In key reshuffles and fresh appointments with an eye on state-level politics, the government on Saturday appointed Naga talks interlocutor R N Ravi as the new Governor of Nagaland and shifted Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel to Uttar Pradesh. Patel has been replaced by Bihar Governor Lalji Tandon in Madhya Pradesh, while BJP veteran Phagu Chauhan takes over in Bihar.
Noted lawyer and former Janata Dal MP Jagdeep Dhankhar has been appointed as the Governor of West Bengal, replacing Keshari Nath Tripathi. Another senior BJP leader, Ramesh Bais, has been appointed Tripura Governor.
THE choice of Ramesh Bais, Jagdeep Dhankhar, Phagu Chauhan and N Ravi carries a message for their native states or the states they are headed to. Dhankhar’s legal acumen may also come handy in the bitter Bengal battle.
An Intelligence Bureau (IB) veteran, R N Ravi is an IPS officer of the 1976 batch from Kerala cadre. He has been associated with Naga peace talks for the past several years and is credited with the 2015 signing of a framework agreement between the government and NSCN(I-M). In 2017, Ravi had signed another agreement with the Naga National Political Groups.
His appointment as the Governor of Nagaland is likely to give further push to the eventual signing of a Naga accord and to bringing anti-talks Naga groups to the negotiating table. His elevation is also being seen as a reward for his work as the Naga talks interlocutor. He was special director in the IB when he retired in 2012. He was appointed chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and was currently serving as deputy NSA under NSA Ajit Doval, a senior he worked with for long years in the IB.
Barring Ravi, other appointments are largely political. The choice of Anandiben Patel for Uttar Pradesh is seen as a signal to non-Yadav OBCs, who have staunchly backed the BJP since 2014 in the state. Recently, the BJP also made non-Yadav OBC leader Swatntra Dev Singh the UP unit chief, replacing its Brahmin face, Mahendra Nath Pandey.
The appointment of Phagu Chauhan as Governor of Bihar is also expected to send the same message in the state which goes to polls next year. Chauhan is a Noniya, a non-Yadav OBC community, from Azamgarh in UP and the current chairman of the Backward Class Commission in the state. A veteran politician, he had won as an MLA from Ghosi in 1985 with a record margin on a Dalit Kisan Majdoor Party ticket, and joined the Janata Dal before coming into the BJP fold after 2002.
Apart from Bihar, the appointment is also a signal to the backward communities in the Azamgarh-Ghosi belt, where the BJP did poorly in the 2019 polls.
Jagdeep Dhankhar’s appointment to West Bengal is being interpreted as part of the BJP’s balancing act for Rajasthan, where the party has given ministerial berths to two Rajputs. Dhankhar is a Rajasthan Jat, a community that has a dominant presence in Rajasthan and Haryana. The fact that he is a protege of veteran Jat leader Devi Lal will also come in handy in Haryana, which goes to polls next year.
A lawyer by training and the national convenor of the BJP’s legal cell, Dhankhar is also known to be close to the RSS and has been helping it in legal matters.
Ramesh Bais, appointed as the Governor of Tripura, is an OBC leader from Chhattisgarh. The seven-time MP from Raipur had been overlooked for a ministerial berth in both the Modi governments, plus denied a ticket this time. He was last a minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. It was speculated that he was not being given a ministerial position as he was already approaching the age of 70. A gubernatorial post is being seen as both a rehabilitation of Bais and a signal to OBCs in Chhattisgarh, where the Congress has an OBC Chief Minister.
The appointments are in line with the current BJP leadership’s focus on rewarding party old-timers and managing social bases. Only recently, the government had appointed BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh Anusuiya Uikey as the first tribal Governor of Chhattisgarh, a state whose 30% population is tribal. BJP veteran from Odisha B B Harichandan, who has been associated with the party since its Jan Sangh days, was appointed the Governor of Andhra Pradesh.
The appointments also signal retirement for ageing leaders like Ram Naik and Keshari Nath Tripathi.