Gujarat: The BJP’s poll card
When a strong leader, with a mass base and a high degree of political control, leaves office, there is a vacuum. This vacuum is sometimes filled by another leader who is able to assert authority and win polls. But, often, the vacuum is hard to fill. And that is the story of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat. The immediate trigger for Vijay Rupani’s resignation as chief minister (CM) lies in his government’s Covid-19 mismanagement, Patidar discontent, and internal organisational rivalries — all in the run-up to polls next year. Indeed, Bhupendra Patel’s elevation as CM makes it clear that the BJP is sending a signal to Patidars. But both Anandiben Patel’s resignation in 2015, and the change now, prove that the BJP’s real crisis is that it has not found a leader to fill the vacuum in Gujarat after Narendra Modi moved to Delhi.
Mr Modi closely tracks political realities in the state. His stamp over the current power transition is unmistakable. The party’s win in the state in 2017 was almost entirely due to his campaign, and his presence makes the BJP the front-runner in 2022 again. The switch from Mr Rupani to Mr Patel also shows that BJP’s central command has the ability to effect relatively smoother transitions, unlike the Congress. Be it in Uttarakhand (Trivendra Singh Rawat was replaced by Tirath Singh Rawat who was replaced by Pushkar Dhami) or Karnataka (BS Yediyurappa gave way to Basavaraj Bommai) or Assam (Sarbananda Sonowal left office for Himanta Biswa Sarma) or, now, Gujarat, organisational discipline, and Mr Modi’s word, prevail. The party is alert to feedback, decides when a leader is an electoral liability, and ruthlessly executes its decision.
But this churn also denotes weakness. It is a sign of centralisation of BJP’s political authority in Delhi, ironic since Mr Modi himself rose as a challenger to the Delhi-centric party order. It shows that many CMs are either unable to develop autonomous political strength, or are not allowed to do so— this should be particularly worrying for the party in a state such as Gujarat where the organisation is strong and there shouldn’t have been a leadership deficit. It indicates an effort to direct any anti-incumbency sentiment against state BJP CMs, to insulate the Centre from any backlash. And it shows that, electorally speaking, politics in the states is far more competitive than at the Centre. The BJP may well win Gujarat, but the fact that it has felt compelled to make frequent changes even in its own bastion should serve as a warning.