Ahmedabad: The new Gujarat chief minister, Vijay Rupani, has been associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since its inception in 1980, but his moment of reckoning came only two years ago when he contested an assembly seat for the first time. It has been a meteoric rise since.

In a span of two years, the 60-year-old rose among the ranks, first by getting a cabinet rank in the Anandiben Patel-run state government and then by becoming the president of BJP’s state unit in February 2016 after the party did poorly in local body elections. And on Sunday, he was sworn in as chief minister of Gujarat, with Anandiben Patel, 74, having vacated the post citing her advanced age.

The soft-spoken Rupani, who is the first Jain chief minister of the state, is being seen as the right man at the right place at the right time.

The journey to become CM began earlier this year. In February 2016, he beat Mansukh Mandaviya, who was favoured by Anandiben, in the race to become the state unit chief with the backing of BJP’s national president Amit Shah.

Shah came to his aid yet again earlier this week, this time in nominating him as chief minister of the state. Rupani had almost bowed out of the race, making way for Nitin Patel, health minister and No. 2 in Anandiben Patel cabinet, and saying that he would rather focus on working for the organization.

With Shah’s backing, matters swung in his favour at a meeting of senior party leaders in Gandhinagar. He was unanimously elected by the MLAs and top party leaders to be the next chief minister.

“Rupaniji had attended the meet as a senior party leader. His nomination was a pleasant surprise as no one of us had expected. However we all knew that Rupani was the right candidate and the party would take the right decision. Shah wanted a leader who could lead the party to victory in elections next year and smoothly run the administration simultaneously," said a person close to Shah on condition of anonymity.

Rupani, who has been a minister in the Anandiben government, has been handling the party’s affairs as well as some important portfolios like transport and labour and employment.

The 60-year-old began his political career as a student activist with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing, in the late 1960s (when the BJP was known as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh) and later joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent.

Rupani was earlier seen as close to former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who made him the chairman of the manifesto committee when he was CM. Both Rupani and Patel hail from Rajkot in Saurashtra region, seen as a stronghold of the Patels.

But when Prime Minister Narendra Modi replaced Keshubhai in 2001 and won his first electoral contest from Rajkot West to become the state chief minister, Rupani stood by him. This earned him a place in Rajya Sabha in 2006.

In 2014, Rupani was chosen to contest from Rajkot West, a Patel-dominated constituency, after Gujarat speaker Vajubhai Vala resigned as a member of the legislative assembly, and won the October bypoll by a comfortable margin.

A man who was barely known in political circles outside Gujarat has taken cetre-stage by becoming the chief minister of Modi’s home state, whose development story became a rallying point for the BJP and Modi in the 2014 general election.

Rupani is expected to lead the party to victory in next year’s assembly elections in Gujarat, a state where the party has been in power for about 18 straight years now.

Both Rupani and Nitin Patel, who has been named as the deputy chief minister, are faced with the dual challenge of handling the agitation by the upper caste Patel community whose members are agitating for reservations for over a year now and the uprising among the Dalit community after four Dalits were brutally beaten by self-styled cow vigilantes.

While the decision by the party in Gandhinagar on 5 August paved the way for a first-time MLA to become the chief minister in a span of two years, it also saw Nitin Patel, the first deputy chief minister of Gujarat, missing out the top post in the state by a whisker, for the second time in two years.

In the first week of May 2014 when poll predictions favoured then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to become the next prime minister of the country, Nitin Patel, who was a senior minister in Modi’s cabinet, was asked by news agency PTI if he would be named as the successor.

To this, Nitin Patel, while drawing comparisons with ace Indian batsman Virat Kohli, said that if one were to ask Kohli if he would like to lead the Indian cricket team, he would obviously not say no.

“I am ready to be the chief minister if the party wants me to be. If you ask this question to any MLA, the reply would be a positive one," PTI quoted him as saying in a 4 May 2014 report.

Modi went on to become the Prime Minister in May and Kohli became the test captain of the Indian cricket team in December that year, but in Gujarat, Nitin Patel’s senior in the state cabinet, Anandiben Patel, was named as Modi’s successor.

And just when it appeared that he would be named as the successor to the outgoing CM Anandiben Patel on 5 August, especially with Rupani and Shah being ruled out of the race, Nitin Patel had to settle for the job of deputy chief minister.

His candidature for deputy CM was proposed by Anandiben Patel. This after various party officials congratulated him and celebrations began at his hometown in Mehsana. He is seen by many as a neutral candidate, having worked with three BJP chief ministers earlier—Modi, Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta.

Nitin Patel, who has over the years held several portfolios in the Gujarat government including finance and health, said on Friday that he had willingly accepted the responsibility of deputy CM.

Belonging to a small farmer community, Patel has been a state minister for over 16 years, from 1995 till now, except between 2002 and 2007, when he lost the election.

“Both the leaders are very simple and are well connected with the masses. The duo will together be able to fire-fight the prevailing crisis in the state while making the state administration stronger and more efficient. They will work to ensure a certain victory for the party next year," said a senior party leader on condition of anonymity.

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