New Delhi: Inputs about a major segment of the Patel caste moving towards the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) necessitated the sudden resignation of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, 65.

Rupani, a Jain, is likely to be replaced by a leader from the Patel community. Among the frontrunners are Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel.

The new CM will have a tenure of around 14 months before the state goes to the polls in December 2022. Rupani was appointed as Chief Minister, replacing Anandi Ben Patel, in August 2016, around 16 months before the December 2017 polls. Around 15 days ago, Rupani had denied reports that Home Minister and his state colleague Amit Shah had asked him to resign.

According to inputs being received by state party leaders and the central leadership, the Patels are being  wooed aggressively by the AAP, which won 27 of the 120 seats in Surat municipal corporation elections that were held earlier this year.

It was at that time that alarm bells started ringing among BJP strategists, as the victory of AAP, however small—the Congress got zero seats—was credited to the support that they got from the Patels.

In June this year, Patel leaders came together for a community meeting at Kagwad Khodaldham temple in Rajkot, during which they announced that the community wanted someone from their own caste to lead the state.

Khodaldham, near Kagvad, Rajkot is an influential religious and social institution for the Leuva Patels, one of the two prominent sub-castes among the Patels, the other being Kadva.

Significantly, the leaders present during this meeting praised AAP while announcing that AAP was in a strong position to break the monopoly of BJP and Congress in leading the state.

This meeting and the subsequent statements that were made were taken seriously by the party leadership and as a warning from Patel voters that they would not mind seeking alternatives beyond the BJP. In the Union Cabinet reshuffle in July, Mansukh Mandaviya and Purshottam Rupala were elevated as Cabinet ministers, with Mandaviya being given the Ministry of Health and Family welfare. Both of them are Patels.

Both Mandaviya’s and Rupala’s names are being discussed as possible replacements for Rupani. However, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi having the track record of doing the unexpected, Gujarat based political observers have not ruled out the possibility of former state home minister and a Patel leader, Gordhan Zadaphia being given the CM’s chair. Zadaphia was given the charge of the crucial Uttar Pradesh before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The name of former state president Jitu Bhai Vaghani, who is MLA from Bhavnagar West, is also being pushed.

But Mansukh Mandaviya might emerge as the consensus candidate, with two Deputy CMs, one from the tribal community and the other from an OBC to balance the caste equations.

Another name doing the rounds is of Praful Patel, the administrator of Lakshadweep, who had served as home minister of Gujarat. He has been asked to come to Gandhinagar, leading to speculation that he might be appointed as CM.

Vajubhai Vala, former Governor of Karnataka and a former mayor of Rajkot, said the next CM would be a surprise candidate.

Home Minister Amit Shah was reaching Ahmedabad on Saturday night. The meeting of BJP legislatures is scheduled for 2 pm on Sunday where the CM’s name will be announced.

Patidars or Patels, through their numerical strength, impact election results in close to 75 out of Gujarat’s 182 assembly constituencies. They form about 16% or more of the voters in these constituencies. Of the about 6 crore population of Gujarat, Patidars constitute close to 12%.

Sources said Rupani was informally made aware of the fact that he would be replaced “well before Saturday”.

BJP’s national general secretary, B.L. Santosh reached Ahmedabad on Saturday morning along with Union Minister and state in-charge, Bhupender Yadav. They convened a meeting of the entire cabinet at the party’s office at Shree Kamlam, Gandhinagar. There, Rupani resigned to facilitate a Patel leader become his successor. Rupani, who was born in Myanmar, has his political base in Rajkot, a Patel dominated city.

According to experts, it is the support by the Patidar community which has been clinching victory for the BJP for the past two decades. However, this support base got dented during the 2015 Patel quota agitation, which resulted in the death of at least 15 individuals. The violence had led to the deployment of the Army in several cities. The agitation had made Hardik Patel a household name. Last year in July Hardik Patel was appointed as the working president of the Congress.

Home Minister Amit Shah had visited Gujarat earlier this week. Incidentally, Hardik Patel, who was in Delhi till Friday morning, arrived in Ahmedabad by a GoAir 16.45 pm flight. There is a strong buzz in Gujarat that Hardik Patel might join AAP in the coming days.

The BJP’s narrow win in the 2017 Assembly elections, in a state where it has been dominating for decades, was attributed to the Patel anger against the party. In 2017, the party won 99 seats, its lowest tally while being in power and just 7 seats more than the 92 seats needed for majority.

Patels, who claim themselves to be the descendants of Lord Ram, are spread across Gujarat but have a higher concentration in North Gujarat and Saurashtra region. They are among the most prominent political and financial communities of the state.

They shifted their political allegiance from Congress to the BJP after Congress shifted focus to the KHAM alliance (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) under former two-time Gujarat CM Madhavsinh Solanki who passed away in January this year.

In his statement after tendering his resignation to Governor Acharya Devvrat, the soft spoken Rupani, who enjoys a spotless image, said he was resigning because the state should now progress under a new energy and a new leadership and that he now wanted to work in the organization. Rupani did not forget to highlight the work done by him especially in tackling Covid-19 and in vaccinating people.