The Union cabinet was remade and expanded last week and, among other things, the exercise aimed at giving greater representation to the states at the Centre. But the BJP may need to do more than just that to meet the building challenge in the states. Take Uttarakhand, for instance, where two-term MLA Pushkar Dhami was sworn in on July 4 as the third BJP chief minister in four months, replacing Tirath Singh Rawat. The BJP leadership offered a technical reason to explain the latest change of leadership: Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Rawat, currently a Lok Sabha MP, would not get elected to the state assembly before the stipulated September 10 deadline. However, reports suggest that Rawat’s four-month run in office failed to inspire confidence that he could lead the party to a second consecutive win in polls next year. With many claimants to his chair, Dhami’s leadership skills will be tested in the coming days.
The BJP is facing similar predicaments in other states too. Its CMs in Karnataka and Tripura are under attack from ambitious dissidents, while the West Bengal unit is threatening to implode following the party’s defeat in the recent assembly elections. Though there is no immediate threat to their government, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh are far from comfortable in office and their discomfort has little to do with the Opposition and more to do with rivals within the BJP. Rajasthan is another state where factionalism has stymied the party’s tactics to corner the Congress government. In recent months, the BJP dispatched emissaries from Delhi to these states to curb dissidence and factionalism without much success. This unrest may be the outcome of a structural transformation in the BJP organisation in recent years. From a cadre-centric outfit that privileged ideological fidelity to crowd-pulling skills and winnability, the BJP has turned into a mass organisation that opens its doors to workers and leaders from other parties. In fact, it formed the government in Karnataka and MP by splitting the Congress and inducting the rebels as ministers, thereby sparking unrest among old party hands. The tension in the West Bengal and Tripura units is also due to the elevation of imports from other parties to leadership positions. The clash of ambitions between the new recruits and the old faithful has divided the party.
For a party that took pride in cadre discipline, this is a new challenge and the BJP will need skilled managers to mediate a resolution. Allowing the dissidence to simmer could destabilise its governments and chip away at its political-electoral successes in recent times.