The Chief Minister of every state of India is constantly busy as they are playing an important role in running the nation. Gujarat’s Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also has a hectic schedule. But when ‘Cocktail Zindagi’ asked for an exclusive interview, he especially took out time for it. The CM shares a lot of unknown things about his life with Cocktail Zindagi’s Bhargav Parikh during the interview that was taken at the CM’s residence. You wouldn’t have read such an interview about his life ever before.
Our relationship with Mr. Rupani is age-old. It existed even when he was the Mayor of Rajkot and also when he was that Samaritan who cared about our morning breakfast when getting water was difficult during the floods of Amreli. This time when we met him, he shrugged his persona of a Chief Minister and said, “You did a good thing by giving voice to the prisoners in Cocktail Zindagi”. (He was addressing the June issue of Cocktail Zindagi where we spoke to the prisoners of Sabarmati jail about ‘Samarth’ project and made an exclusive report.)
He added, “We took the ‘Samarth’ project from Ahmedabad to Surat and reformed the lives of three convicts, giving them a job in the police department. We erased the black mark of shame from their foreheads.”
Dressed in light blue, the CM had just gotten fresh after exercising early in the morning. While talking with ‘Cocktail Zindagi’, he didn’t even once glance at this watch.
“When the political situation in Rangoon became unstable, my father decided to come to India. I am the youngest in all of my six other siblings. Back then, I was only three and had no idea about why we were travelling to Rajkot in 1959,” said Mr. Rupani while talking about his childhood.
Furthermore, he says, “My father was into the business of trading. My elder brothers were helping my father in his business. Since I was the youngest, I was given a lot of love. Rajkot’s vibrant and colourful environment had made us forget Rangoon. When I was a student, I was fond of reading. I was a part of an RSS wing where we inculcated with the principles of the discipline. At the age of 15, in 1971, I began running a wing of RSS. In some time after that, the Navnirman Andolan happened in Gujarat to counter the prices of necessities that had sky-rocketed. This is when I first had experiences of leadership. We staged protests and processions for which we also had to go to jail. When I got into college, I became an active member of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad and also got attracted towards the J.P. Movement as it was a time when democracy was taking its last breaths. At this time, Congress was divided into two parts, ‘Syndicate’ and ‘Indicate’. The freedom of the press was snatched and the leaders of Opposition were being put into jail. The initiation of money and muscle power in politics began at that time. I was also arrested during the Emergency for 1 year”.
Remembering those days which he spent in jail and thinking about a veteran politician he feels overwhelmed. He pauses, takes a few sips of water and then began talking again, “I was in the last year of college then. First, they kept me in Bhuj jail and then shifted me to Bhavnagar jail. I passed my B.A. exams while studying in jail and became a graduate in jail.
In those years, I had the chance of spending time with C.T.Daru, who was considered to be like an encyclopaedia on the Indian constitution. He was associated with the politician M.N Roy of ‘Radical Humanist Party’ at that time. I was interested in conversing about the world’s revolutions and laws with him. Apart from that, I got to interact with leaders like Unjha’s Naran Patel, late Anant Dave, Mahendra Mashru and many others. I read books on the revolutions in China, Europe and Russia. The Soviet Union was strong then. After reading about Lenin, in that one year, I spent time reading about several world leaders and tried to understand their ideas. I had read that Stalin’s daughter Svetlana and left the country after being tired of Communists.
Communism was at its peak. To be able to read and understand the magazines that came from the Soviet Union, I began learning the Russian language. After reading Karl Marx, I felt that his theory isn’t beneficial for the world. Even China has opened its doors now. From that, we can understand how hollow Marx’s theory was. I strongly think that Gandhiji’s and Deen Dayal Sharma’s theories are completely true that by keeping the man in the centre, national power should be generated through the mind, body and soul. We can only make the society stronger by following the principles of trusteeship, minimum needs and non-attachment. I have reached that conclusion after reading and understanding the freedom movement. “
When we asked him why then did he stepped into the trading business like his family, he frankly answers, “I wanted to become a good lawyer. I had also applied for a law degree after graduating while in jail but I was refused admission. Experienced leader Suryakant Acharya, who was in jail with us, had given us a beautiful advice. He had said that the sun was not shining high for the party then but this was the time for a change, for striving to do something. He told us to study, to think. He said that in the future, the youth will hold the party on their shoulders. So I started studying sociology and did an M.A in it. My urge to do something for the society increased with that and the period of Emergency had also ended. After I applied again to get an admission in L.LB., I got it and graduated in law. But my wish to become a lawyer remained unfulfilled as my father got a paralysis attack. The responsibility on my shoulders increased, I also had to handle the family’s business. My dream for practising law never took shape.”
When we asked him the next question, the regret of not becoming a lawyer vanished from his face and a slight blush took its place. We asked him that even if he couldn’t accomplish one of his dreams, didn’t he meet his life partner, Mrs. Anjali Rupani?
“Anjali and I used to work together in ABVP. We knew each other like other members but our thoughts also matched. In the start, we had never thought to get married. But with time as we got to know each other, we came closer. She is a Maharashtrian Brahmin and I am a Jain. We used to wonder whether we will be able to adjust with each other in the start. But then, after thinking, we decided to get married. Our families supported our decision. Our wedding was attended by many important leaders”.
Venturing more into the topic and encouraged by his frankness, we asked him that who proposed first? He laughed and answered, “In our time there was nothing like a proposal. We decided that we both would work for the betterment of the society by being together. Even if any one of us did propose, I cannot remember it now.”
