New chief minister appointed in Gujarat

New Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani is a low-profile politician said to be close to Prime Minister Modi.
New Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani is a low-profile politician said to be close to Prime Minister Modi.

A low-profile politician considered close to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been chosen as the new chief minister of Gujarat, after turmoil in the state caused the previous leader to quit.

Ms Anandiben Patel resigned because of infighting within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and following caste violence, including protests by the Dalit community over the flogging of four Dalit men by vigilantes.

The party hopes the new chief minister, Mr Vijay Rupani, 60, who is the BJP's state president, will stem the party's slide in popularity and bolster preparations for next year's state election.

State health minister Nitin Patel was announced as deputy chief minister.

"Under Rupani's leadership, the BJP will once again emerge victorious in the 2017 Assembly elections," said BJP leader Nitin Gadkari. Mr Rupani yesterday met Gujarat governor Om Prakash Kohli, staking a claim to form the government.

Gujarat, in western India, is a key state for Mr Modi's BJP and the nation's economy. The BJP has run Gujarat for nearly two decades, including 13 years under Mr Modi until he became prime minister in 2014.

 

Mr Modi is credited with converting the state, which has an enterprising business community, into an economic powerhouse during his time by attracting foreign and domestic investment.

Now Mr Rupani has to oversee preparations for January's Vibrant Gujarat business summit, which officials said would be bigger than the previous edition that had Singapore as a partner country.

But a more immediate and complex challenge is calming caste tensions. Mr Rupani has to deal with a severe backlash by Dalits angered by mistreatment, as well as agitation by the powerful Patel community who want more government jobs.

Analysts said the law graduate who, like Mr Modi, has forged his career through the Hindu-nationalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, faces a tough task in the months before the state poll.

"It is going to be a challenge for him. The (opposition) Congress has always had a presence in the state and it did well in local elections. So the BJP realises there is no room for complacency," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, pro vice-chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'New chief minister appointed in Gujarat'. Print Edition | Subscribe