Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan finally managed to expand his ministry last week, more than three months after he formed the government in Madhya Pradesh. Of the 33 ministers in Chouhan’s team, 11 are known to be supporters of Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left the Congress to join the BJP with 22 MLAs in March. It is rare for a party to allot such a large share of ministerial berths to those who have recently crossed over from other parties, and even more unusual to have a ministry with so many who are not yet members of the assembly. The BJP central leadership reportedly overruled the preferences of Chouhan, one of its tallest state leaders and chief minister for 13 successive years, to oblige new entrants to the party.
The BJP takes pride in being a cadre-based, ideology-centred party, unlike the Congress, which is a loose coalition of interest groups and individuals who pledge loyalty to the party high command, the Nehru-Gandhi family. The BJP also projects itself as a party that encourages regional leaders and allows them room to grow. Indeed, the party has benefited a great deal from a more federal approach as it enabled the rise of strong leaders from the grass roots. Chouhan is one such leader who rose from the ranks, and excelled as a campaigner and administrator. B S Yediyurappa in Karnataka, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and even before he shifted to the Centre, Narendra Modi in Gujarat, were instrumental in building up the BJP as a party of government. The Congress, on the other hand, followed a different trajectory since the 1970s, when under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, it saw an erosion of the party’s federal character, marginalisation of state-level leaders and privileging of loyalty to the leader than to the party. Its inability to reinvent itself after repeated drubbing in elections has much to do with this culture of loyalty to the high command. From the distribution of tickets in elections to selection of chief ministers, the Congress high command continues to impose its will on state units and leaders, often forcing powerful satraps to break away.
Is the BJP now following a discredited Congress model? Before the events in MP, Yediyurappa, who had once quit the BJP over differences with the central leadership, was made to wait by the leadership in Delhi when he wanted to expand his ministry, and more recently, during the Rajya Sabha elections, when the CM’s nominees were ignored. Modi’s presidential-style election campaigns have almost transformed the party into an appendage of the leader. The ongoing relegation of state leaders looks set to further that trend of centralisation.
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