It is virtually the end of the political road for former Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani and his then deputy Nitin Patel after both `declined’ to contest the next month’s Assembly elections in the state.
The reason the two leaders, who were active in Gujarat politics for more than three decades, gave for not contesting the elections was that they wanted to make way for the next generation.
But political observers think that they were effectively denied tickets as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to present more fresh faces this time to nullify the anti-incumbency factor.
“I have decided not to fight election this time. The BJP gave me the chance to be the chief minister of Gujarat for five years. Now they have made me in-charge of Punjab….I haven’t even demanded a ticket,” Rupani told reporters on Wednesday, a day before the BJP announced its first list of candidates.
Rupani (66), currently the MLA from Rajkot West, was chief minister from August 2016 to September 2021.
In September 2021, his entire cabinet was asked to step down by the party and replaced by a new government led by Bhupendra Patel.
Rupani belongs to a Jain family which returned to India from Myanmar (then Burma) and settled down in Rajkot soon after his birth. As a youngster, Rupani was associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliated student organization Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
He was elected as a corporator of the Rajkot Municipal Corporation in 1987 and served as city mayor from 1996 to 1997. Later, he was appointed as the BJP’s Gujarat unit general secretary. In 2006 he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.
The next decade saw him rising rapidly in state politics, becoming an MLA, minister and chief minister within a span of two years.
In August 2014, the BJP chose Rupani to fight a by-poll to Rajkot West seat after Vajubhai Vala resigned after being appointed the Karnataka governor.
Rupani was made transport minister in the Anandiben Patel-led government in November 2014. For a short period in 2016, he became the BJP’s Gujarat unit president.
Following Anandiben Patel’s sudden resignation as chief minister in August 2016, the central BJP leadership chose Rupani as her replacement. It came as a surprise as it was widely expected that Nitin Patel would get the coveted job.
Rupani became chief minister for the second time after the BJP retained power in the 2017 elections, until the sudden change of guard effected by the party four years later.
Many believed that the BJP wanted to face the coming Assembly polls with a new team as opposition parties were targeting the Rupani government over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nitin Patel, who is the same age as Rupani, came very close to becoming chief minister twice, but the top post eluded him.
The seasoned politician was among the frontrunners for the post in 2016 when Anandiben Patel stepped down, and again in 2021 after Rupani resigned.
“I live in people’s heart, no one can throw me out," Patel, a six-time MLA, said after the BJP chose Bhupendra Patel over him.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently praised Nitin Patel for the role he played in the construction of the Narmada canal network. “Patel can speak on the topic for one hour," Modi said at a rally.
Patel, who belongs to a well-to-do family from Mehsana, started his political journey as a councillor of Kadi Municipality in the district in 1977. In 1990 he won as MLA from Kadi seat on BJP ticket.
He represented Kadi in the Assembly four times between 1990 and 2007. In the next two elections he won from Mehsana constituency.
Patel became health minister when the BJP formed government in Gujarat on its own strength for the first time under Keshubhai Patel’s leadership in 1995.
From 1995, he was part of every BJP government till 2021.
He was first made deputy chief minister in the Rupani cabinet in 2016, and then again after the 2017 elections.
On November 9, Patel, in a hand-written letter to Gujarat BJP chief C R Paatil, said he should not be considered for ticket from the Mehsana seat.
“I have decided not to fight elections. I have been elected as an MLA for six times,” the former deputy CM told reporters.
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