Ahmedabad: Vijay Rupani, outgoing Gujarat chief minister is seen as the favourite for the top post, but the BJP's performance in the assembly elections has thrown open the possibility of the party opting for someone else. As the state BJP waits for the arrival from Delhi of union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who will oversee the selection of the next chief minister, the only consensus is that it is anyone's guess.
In Delhi, where the party's lawmakers celebrated the wins in Gujarat and Himachal today, a top BJP leader said that while party chief Amit Shah had stated earlier this year that Mr Rupani would continue as Chief Minister, the party would want to "discuss before going ahead."
In Gujarat capital Gandhinagar, BJP sources said that though the BJP's two-digit win was a shock - the BJP has won 99 seats in the 182-member assembly missing the psychological 100 mark - a change of guard will send out the wrong signal. "It will amount to admitting that we fared badly and have no faith in the present state leadership,'' said a party leader.
Vijay Rupani is known to be close to Amit Shah. "Vijay Rupani is his choice. Changing the combination would mean Shah losing confidence in his men in the party,'' said another state BJP leader.
Vijay Rupani's credentials as a caste-neutral leader with a clean image give him an advantage. But critics insist he must shoulder blame for the BJP widely missing Mr Shah's 150-seat target and just about making it past the halfway-majority mark of 92 seats.
Amit Shah is known to spring surprises. The choice of Yogi Adityanath for Uttar Pradesh chief minister after the BJP swept the state earlier this year, and before that Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana are examples. Vijay Rupani's appointment last year as chief minister to replace Anandiben Patel was one such surprise too.
Anandiben was retired by the party in damage control after she was seen to have mishandled big agitations by the powerful Patels or Patidars and Dalits, angering both key communities. Senior leaders point out how for days Nitin Patel, a Patidar leader, was seen as the frontrunner for the post in the run up to this year's election. "Nitin patel was given an indication by the party's top brass that he will be the successor to Anandiben. He had given interviews too as the probable chief minister, but Amit Shah altered the plan at the last minute. So you can never be sure,'' said a senior BJP leader.
Nitin Patel remains a strong contender, especially with the election results announced on Monday making it clear that the BJP has lost some support of the Patels, for years loyal backers of the party. What goes against him is his image as a loyalist of former CM Anandiben Patel, who is not on the best of terms with Amit Shah.
There is also Gujarat BJP chief Jeetu Vaghani, also a Patidar like Mr Patel, and then current minister of state for home Pradeepsinh Jadeja.
There has also been some talk that Purshottam Rupala, a Patidar leader from Saurashtra and a union minister could be considered for Gujarat chief minister. The BJP lost most heavily in the predominantly rural Saurashtra region which also has pockets dominated by Patidars - of the 16 seats it could not win back, 13 were in Saurashtra. The Congress improved its tally in the state from 61 in the last election to 80 this time; 17 of the 19 seats it added came from Saurashtra.
Karnataka governor and senior Gujarat BJP leader Vajubhai Vala is seen as a dark horse.
For now, say BJP leaders in the state, only two men would know for sure who will be the next Gujarat chief minister. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, both of who are from Gujarat. And Arun Jaitley, who will carry with him their decision.