Ahmedabad: Nitin Patel, considered No. 2 in the cabinet of outgoing chief minister Anandiben Patel, seems to be emerging as the consensus candidate for the chief minister’s post in Gujarat, with state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Vijay Rupani withdrawing from the race and the party ruling out the candidature of national BJP president Amit Shah. The Patel factor also seems to be tipping the scales in the favour of the 60-year-old Gujarat health minister.

Shah is expected to arrive in Ahmedabad on Thursday morning and will meet top leaders and ministers to discuss the likely successor. On Friday, the legislature party will meet to elect a new leader, who will then be sworn in as the next CM.

The BJP ruled out Shah’s name as the chief ministerial candidate on Wednesday, saying he was needed in national politics, while Rupani, whose name was being considered among the contenders, ruled himself out, saying he would like to “focus on organisation".

The BJP cannot ignore the Patel factor, given the ongoing Patidar agitation in the state over reservation demand, and the choice of Nitin Patel is likely to solve the problem. Members of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), who have been protesting for over a year now, have threatened to intensify their stir if the next CM is not chosen from their community.

Patels, who form 14% of the state’s population and who are a loyal vote bank for the BJP, moved away from the party after last year’s agitation, spearheaded by their leader Hardik Patel. This got reflected in the local body elections in December where the party lost in rural areas.

Nitin Patel’s name is also favoured by Anandiben Patel, who submitted her resignation to governor O.P. Kohli on Wednesday.

“(Nitin) Patel has worked as a minister for several years now and has handled several portfolios hence his administrative skills have worked in his favour than others including Rupani. Given the current scenario, he fits the bill," said a BJP official, on the condition of anonymity.

Patel, who has been with the party for over 30 years, has held cabinet portfolios of water supply, finance, revenue, urban development and urban housing.

Though he had an important role to play in the state government’s bid to control the Patel agitation, he was not very successful in doing so, and this could pose a challenge for him.

Gujarat BJP in-charge Dinesh Sharma, who visited Ahmedabad to meet state leaders in the wake of the Patel resignation, sensed support for Amit Shah among state MLAs, said a senior party functionary, who did not want to be named.

Anandiben Patel’s resignation has come at a time when the government is facing protests from the Dalit community after four members of their community were brutally beaten last month.

With assembly elections in the state likely to be held by the end of next year, the going may be tough for the new leadership to retain power in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A survey by the Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh and the BJP conducted after the Dalit agitation points out that if the assembly elections were to be held today in Gujarat, the BJP would get only 60-65 seats out of 182, the Ahmedabad Mirror reported on Wednesday.

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