Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: HT
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: HT

Modi cabinet reshuffle tilts on Gujarat elections, Patel votebank

The three new ministers in the Union Cabinet from Gujarat are Parshottam Rupala, Mansukhbhai Mandavia and Jasvantsinh Bhabhor

Three of the 19 new ministers that Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought into his cabinet on Tuesday are from his home state Gujarat, indicating his party’s focus on the elections coming up in the state next year. The cabinet reshuffle is also seen as an attempt to appease the state’s influential Patel community.

The three new ministers from Gujarat are Parshottam Rupala, Mansukhbhai Mandavia and Jasvantsinh Bhabhor.

The reshuffle has kept in mind the Patidar (Patel) agitation in Gujarat, said a senior BJP leader.

“While Rupala is likely to get independent charge, other leaders have taken oath as ministers of state (MoS)," he said.

Rupala is from the powerful Kadva Patel community and Mandavia belongs to the Leuva Patel community. Members from both the Kadva and Leuva Patels, who have been supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for over two decades now and constitute about 12-14% of the state’s population, have been agitating for reservation quotas for over a year now.

Their leader, 22-year-old Hardik Patel, is facing sedition and other charges linked to the stir he headed last year that turned violent and in which as many as 10 people got killed.

“The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are trying hard to appease the agitating Patel community and the cabinet reshuffle shows the party’s efforts to reach out to them. As a balancing act, one Kadva and one Leuva Patel have been inducted in the cabinet," said another BJP party official, on the condition of anonymity.

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Both Patel leaders are from the Saurashtra region, a stronghold of the community.

Rupala is currently one of the vice-presidents of the BJP and was elected as a member of Rajya Sabha from Gujarat last month. A strong Patel leader from Amreli district of Saurashtra, he was seen as a contender to the chief minister’s post in 2014, when Narendra Modi resigned as state chief minister to become Prime Minister. Rupala was also a cabinet minister in Gujarat under Keshubhai Patel and Modi.

Mandavia is also BJP’s Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat. A Modi loyalist, Mandavia’s damage control exercise during the Patidar reservation stir may have earned him the cabinet berth, said the first BJP official. He has also earned the reputation of being an eco-friendly person, who chose to cycle to Parliament instead of using a private car. He was the top contender for the Gujarat party president’s post before Vijay Rupani was appointed to the post. He comes from Palitana in Bhavanagar district and is seen as close to chief minister Anandiben Patel.

Bhabhor, a strong scheduled tribe leader from Dahod district is a low-profile politician, but is known to be close to Modi. He has earlier served as MoS when Modi was chief minister.

Before the reshuffle, Gujarat had five out of 64 ministers at the Centre, besides the prime minister. Finance minister Arun Jaitley and human resource and development minister Smriti Irani have both been elected to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. Haribhai Chaudhary, who is minister of state for home affairs, represents the Banaskantha constituency of Gujarat. A four-time MP from Gujarat, his community, although a part of Patidars, already falls in the OBC category and is not agitating along with the Leuva and Kadva Patels.

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