Then we asked him what is his favourite flower, “Has to be a rose!” His answer can be best understood by reading between the lines.
Then we asked him about his favourite food. Without hesitating even for a second, he promptly said, “Puranpoli”. We told him that puranpoli was a Maharashtrian dish and his wife was also a Maharashtrian, making the connection and wondering whether that is why that was his favourite food, he smiled and said, “Puranpoli is made in Gujarat too, it is not just Maharashtrian food.”
Talking about the turning point in his life, the CM said, “After Shankarsinh Waghela left, there was a vertical split in Gujarat’s BJP. After that from 1996, I became very active in politics. I was first made a corporator, then the Chairman of Standing Committee, then Rajkot’s Mayor. Further on, I was made the General Secretary, the spokesperson, the state President of the party and now the Chief Minister. With time, I have taken on every responsibility with pure intentions.”
How did he manage to give time at home while being so active in politics?
“It is true that I am unable to give enough time at home but my daughter became a topper in 12th grade. Radhika liked the field of commerce so we sent her to Ahmedabad’s H.L.College. She became a C.A. and started working at Deloitte. My son-in-law is also a C.A. Both are working at Deloitte in London. They are living in London since 2015 and are happy. My son, Vrushabh has now graduated as a Mechanical Engineer and will now study further for a Masters degree. I have let them choose their own career path,” he answers.
We then asked him that why didn’t his children choose politics when both their parents are politicians? To which he said, “I don’t impose my decisions on my children. They decided the careers path they liked. Politics is not a family business that even our kids can be made politicians. They take their own life decisions, I do not force them to do anything.”
Immediately we say that we have seen his son Vrushabh playing cricket and he seemed like a good cricketer. Maybe he could become a better sportsman than an engineer.
“I told you that he is an engineer and you know that he plays cricket well. Let me also tell you that he plays the tabla very well too. Now you tell me what should he do? He can do whatever he is happy in, I don’t make decisions for him. He isn’t home right now if he was he would have made you sway in his tunes by playing the tabla. He is versatile, so I don’t tell him what to do. Like I said before, I don’t impose my decisions on him.”
We ask, where did he get the genes of music from? “I have no idea but it is true that I like music. Whenever I get time from politics, I like listening to music.”
The CM once had a love for travel. Does he still go on vacations?
“Those who get tired, need a vacation. When I accepted such a huge responsibility, I kept my intentions clean and with a clear aim to serve the public. That is why I don’t get tired. It is another thing to take rest when you are not keeping well. When you have your aim in front of your eyes, you don’t need a vacation. I work day and night to fulfil my aim, I use time-management to get things done quickly. I work from 9 in the morning to 11 in the night. Now the word vacation is out of my dictionary.”
Moving on, we asked him a hypothetical question. What if he was shut in a room for one day all alone? What would he do?
“That cannot happen now. But if it does happen, I will choose to be with books and music. I am fond of classical and light music. Saigal is my favourite singer, I also like Hemantkumar and Talat Mahmood. I have a good collection of books in my library and even today I have continued my reading habit. I read authors like Gunvant Shah, Maitreyi Devi, J. Krishnamurti, Rajneesh, Harindra Dave and many others. I also read about the lives of Gandhiji, Swami Vivekananda, Bhagat Singh, Lokmanya Tilak, Shivaji, Savarkar and Rabindranath Tagore. It makes me empathetic about those who are less fortunate. I get affected by the struggles and problems of other people. During the Macchu Dam failure, I had worked for months and have closely seen and experienced the problems that natural disasters cause. I never look at these problems from the perspective of a politician, I look at with empathy because I have been through it.”
Drinking another sip of water he adds, “When in 2015 Amreli was flooded, I took responsibility. We used to get out in the mud after eating two bhakris and drinking one cup of tea, remember Bhargavbhai? Your camera is witness to our efforts. In 2016, in the Banaskantha floods, I was there with the Cabinet. We had ensured a speedy investigation and taken preventive steps to make sure that no diseases are spread.”
Appreciating his memory and his ability to remember the minutest of details, we talk to him about Rajkot and ask him whether he misses it. He expresses, “Of course I miss it. It was a rule since our college time than come what may, we would celebrate Uttarayan together. Now we have all grown up and even our kids have children but we have not broken the tradition. We fly kites together even now but yes, we aren’t able to celebrate Holi and Diwali in the same way. These festivals are my favourite ones. If I have to miss Rajkot’s Janmashtami, I feel really bad. I have not forgotten Rajkot. I am making a museum at the expense of crores of rupees at the school in Rajkot where Gandhiji had studied. The blueprint is ready. The museum will also have books of Gandhiji’s rare photos. In the future, the museum will be made with a collection of interesting books on his life.”
As the topic of books kept coming up and again, we told him that we would pick a book from his library while leaving. The busy man, walked us to it himself. His library has a collection of books in Hindi, English and Gujarati. We saw Russian books and religious ones as well. There were also books with rare photographs of Gandhiji. His collection was spell-binding!
“I have books on the philosophy of all religions. All of them talk about one thing – humanity. I am Jain and I follow the rituals of Jainism. But I believe in all religions equally. I learn from Parsis, Dawoodi Bohras and I visit gurudwaras and temples. My faith in all religions is as much it is in Jainism,” he says while talking about the books on religion.
He promised to gift us a book on Gandhiji’s rare photographs when it is published. Following Indian tradition, he came till the main door to bid us adieu. Such was our meeting with the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani.