Ahmedabad: In a first in the Gujarat BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah were on Sunday forced to return the Finance portfolio to Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel after he sulked for two days after being given the second slot in the new Vijay Rupani cabinet but not the beats matching that stature.
Nitin Patel, who is in public life since 1977 and with the BJP from 1980, withdrew into a shell at his residence in Ahmedabad for two days without occupying his ministerial mansion on Thursday and Friday after Chief Minister Rupani distributed the portfolios to his new team, without Finance, Urban Development and Petrochemicals to him.
Nitin Patel had felt slighted way back in 2016 when Rupani, rank junior to him in the party and experience, was made the Chief Minister after the forced exit of Anandiben Patel in the wake of the Patidar agitation. He decided to keep quiet then.
Rupani is considered close to Amit Shah while Anandiben Patel is Shah’s bete noire and Nitin Patel is believed to be in her camp. Incidentally, the first woman Chief Minister of Gujarat was known to be a confidant of Modi but the circumstances had then forced her to put in her papers.
Nitin Patel had started giving interviews to Gujarati TV channels about his priorities as the Chief Minister when, at the last minute, he was told that he was only a deputy and Rupani, then Gujarat BJP President, would be the Chief Minister.
This time too Nitin Patel had to be content with the Deputy Chief Ministership but was shocked that his previous portfolios Finance and Urban Development were taken away from him and he was given Health and Family Welfare, Roads and Buildings and Narmada.
While new minister Saurabh Patel, son-in-law of industry doyen Dhirubhai Ambani’s brother Ramnik Ambani, was given the Finance and Petrochemicals that he had handled earlier, the Chief Minister retained Urban Development.
Rupani had dropped Saurabh Patel last year but took him in his new government.
After sulking for two days and even triggering protests from the Patels, Nitin Patel eventually joined the Rupani cabinet saying Amit Shah had pledged to restore the key portfolios snatched from him.
“Amit Shah called me in the morning at 5:30 and promised to allot portfolios befitting me as the Deputy Chief Minister and asked me to take charge,” he told reporters. Patel then assumed charge as cabinet minister in Gandhinagar.
Rupani, who left for Rajkot to attend a function to felicitate him in his hometown, said: “Nitinbhai Patel had conveyed his feelings to the party leadership, which has made changes in the portfolios and honoured him and now the matter rests there. It is a big family, sometimes these things happen, but it is over now.”
The move by the Bharatiya Janata Party triggered widespread protests in the Patel community, with Patidar leader Hardik Patel urging Nitin Patel to quit the BJP and join the Congress. Senior Patel MLAs and other leaders in BJP also went to him and expressed their solidarity, including some asserting that he should be made the Chief Minister.
Nitin Patel said: “It is not about the portfolios or power but it was about my self-respect as the second-in-command that had been hurt. There was no way I was even thinking of quitting the government or the party for which I have sacrificed 40 years of my life and career.”
He added: “I request my supporters to withdraw the ‘bandh’ announcement for Monday, called in support of my demands.”
The Sardar Patel Group, which had spearheaded the Patidar agitation along with the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) led by Hardik Patel, called for a statewide ‘bandh’ on Monday.