They may be taking solace in the fact that former BJP chief minister Vijay Rupani has proved true to form as an unassuming leader and led the way in announcing that he won’t contest this time. However, among Rupani’s supporters, there is also sadness in the disappearance from the scene of the “approachable, down-to-earth leader”.
Like he did on September 11 last year when he stepped down as CM quietly, after the party decided to change the entire Cabinet, 66-year-old Rupani has this time too stepped back from the limelight. It was after Rupani’s announcement that other senior BJP leaders, including former deputy CM Nitin Patel, Bhupendra Chudasama and Pradipsinh Jadeja, followed and said they too were opting out of the coming Assembly elections.
Kamlesh Mirani, president of the BJP’s Rajkot city unit, admitted that they were disappointed. Rupani is the sitting MLA from Rajkot. “Till the candidates for the four Assembly seats in the city were not announced, party workers were hoping that Rupani would contest… But now that the party has declared its candidates, all BJP workers will work for them. Our workers worship the lotus (the BJP symbol)… individuals keep changing,” Mirani said, adding that they appreciated the fact that the BJP had not denied a ticket to Rupani but that he had himself taken the decision not to contest.
A BJP worker and advocate said what puts Rupani apart is that “he is a natural leader who likes to be among the public”. “During his tenure as CM, he gave a lot to Rajkot and therefore, it is obvious that workers like me will be disappointed by his absence,” the worker said, adding that, at the same time, they respected his decision.
After resigning as CM, Rupani had said at more than one public fora that only a BJP worker from Rajkot could resign in “ghadi na chhaththha bhagma (a fraction of a second)”, citing Arvind Maniyar, late Chiman Shukla, late Keshubhai Patel and Vajubhai Vala. In a recent interview to The Indian Express, Rupani said he was asked by the party just the night before to step down as CM.
First elected to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation in 1987, Rupani served as Rajkot mayor, then made it to the Rajya Sahba in 2006, served as BJP state unit general secretary as well as spokesperson, before being appointed chairman of the Gujarat Municipal Finance Board. In October 2014, the BJP fielded him for a bypoll in Rajkot (West) seat, a significant decision as this was the BJP bastion from which Narendra Modi had first entered the Gujarat Assembly in 2001. By 2016, he was the Gujarat president of the BJP, and took over as CM later that year, after Anandiben Patel had to resign in the face of the Patidar quota stir.
After the BJP came to power, Rupani was seen to have gained in strength and developed his own support base. But then came the axe.