BJP’S TROIKA AND CHALLENGE
Chouhan, Singh, and Raje score over other prospective leadership aspirants in the party, though they might be out in the cold
The reverses in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh had a concomitant fallout for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), apart from demoralising the cadre and raising doubts over the popular impact of the political agendas and key policies of the Centre and the erstwhile governments. The setback upsets the RSS’s hope to nurture the next line-up of leaders for the BJP without going through the pain that gripped the process when the baton passed from a preceding generation of stalwarts to Narendra Modi. In Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, the former chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, respectively, the Sangh saw the potential to fill the gap as and when it arose. Chouhan and Singh’s peer, Vasundhara Raje, may not have made the grade because the RSS viewed her askance.
“Had Chouhan and Singh won a fourth term, they were destined for a larger national role,” a BJP source said. “In politics, there are no full stops. Who knows when they will bounce back, even Raje?”
At present, BJP President Amit Shah has settled the uncertainty over the fate of the Chouhan-Singh-Raje trio. On the eve of the national council, which began on January 11, Shah appointed them party vice-presidents, an office traditionally regarded “ornamental”, unlike that of general secretary and joint general secretary (organisation). They share a place with Prabhat Jha, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Shyam Jaju, OP Mathur and others.
Delineating the vice-president’s role, the BJP’s constitution states he/she would “carry out the responsibilities as directed by the president; in the absence of the president, the vice-president, specially authorised by the president in writing, will preside over a meeting; if no such direction has been made, any one of the vice-presidents and if all the vice-presidents are absent, then the (executive) committee/(national) executive can call on any of the members present to preside.”
A general secretary has a closer and a more sustained engagement with the president because he/she can convene meetings on the president’s instructions; issue circulars; plan agendas and organise meetings, programmes, conferences and agitations ; manage publicity, make appointments with the president’s consent; and execute the president’s decisions.
The first signs regarding the relevance of the three in the party were seen when leaders of the Opposition (LoPs) in the three Assemblies were “elected”. “The exercise was a telling reflection of their equations with the BJP’s central dispensation,” said a party functionary.
Singh, considered the most amiable by Delhi, had no issues placing his confidant, Dharam Lal Kaushik, a backward caste Kurmi, as the LoP although his long-time adversary, Brij Mohan Agarwal, made a serious bid to wrest the post. Kaushik heads the state BJP, a position he will vacate to make way for another of Singh’s choices.
Chouhan was not as fortunate as Singh. The dynamics in MP altered for him when Shah asked Jabalpur MP Rakesh Singh to head the state party. Chouhan pitched for Rajendra Shukla, a former minister, as LoP on the grounds that Shukla is a Brahmin who could offset the anger among the upper caste voters. The party’s central leadership went for Gopal Bhargava, another Brahmin. “The Delhi bosses did not take kindly to Chouhan’s message to the workers that ‘ Tiger abhi zinda hai( the tiger is still around)’. He sent it out just after the defeat,” said a former aide.
In a growingly centralised party structure, Chouhan’s assertion was interpreted as a sign of “gratuitous pro-activism”. The leadership was cold to his proposal to carry out an “aabhaar (gratitude) yatra” in the 52 districts and asked him to ground himself in Bhopal and prep up for the Lok Sabha polls.
Raje’s relationship with Delhi through her five-year tenure, regardless of whether it was Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari or Shah, who headed the BJP, was strained because she made it clear that she was not one to do the centre’s bidding. Like Singh and Chouhan, she indicated that she did not want the LoP’s job. Like them, she signalled the occupant would have to be a person of her liking. “In victory or defeat, Raje remains our tallest leader in Rajasthan. Usually, nothing moves without her nod,” said a BJP general secretary. Sources said she mooted Kailash Chandra Meghwal, the former Speaker who’s a Dalit, as LoP, ostensibly to preempt the attempts made by Arjun Ram Meghwal, central minister and Bikaner MP, to seek a larger role for himself in Rajasthan.
The challenges inherent in fostering a future cast of leaders are a revealing testimony to the unwillingness of those entrenched at the top to allow their compeers and juniors to grow. Singh, Chouhan and Raje score over other prospective aspirants, though at present they might be out in the cold. Doubtless, they were picked and groomed by their Delhi mentors. But they lost little time in earning their spurs, independent of their patrons because they also got the elbow room.
Challenges inherent in fostering a future cast of leaders are a testimony to the unwillingness of those at the top to allow their compeers grow
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje have been named vice-presidents of the BJP