Challenges loom for Gujarat’s ‘all new’ Cabinet

A significant role of bureaucrats, helmed by Delhi, seems likely with little administrative experience in the new Council of Ministers

The BJP’s experiment in Gujarat of dropping all Ministers of the erstwhile Vijay Rupani Cabinet is likely to face challenges as the State heads towards crucial Assembly polls next year.

The 25-member Cabinet of first-time legislator and Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel has only three members with prior ministerial experience: Raghavji Patel, who was minister in the Shankarsinh Vaghela government in 1996-98, Kiritsinh Rana, who served as a minister in Keshubhai Patel and Narendra Modi governments and Rajendra Trivedi, who was a junior minister in the Anandiben government.

Nine of the 24 Ministers are first time legislators whose exposure at the State government level is limited.

“On the surface, it appears as a bold experiment aimed at cutting down the anti-incumbency at the hustings but it’s fraught with risks and challenges as well,” said a senior BJP leader and four-time parliamentarian from the State.

According to him, governance delivery may suffer for the time being because most of the Ministers, including the CM, are inexperienced and they will take some time to get their grip over the bureaucracy and system.

“It appears that bureaucrats will run the administration and may be that’s preferred by the party leadership in Delhi,” he added.

Though the party has done a balancing act and given suitable representation to the major castes and communities in the ministerial berths but at the same time, top leaders who enjoyed power for years in the government have been relegated now and they may create challenges for the administration as well as the party as the polls near.

So far, except some murmurs of protests by supporters of a handful of leaders, there has not been any significant statement or any move by any leader questioning the high command’s unprecedented move of implementing “no repeat” formula in the State cabinet formation.

“Senior leaders are upset but they are in wait and watch mode at the moment,” a party insider said, adding some of them will certainly strike at the opportune moment.

All leaders and ex-Ministers have maintained that the high command’s decision to field new faces in the government has been accepted by all.

“In our party, the leadership takes the decisions and we all follow it,” said Nitin Patel, who was deputy CM in the Rupani administration and was seen as one of the contenders for the top job. However, he is now just another legislator.

In the new cabinet, there are seven members including the CM from the Patidar community. From the STs, there are four members, from SCs, two members, three are from Brahmin and Jain communities, one Rajput and eight from the various castes of OBCs.

However, from the OBCs, no prominent leader of numerically significant Koli community has been inducted. All three Koli leaders who have been inducted are not known beyond their own constituencies. Similarly among the tribal Ministers, none can wield influence beyond his/ her respective constituency.

In Gujarat, OBCs are the largest population block but there is no clarity in their exact numbers in the absence of a caste census. There are some 150 different communities identified as Socially and Educationally Backward Castes (SEBC) which are known as OBCs in the State.

“Most of them are politically light weight. Whether their elevation in the senior position of powers will help the party in wiping out 25 year anti-incumbency when the State goes for the polls next year remains to be seen,” said a prominent minister in the Rupani government.

According to sources, the challenge for the party will likely emerge from Saurashtra where Kolis, who are the largest caste block, and other OBC communities will become vocal as their representation has declined in the new regime.

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