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

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