Even as campaigning for the Lok Sabha election comes to a close on Sunday in Gujarat, deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel has been missing in action. While chief minister Vijay Rupani and state BJP state president Jitu Vaghani have election rallies planned almost every day, Nitin Patel, a veteran in the government and the party, seems to have restricted himself mainly to Mehsana, his home district, despite being listed as a star campaigner of the party.
A Kadva Patidar, Patel is the first to hold the post of deputy chief minister in a BJP government in Gujarat. Creating such a post for him was largely seen as a strategy to pacify the Patidar community that had gone against the BJP following the Hardik Patel-led reservation agitation.
Sources said that Patel's near-absence from the state-level election campaigns is an indication of the latter's isolation by the party leadership following his open revolt in December 2017 over the issue of allocation of portfolios in the Vijay Rupani government. Patel is also believed to have differences with Rupani.
Among the 40 star campaigners for Gujarat on a list released by the party on April 5, apart from the top two star campaigners, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party's national president Amit Shah, the names of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Jitu Vaghani, Parshottam Rupala, and Nitin Patel feature prominently. Yet, his name is absent from almost all the election tour programmes of various leaders that the party issued since.
Party sources said that Patel has mainly concentrated on Mehsana Lok Sabha constituency to ensure that the party wins the seat, as he is an MLA from the Mehsana Assembly constituency. His social media posts also show him campaigning mainly in Mehsana, except for one post with Modi in Surendranagar and another with Shah in Gandhinagar.
Sources also said that BJP's candidate for Mehsana Lok Sabha constituency Shardaben Patel had been nominated following Nitin Patel's assurance that he would ensure that the party wins the seat. Mehsana, a BJP bastion, had been at the epicentre of the Patidar quota agitation, and also the place where the party faced many embarrassing moments of Opposition by the Patidar community during 2017 Assembly elections.
Ever since Shardaben's name was announced as the BJP candidate, party sources said, Nitin Patel has been camping mainly in the region conducting small election meetings and marshalling resources. On Friday too, Nitin Patel addressed three public meetings in Mehsana town.
Another party source, who did not want to be named, sought to downplay his absence at other places. The party member said, "Nitin Patel handles Finance portfolio and so he also must be busy in state administration apart from campaigning for Mehsana."
Patel's known appearances for campaigning outside Mehsana constituency include him accompanying party president Amit Shah during his roadshows in Ahmedabad city and Kalol town on April 6 and April 14 and attending Prime Minister Narendra Modi's public meeting in Surendranagar on April 17.
When asked to comment, Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani merely said, "You ask this to Nitinbhai."
Nitin Patel, however, could not be contacted for his comments despite repeated attempts.
BJP's in-charge for the Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat Om Mathur denied that Nitin Patel had been missing in campaigns others than in Mehsana, "As far as I know, he has gone everywhere. Recently, he was in Surendranagar, then he was in Kutch. Before that, he was either in Baroda (Vadodara) or Bardoli… It (Nitin Patel's tour programmes) should be sent and must have been sent, I will check that out."