New Delhi, Dec 19: After winning its citadel – Gujarat – in a tight contest with the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing a bigger headache – naming the chief minister. It will be interesting to see whether the party leadership decides to continue with incumbent Vijay Rupani or get a new face to continue Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘vikas yatra’ (development policy) in his home state.Also Read - New COVID-19 Variant 'Serious Threat', Bad Vaccination Figures Cannot Be Hidden: Rahul Gandhi

Soon after final seats tally was declared on Thursday evening, the BJP appointed senior leaders Arun Jaitley and Saroj Pandey as party’s observers for the selection of chief minister in Gujarat. An announcement regarding the same is expected in a day or two. Also Read - Major Setback to Congress in Meghalaya: Former CM Mukul Sangma, 11 Other MLAs Join TMC

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During election campaigning, party chief Amit Shah had repeatedly said that Vijay Rupani was the BJP’s face for the polls in the state. Rupani secured a comprehensive win for himself from Rajkot West seat by a handsome margin of 25,000 votes, but if party insiders are to be believed there are quite a few names which are believed to be frontrunners to replace him on the top post.

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Rupani, who was a surprise pick after Anandiben Patel stepped down as Gujarat CM in August, may have to face the brunt of the BJP’s performance in Gujarat where it won far less number of seats the party was aiming for. The BJP won 99 seats. On the other hand, the Congress improved its 2012 figure drastically by winning 80 seats, others won three seats in the 182-seat Gujarat Assembly.

Frontrunners

Though Rupani is said to be leading the race for the next Gujarat CM, names of veteran leader RC Faldu, Union Ministers Smriti Irani, Manusukh Mandviya and party chief Amit Shah are also doing the rounds.

Considered to PM Narendra Modi’s ‘blue-eyed boy’Union minister of state for road transport & highways and shipping Mansukh L Mandaviya has emerged as the second most favoured candidate in the CM race. The BJP may favour Mandaviya, a Patidar leader, as a move to pacify the community which is demanding reservation in jobs and education. (Also Read: BJP Retains Gujarat With a Lower Margin, Fails to Score 100)

Information and Broadcasting and Textiles Minister Smriti Irani is also said to be in the race for Gujarat CM. Irani, who was elected to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat in August this year, was one of the party’s star campaigners in the state. The daily soap actor-turned-politician has, however, ruled out the possibility for moving her base from New Delhi to Gandhinagar. “I am definitely not a contender,” she said.

Sources said the BJP may also consider Karnataka Governor and former Speaker of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly Vajubhai Vala for the CM’s post. Vala, a veteran in Gujarat politics, has loads of administrative experience as he has handled major departments like employment, labour and finance in the past. Nitin Patel, the incumbent deputy CM, is also a contender, sources added. Patel was the frontrunner to replace Anandiben Patel last year, however, the party had surprised everyone by naming Rupani as Gujarat CM.

Union Minister of State for Agriculture Purushottam Rupala, a Patidar leader who is considered close to PM Modi, is also said to be in running.

A few media reports are also claiming that Amit Shah may decide to take up the job himself. But with Assembly elections due in major states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka in 2018 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party think tank would want ‘master strategist’ Shah to be in Delhi rather than in Gujarat.