Sanghavi is Home Minister Amit Shah’s point person in Surat, where the AAP had given the BJP stiff competition in the local body polls earlier this year (though the BJP managed to win).
Sanghavi’s cabinet induction is expected to consolidate BJP’s position in Surat, especially among the youth, since he has organised several career counselling workshops and sports competitions for the youth in the district.
Another interesting face in the new cabinet is Naresh Patel — a two-time MLA and BJP Scheduled Tribe Morcha secretary — who is believed to have been chosen to reach out to the tribal votebank.
Rushikesh Patel is an alternative to Nitin Patel, since both are prominent leaders in north Gujarat.
Rajendra Trivedi, once a prominent advocate, had represented the Gujarat government in the Best Bakery case following the 2002 riots. The cabinet inclusion is a big promotion for the former assembly speaker and he will be the senior-most leader in the new cabinet, like Nitin Patel was in the Rupani cabinet, and in Anandiben Patel’s cabinet before that.
Another inclusion in the new cabinet is Surat West MLA Purnesh Modi, who had filed a case against Rahul Gandhi in 2019, following a comment reportedly made by the Congress leader at an election rally questioning “How come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?”
The cabinet also includes two women MLAs — Manisha Vakil and Nimisha Suthar.
A senior Gujarat BJP leader, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that “the idea behind including new faces in the cabinet was so that they could work with fresh energy ahead of next year’s assembly election”.
He added: “Since the Chief Minister is also new in administration, fresh faces were needed in the cabinet — older faces couldn’t go with the new person who has been given charge to lead the state. Several of the formers ministers had been part of the cabinet for 20 years and had served in the Modi, Anandiben Patel, and two Rupani cabinets (from 2016 to 2021). New talent has to be promoted for leadership development.”
Another Gujarat BJP leader, however, said that the “motive (behind dropping the old faces and bringing in a new cabinet) was to give the opportunity to the new chief minister to run the administration without any hindrance, and past baggage. Party has done ‘operation clean’ to beat anti-incumbency, it is like new a government in the state. Narendra bhai (PM Modi) had employed this strategy to change 40-50 per cent of sitting MLAs in 2007 and 2012 assembly election to beat anti-incumbency. We have done this exercise in cabinet formation to beat anti-incumbency of past Rupani government.”
Dissidence & resentment in Gujarat BJP
With news of no senior ministers being included in the new cabinet doing the rounds since Wednesday, several ministers and their supporters had already started protesting in Saurashtra, north and south Gujarat.
Supporters of Kunvarji Bawaliya, a prominent leader of the Koli community in the state, sent a message to the BJP leadership Wednesday that the community would not vote for the party in next year’s election if he did not get a cabinet berth. Bawaliya also sent a letter to the PM in this regard Wednesday.
Many turncoat Congress MLAs, who had switched sides to the BJP during Rupani’s tenure, have also made their resentment at the cabinet reshuffle clear to the former CM. MLAs Jawahar Chavda, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Jayesh Radadiya are also believed to have voiced their resentment during Rupani’s meeting with the BJP leaders Wednesday.
Sources told ThePrint that the former CM himself is unhappy at some of his trusted ministers, like Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Kaushik Patel, being dropped from the cabinet. On Wednesday, Rupani is also believed to have told Gujarat BJP in-charge Bhupendra Yadav — who has been camping in the state for the past several days to oversee the cabinet expansion — that ‘Operation Clean’ was not a good strategy.
In the past two days, Yadav and BJP national general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh have held meetings with MP C.R. Patil and Rupani to contain resentment among outgoing ministers. Sources predicted, however, that it will not be a smooth going for new CM Patil, with elections due in a year.
Thursday’s cabinet reshuffle and expansion have been especially hard on former deputy CM Nitin Patel. Patel had been overlooked by the party for the post of CM after Anandiben Patel resigned in 2016 and he has now lost his deputy CM position too.
A Gujarat BJP functionary told ThePrint that “since Nitin Patel was senior (to the current CM), and there was resentment against him for his handling of the Covid situation in the state as health minister”, it would not have been a good strategy to retain him in the cabinet.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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