Clarion cull: 24 new faces replace entire Gujarat cabinet

© Provided by The Times of India

GANDHINAGAR: In a political purge seen as BJP’s most audacious experiment yet, PM Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat on Thursday lived up to its reputation as the saffron party’s laboratory with a “no-repeat” government of 24 new faces, most of them freshers, replacing all 22 ministers from the erstwhile Vijay Rupani cabinet.

The tsunami of transformation capped a frenetic six days for the state, starting with Rupani’s sudden resignation as CM last Saturday and the even more surprising elevation of first-time MLA Bhupendra Patel to the chief ministership.

The writing was on the wall for Team Rupani on Wednesday given the no-repeat formula (reported by TOI on Sept 16) even as most of them spent the day trying to lobby with the state BJP leadership in a last-ditch attempt to save their places. While the swearing-in had to be postponed by a day amid murmurs of discontent, even that rare episode of discord in the party did not alter the central leadership’s resolve to prop up a new team of netas to lead Gujarat into the 2022 assembly polls.

The overhaul is being bandied about as an attempt to wipe out any anti-incumbency sentiment after BJP’s more than two-decade stint in Gujarat. In trying to build BJP’s bulwark against the possibility of voter fatigue, veterans like former deputy CM Nitin Patel, Pradipsinh Jadeja, Saurabh Patel, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Kaushik Patel — each with decades of experience in government — found themselves swept away by the sweeping tides of change.

Of the 24 new ministers sworn in on Thursday,10 are of cabinet rank. Five of the14 ministers of state have been given independent charge. Like the CM himself, almost a dozen of these ministers are first-time MLAs. The new-look ministry has two women — tribal MLA Nimisha Suthar and Manisha Vakil.

Gujarat experiment ‘bid to create positive effect before ’22 polls’

The only three members of the Patel cabinet with prior experience of running ministries are Kiritsinh Rana, Rajendra Trivedi and Raghavji Patel. The induction of Raghavji along with two Congress turncoats, Jitu Chaudhary and Brijesh Merja, is perceived to be a move to douse the resentment that had erupted over the removal of three other turncoats – Kunvarji Bavaliya, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and Jawahar Chavda.

Region-wise, the heft of central and south Gujarat in the Patel cabinet grew to 15 ministers, compared to nine in the Rupani government. Saurashtra-Kutch’s share dropped from 10 to seven. The growing influence of south Gujarat is attributed to BJP state president CR Paatil, who hails from Navsari. In the new cabinet, caste equations have been rejigged to give more prominence to OBC and SC/ST communities. The number of OBC ministers jumped from four to six, while SC and ST representation rose from three to six.

The surprise element in Patel being made CM resonated in the combination of the cabinet. Patel has kept most of the key portfolios that used to be held by Rupani. The relatively low-profile Kanubhai Desai was given arguably the most important portfolio: the finance department. Ex-speaker Rajendra Trivedi was given revenue, law and justice, and parliamentary affairs. The youngest minister, 36-year-old Harsh Sanghvi, was appointed minister of state for home. Jitu Vaghani was among the notable inclusions in the cabinet after a stint as state party president.

The health department, formerly held by deputy CM Nitin Patel, went to another Patidar MLA, Rushikesh Patel, who represents Visnagar constituency of Mehsana district. Besides the CM, there are now six Patidar ministers in the government. The Rupani government had eight. Although the average age of the Patel ministry is 53, one new appointee — 70-yearold Kanu Desai — beat the age band apparently set by BJP.

Political observers said PM Modi had first toyed with the “change is the only constant” theory in 2007 in a taluka panchayat election in Gondal. In 2010, he implemented the “no repeat” formula in the civic body elections in Ahmedabad and Surat. The GAS (Gondal-Ahmedabad-Surat) formula’s success in cutting down anti-incumbency spurred the determination to replicate it, albeit in a limited measure in successive assembly elections of 2012 and 2017, and even in the 2019 parliamentary elections, when many senior functionaries were denied tickets.

“This experiment has consistently given results and has been implemented in the cabinet formation to create a positive impression among people before the 2022 elections,” a source said. “The aim is to negate any anti-incumbency and possible negativity due to allegations of the government’s mishandling of the Covid crisis.”

BJP’s Gujarat in-charge Bhupendra Yadav told reporters that the composition of the Patel cabinet was in line with the party’s strategy of implementing a “new experiment of ensuring that new leadership is cultivated and continuity is ensured”. He denied there was any discontent in the ranks.

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