From a Baniya (read non-Patidar) community, Rupani would be a safe bet at a time when the party is facing multiple challenges, from an agitating Patidar (Patel) community demanding reservation to the opposition's allegation of undue advantage by the government to business partners of the CM's daughter, Anar Patel, vehemently denied.
Though a 'non-controversial' personality, Rupani is seen as a Amit Shah confidante. Hence, his appointment hints at the latter's increased indirect control of the state unit, where rumours of factionalism are rife.
"During (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi's chief ministership, the BJP in Gujarat was united. Now there are factions, though no one will admit it," says social and political analyst Achyut Yagnik.
This, among other comparisons with her predecessor, has not escaped Anandiben Patel, recently having faced a flurry of challenges. She turns 75 this November. Contrary to the authoritarian style of leadership identified with Modi, his protege and first woman CM has exhibited mixed styles. Some senior bureaucrats say comes across as arrogant, yet bold, in decisions. However, peers in the cabinet and political observers find a lack of vision in her governance.
"She believes a lot in follow-up and is detail oriented. She likes to keep a tab on the scheme and, hence, makes surprise visits at places to monitor the implementation. This has meant she travels extensively within the state," observes a top bureaucrat who works closely with her.
Yet, others find a lack of vision, contrary to Modi who seemed to work with an end in mind. This was visible when Patel drew severe flak over her handling of the Patidar agitation that peaked on August 25, 2015, after a mega rally in Ahmedabad led by Hardik Patel, convenor of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti. The rally followed the latter's detention and subsequent violence across the state by community members, coupled with police excess on citizens. The administration could not take hold of the situation for almost a month.
"Initially, her leadership attempted at exhibiting boldness, when her government stood its ground and took time to reach out for negotiation with the Patidar leaders. However, when it did negotiate, it seemed to go all the way to appease them. Eventually, it was the arrests that subsided the situation. This, to me, shows she is not as charismatic as Modi and could not hold on to things before they would escalate," opines Vidyut Joshi, another social scientist.
The other criticism her administration faces is the way cracks in the Gujarat model seemed to have emerged. The Patel government has been found to continue to favour large industries over small industries and the rural agrarian population. For Sebastian Morris, faculty member at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, the Gujarat model was never very robust and not all-inclusive.
"It was not based on including everyone, such as in agriculture. Even the Patel agitation is an economic one. There has been no change in orientation in the government's leadership and, hence, the same kind of economic agenda continues. More, issues in Gujarat have come to the fore in recent times because the overall economy has not been doing well. When the Centre grows, Gujarat grows and vice versa. When India is being affected, Gujarat gets badly affected, since it is a predominantly a manufacturing state," says Morris.
Lending strength to his view , that the economic agenda continues to be focused largely on industries and on not being inclusive, are the recent local body poll results, in December 2015. These saw the BJP winning all six municipal corporations and 40 of 56 municipalities in urban areas. However, it lost to the Congress in 21 of the 31 district panchayats and 110 of the 230 taluka panchayats.
The day after the poll results, the BJP government in Gujarat announced a 6,000 acre land bounty to co-operative societies and agricultural produce committees at concessional rates. That has been followed by a slew of schemes aimed at pleasing agrarian communities, along with small cottage and medium industries, beside youths from all sections.
After facing huge trouble in the Patidar agitation in the state in August 2015, the state government announced a package of Rs 1,000 crore for economically backward category (EBC) youths. During 2015, the government announced schemes for agriculture such as crop insurance, organic farming and more incentives for small industries. The past couple of months have also seen a slew of policies for the information technology sector, films, tourism, the Alang ship breaking industry and a policy for start-ups and for cottage industry.
The rural-urban divide in the local body polls does come across as a surprise for the Anandiben Patel regime which has been increasing focus on agriculture, irrigation and social services in the past few state budgets. For instance, the outlay for social services during Narendra Modi's chief ministership was around 42 per cent, which rose to 48 per cent in Anandiben Patel's regime.
As Gujarat's first woman chief minister, Anandiben Patel also launched a result oriented Gatisheel Gujarat program under which focused efforts were being made on strengthening areas like women empowerment, cleanliness, industrial development, health, and education, among others with dedicated schemes.
In the past two years, the Anandiben Patel-led government has announced several policies and scheme for the students, woman, youth, industries, urban development through civic bodies. For instance, her government allotted a revolving fund for women empowerment, linked self-help groups to banks and gave cash credit of Rs 60 crore. It provided equipment to civic bodies for cleanliness and has built thousands of toilets for rural sanitation.
Time, however, is short and she seems to know this. Last week's budget announcement saw Gujarat opening 66,000 positions in the state government for employment, a first in terms of size since formation of the state.
Rumours are rife over a threat to her position as CM. Also, the Anar Patel allegations have got tongues wagging within and without the party. Apparently, a company run by business associates of the CM's daughter owns 400 acres - 250 acres of which was allotted at Rs 15 a square metre - near the Gir lion sanctuary. There are also rumours that Modi asked her to rectify her image.
Nevertheless, party insiders say her position is safe till December 2017, when the state goes into assembly polls. "She still has Modi's support," says one.
Also, "any change of guard will create a bad image for the party", observes Joshi.
Going ahead, the challenge will be in controlling the Patidar agitation, which could be possible, given a strong representation of the community in the cabinet, including the CM herself. The other challenge would be the two monsoons before the assembly elections next year. Depending on how good these are, it could tilt the rural vote in favour or against Anandiben.
A non-Patidar and neutral party chief in Gujarat could help conclude her tenure in dignity, says Yagnik, who believes there doesn't seem a possibility of a second term for her.
Rupani says he has a difficult task. "There are challenges but we are hopeful of resolving these. We are speaking to agitating Patels and hopefully a resolution would be worked out," he told journalists soon after his appointment.
Measures taken during Anandiben Patel's tenure as chief minister:
6,000 acres land bounty to co-operative societies and agricultural produce committees at concessional rates
Rs 1,000 crore package for economically backward category youths.
Opening 66,000 positions in the state government for employment
Announcement of schemes and policies for agriculture, small industries, information technology industry, film, tourism, Alang ship breaking industry, start-ups and cottage industry.
Increase in outlay for social services from 42% during Narendra Modi's chief ministership to 48%
Launch of result-oriented Gatisheel Gujarat programme for focused efforts in strengthening areas like women empowerment, cleanliness, industrial development, health and education
Allotment of revolving fund for women empowerment, linked self-help group to banks and cash credit of Rs 60 crore