BJP banks on tested faces for role of state presidents
To pick a new party president at the national level, the BJP began the process of elections in over 50% of the states, as is required by its constitution.Updated: Jan 19, 2020 23:54 IST
The organisational rejig that was supposed to take place with the election of new state-level office bearers has not thrown up major surprises as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has retained most of the incumbents appointed during outgoing president Amit Shah’s term.
To pick a new party president at the national level, the BJP began the process of elections in over 50% of the states, as is required by its constitution. However, while new faces have been announced in a handful of states such as Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh, and Odisha, in most others the incumbents have been given another term, for example in West Bengal that will go to the polls in 2021, Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.
The need to reinvigorate the party structure was flagged after the BJP failed to form governments in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand, where it had been in power for long. Electoral loss in Maharashtra was also seen as a setback for the party that returned to power at the Centre with a thumping majority in 2019. The suggestion to recast the state leadership was also given by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fount of the BJP. The RSS has cautioned the BJP against the rise of regional leaders that can halt its pan-India expansion.
Replying to a question on why the leadership has opted for repeating the leaders, a BJP functionary said, “…By re-electing the office bearers, the central high command has signalled the endorsement of their leadership.”
Consequently, leaders like Dilip Ghosh in West Bengal, who have courted controversies, were reappointed. Among others who got a second term include Ravinder Raina in Jammu and Kashmir, where the process of electioneering will begin only after the process of delimitation is conducted in keeping with the provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act.
In Assam, where the party faces stiff opposition to its fast-tracking of citizenship to persecuted minorities from the neighbourhood through the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the party chose to renominate Ranjit Kumar Dass, who was first elected as the party state president in 2017.
“A new person in the midst of an uncertain situation would require time to settle in. If the incumbent has been delivering, there is no reason to deny him or her chance,” said the functionary quoted above.
Incumbents have also been given a second stint in Uttar Pradesh, where Swatantra Dev Singh was elected unopposed as the president of the state unit.
Among the new ones are Nalin Kumar Kateel, whose elevation after BS Yeddyurappa became chief minister, came as a surprise to the party unit. Also known for his controversial statements, Kateel was not a front runner for the post. A member of Parliament from Dakshina Kannada, he hit the headlines during the Lok Sabha elections by tweeting Nathuram Godse had killed only one person, Mahatma Gandhi, whereas former Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi had killed 17,000. The tweet was later deleted.
Most of the party unit heads also have the RSS’s backing.
“Some of these leaders such as Ashwin Sharma, who will head the unit in Punjab, have been active members of the Sangh. Their organisational skills have been honed by their experience in the Sangh and it comes as an added advantage to the BJP. It is not that these appointments have been done at the behest of the Sangh,” said a second functionary.