The BJP’s decision does not really mean that it is blindly following the “ek Modi sab par bhari” line.
“When in doubt, leave it out” used to be a maxim in journalism, though not always followed in practice by reporters and editors, but it was never a good strategy in the world of politics.
Now, however, the world’s largest party, the BJP, seems to have adopted this principle in three election-going states where it is locked in a stiff battle with a re-energised Congress.
Right or wrong, the BJP suddenly seems to be giving political observers the feeling that it is wobbling. Its decision to go to the polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan, due by the end of the year, only with the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a reflection. This decision came after Union home minister Amit Shah visited all the three states recently and held extensive consultations with the states’ leaders.
This move signals that the BJP, which has always batted on the front foot, has suddenly started playing it safe after the Karnataka debacle, and will not project any CM candidate in any of the three states. The Basavaraj Bommai fiasco after the removal of B.S. Yediyurappa in Karnataka is weighing heavily on the mind of the Prime Minister, who has so far not uttered a word on the Karnataka “Waterloo” as if it has not happened.
While leadership means taking calculated risks for bigger benefits, the Modi-Shah duo are in a way following the line of least resistance, which need not necessarily be the best strategy.
Another indication that the BJP is not in the pink of health is reflected in the NDA meeting convened in New Delhi last week to show that it has a lot of allies and wants to bring in even more.
The buzz in the Opposition camp following the Patna meeting and the one in Bengaluru is making the Modi-Shah duo more cautious, if not actually nervous. So, caution is the new name of the game in the BJP. The floor is wet, and it could get slippery.
Among the three states, the BJP would fight for the first time without projecting a CM face in Chhattisgarh. Raman Singh, who had been a three-time CM in the tribal-dominated state, has been benched following the debacle in the Assembly polls last time. But this was expected. Mr Raman has been in the political doghouse for quite some time.
What has come as a shock is that the BJP’s longest-serving CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, and Vasundhara Raje, the tallest woman leader of the party at the national level, who has been twice CM of Rajasthan, will have to battle it out for leadership positions if the party wins in their respective states.
The BJP’s decision does not really mean that it is blindly following the “ek Modi sab par bhari” line, but that the ruling party has developed cold feet in projecting chief ministerial candidates in the wake of growing factionalism in all the three units.
Interestingly, Mr Chouhan is a veteran CM, who has been at the helm of Madhya Pradesh for more time than Narendra Modi in Gujarat. In fact, Lal Krishna Advani had once hailed him as a possible future PM when the BJP ecosystem was feverishly chanting “Modi… Modi”.
Attempts were made to sideline Vasundhara Raje since the BJP lost the last Assembly elections. Satish Punia, who was the state BJP chief, was recently removed to mollify Ms Raje. But the joy was shortlived as he was made deputy leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly. All Union ministers from Rajasthan generally keep their distance from Ms Raje. Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is a known detractor.
The moral of the story: Ms Raje is fighting every inch of the way. Some time back, reports had it that high-profile railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who also holds charge of IT, had emerged as the hot favourite among the BJP’s top brass to become the next CM. But after that, Mr Vaishnaw has faced trouble in the wake of the Balasore train accident, in which 300 passengers had perished.
Factionalism is the bane of the BJP in these states, and it has only grown since the emergence of Narendra Modi on the national scene as the high command silently played favourites and tried to cut established leaders down to size.
An example in faraway Maharashtra will suffice. Ajit Pawar looks like he has emerged as the blue-eyed boy since he split the Sharad Pawar-led NCP and has been made deputy chief minister with the coveted finance portfolio. Eight of his colleagues also have key portfolios. It is immaterial that this has made chief minister Eknath Shinde, who heads the Shiv Sena’s breakaway faction, uneasy, as well as a section of the state BJP, which is suffering silently. Devendra Fadnavis is deputy CM of the BJP, having earlier been chief minister for a full term.
The talk of “inclusive” leadership is a misnomer. It more a “collective” leadership sort of thing. There is no captain, and all are soldiers. It means to go along with the central leadership on the issue of a decision on the state leadership. Not to question who and why.
The BJP’s uneasiness is sharply in contrast to the Congress going “slow and steady” in the election-going states. Madhya Pradesh PCC chief Kamal Nath wants to avenge the way his government was toppled by the BJP through “Operation Kamala” by luring away Jyotiraditya Scindia and the 22 MLAs supporting him. Right or wrong, with full support from Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath feels that everything is going his way. Mr Scindia himself looks unsettled in the BJP, as he is being looked down on as an outsider.
In Rajasthan, the Congress high command has succeeded at long last in convincing chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his known detractor Sachin Pilot to smoke the peace pipe. Similar is the story in Chhattisgarh, where senior minister T.S. Singh Deo, who was not on the best of terms with chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, has been made the deputy CM.
The next few months will show which way the political winds are blowing in the three states. One thing is clear: the Congress is upbeat in the wake of the Karnataka victory and wants to make a fight of it in the coming polls. The BJP too is battling hard, as it knows that any slip would be problematic for it in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. But self-doubt need not always be a good thing.