State of BJP’s State Leaders

Was there a move within the BJP to move its regional satraps to the Cabinet at the Centre and bring in new heads of states? Certainly, that was the buzz when we saw party functionaries from the headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg descend to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and more recently Karnataka to confabulate with party MLAs and state ministers about their respective Chief Ministers. We also saw Yogi Adityanath making a sudden visit to Delhi where he met with Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda. Add to this list of state stalwarts, former Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje and her ongoing feud with rival factions within the state unit,especially Satish Punia, state party president. All this led to speculation that these leaders could be removed from the state level, by giving them a consolation post in the Cabinet at the Centre. But these rumours have now been firmly scotched, for it is clear that Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Yogi Adityanath and B.S.Yediyurappa will continue as Chief Ministers. Vasundhara Raje too has resisted all overtures of a Cabinet post for state politics is where she sees her future, even while her picture seems to be missing from posters put up by the Rajasthan BJP. Recently she used her birthday in March to embark on a two-day Dev Darshan Yatra that was seen as a subtle shakti pradarshan, with 20 MLAs and 8 MPs present, leading Nadda to caution against Ekla Chalo leaders during his visit to Rajasthan. An interesting sidelight was a short-lived but highly mischievous buzz that there would be another move to get her out of state politics by offering her a Cabinet berth in the Modi government. As the rumour goes, that would also scotch Jyotiraditya Scindia’s chances of a ministerial berth as the “Scindia” quota would then go to his aunt. However, even if such an offer is made, Vasudhara Raje will surely refuse, so that’s one bit of gossip that crash-landed before it could take off.

What about Vijay Rupani?

Will there be a change of guard in Gujarat? While the focus seems to be on the other states, there is a view that Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani may be brought to the Centre. Earlier too there were rumours that he could be replaced, but the party’s performance in the February civic polls worked as damage control and showed that there was a pro-incumbency in favour of the Chief Minister. Yet with Arvind Kejriwal shifting his focus to the state the anti BJP vote could also go to him instead of the Congress. And certainly Kejriwal is a more aggressive and ambitious politician than Rahul Gandhi. This has forced the BJP to relook its own state of play, especially as Rupani is facing flak over his handling of Covid. Party general secretary Bhupendra Yadav’s recent visit to Gujarat, where he met with state leaders (with and without the CM present) has added to rumours of a change of guard, though BJP leaders claim this was routine stock-taking on the lines of what happened in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. But then, we also saw what happened in Uttarakhand where the CM was changed just months before a crucial state election. And Gujarat goes to polls next year.

A non-Congress Opposition?

Can the Opposition form a bloc without the Congress? Speaking on NewsX-Sunday Guardian Roundtable, Pavan Varma pointed out that the entire non Congress parties from Kerala to West Bengal (except Karnataka) account for 162 seats. So if we form a non Congress opposition then we are short of what is needed for a majority. Congress fights about 175 seats directly against the BJP in the North and West. Unless Congress improves its tally when in a direct fight with the BJP a non Congress opposition is not strong enough, so Congress has to get the seats. Suhel Seth agreed but added that a non-BJP alliance has to have a pivot, which cannot be Rahul Gandhi. BJD’s Kalikesh Singh Deo said BJP and Congress fight each other essentially in the North, while in a large part of South and East comprises regional parties where not everyone is attuned to the North Indian way of thinking, so a non Congress, non BJP alliance of regional players will be a  very good sign for democracy. Ex Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha pointed out that a non-Congress opposition is not possible. All Congress needed to stop the BJP was 145 seats in 2014, so he suggested that instead of Uttar Pradesh, the party should focus on the low hanging fruit. In the last elections, the BJP won 175 seats of the 195 where Congress and BJP were in a direct fight. What they all agree on is that such a coalition needs a very strong message. On a lighter note, when Sanjay Jha defended Rahul Gandhi claiming that he was much misunderstood and was actually very “chilled out”, Suhel Seth quipped that what the Congress needed was a leader, not a refrigerator.