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Gujarat Election Result 2017: Can Vijay Rupani, the First CM Since Narendra Modi to Face Electorate, Fill the PM’s Big Boots?

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani (PTI)

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani (PTI)

If Gujarat 2017 is a litmus test for Modi’s Gujarat model, it is also one for Vijay Rupani as CM. Rupani has inherited Modi’s role in Gujarat in more ways than one.

New Delhi: Since he took over as Gujarat Chief Minister in August 2016, Vijay Rupani has been constantly putting out one fire after another.

From the Patidar agiation, which started during the tenure of Anandiben Patel but intensified under him, to allegations of “manipulative trade practices” being levelled against his HUF entity, Rupani has weathered many a storm in his short tenure as CM. But his biggest litmus test, perhaps, is leading the ruling party into an Assembly election. He is the first CM since Narendra Modi to do so.

Rupani took office in August, after Anandiben Patel retired from the post, at a time of turmoil for the state. The Patidar agitation, which had started a year ago, refused to die down. Just a month before his elevation, Gujarat witnessed massive protests from the Dalit community in the aftermath of the infamous Una floggings, in which four Dalit youths were flogged publically by self-styled cow protectors. Moreover, a resurgent Congress party had started to threaten the BJP’s strongest bastion in the country.

Another blow came for him in September, when a 20-year-old Patidar youth from Ahmedabad posted pictures of a Gujarat Roadways bus with its rear wheels detached. The boy’s Facebook post read, “Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe” (Vikas has gone crazy). This post sparked a flood of memes and jokes with the line ‘Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe’ and Rupani’s government was ridiculed on social media by detractors. While some claimed that the Gujarat model of growth, which propelled Narendra Modi to the Prime Minister’s seat in 2014, itself had failed. Others claimed that while the model held up just fine under Modi, Rupani had failed to fill those big boots.

If Gujarat 2017 is a litmus test for Modi’s Gujarat model, it is also one for Vijay Rupani as CM. Rupani has inherited Modi’s role in Gujarat in more ways than one. Gujarat Assembly Constituency number 69 — Rajkot West — has been a prestige seat for the BJP. In 2002, Narendra Modi contested the first-ever election of his life from Rajkot West and won, before being anointed CM. This time, the BJP candidate is Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.

Rajkot district, the financial hub of the Saurashtra region, is said to hold the key to the entire state. The district alone has eight assembly constituencies within it. Of these eight seats, Rajkot West is perhaps the most high-profile seat. While it has been a BJP stronghold for decades, the Patidar factor is expected to heat up the battle here. There are around 3 lakh registered voters in Rajkot West. There are around 42,000 Kadwa Patels, 33,000 Leuva Patels, 25,000 Brahmins, 25,000 Lohanas, 22,000 minority voters, 20,000 Baniyas and 10,000 Kshatriyas in the electorate.

The Congress has fielded Indraneel Rajyaguru, a Brahmin, to topple Rupani, a Jain. However, the deciding factor in this election will be the 75,000 Patidar votes in the constituency.

A local rivalry has spilled onto the statewide state with Rajyaguru opening the offensive against the CM. “The people here know both of us well. I am here for sewa (service), he is here for mewa (benefits). Everybody in Rajkot knows how he has facilitated corruption here, whether it was in the university or as the chairman of the corporation. Everybody knows how he has given patronage to goondas (goons). People here know that of these two sons of Rajkot, the elder brother (Rupani) is not good so the younger one (me) should get a chance. Everyone here is saying, Congress aave chhe (Congress is coming to power),” Rajyaguru told News 18.

The strategy of the Congress and that of Hardik Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) seems to be to contain the CM in a tough battle on his home turf and not leave him enough time to campaign outside of Saurashtra. Indeed, to some extent, that seems to have worked. Rupani campaigned mostly in Saurashtra and not nearly enough in North Gujarat.

But if he is able to successfully steer his party to a sixth straight win in Gujarat, he will establish himself as a Pan-Gujarat leader and not just one in Saurashtra. But, perhaps more importantly, this is his chance to earn the tag of Modi’s successor.