The tightening of nuts and bolts in a relay race

Factionalism is a part of democratic politics. There are leaders and their aspirations. The job of the leadership is to reconcile differences as well as accommodate and counter claims.

Former Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s resignation from the post paving way for Bhupendra Patel is an indication that individuals don’t matter and the party’s ideology and collective leadership guide actions. One cannot expect such a smooth transfer in any other party where political aspirations are very high and the leadership of the party fail to give solutions to reconcile differences.

Four Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states have resigned since March 2021. Trivendra Singh Rawat resigned on 9 March 21 after being the Chief Minister for four years. Tirath Singh Rawat, who continues to be a member of the Lok Sabha, took over from him but resigned after four months on 2 July 2021. Another resignation happened the same month when Bookanakere Siddalingappa (BS) Yediyurappa resigned as the Chief Minister of Karnataka on 26 July 2021. 

As against this, we have examples in the Congress where it witnessed a revolt in Rajasthan. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot refused to accommodate the aspirations of a 44-year-old Sachin Pilot. The revolt by 18 MLAs was somehow staved off but the crisis is far from over now. In Chattisgarh, the crisis stems from heightened factionalism within the party and the inability of the central leadership (read Rahul Gandhi) to implement apparently the promise to make TS Singh Deo Chief Minister mid-way since he had accepted Bhupesh Baghel as Chief Minister in 2018. Bhupesh reportedly demonstrated support of the majority of MLAs to the party high command in Delhi despite the party leadership’s message not to do so.

In Punjab, the party high command made Navjot Singh Sidhu state president who in turn tried to destabilise the 79-year-old Captain Amarinder Singh’s government in full public view. Sidhu and his supporters emerged as the most severe critics of the state government and gave ample fodder to other parties. The party’s central leadership would rarely try to destabilise a party-run state government because it wants the Chief Minister to go. The Chief Minister dug his heel and outmanoeuvred Sidhu.

Factionalism is a part of democratic politics. There are leaders and their aspirations. The job of the leadership is to reconcile differences as well as accommodate and counter claims. Others would listen to the central leadership only if it is sagacious and has moral authority. The centrifugal force is so strong in the Congress that the Centre cannot hold them together. Some critics often try to paint this chaos as a democracy so that they can take pots shots at a disciplined party like the BJP. 

Let us now try to compare these with incidents in the BJP. The first thing to notice is the common thread which is that the resignations of Chief Ministers are not due to factionalism or aspirations of any one leader to throw the other out. The second significant point is each of the resignations happened without a murmur of protest. They all thanked the leadership and the party for giving them an opportunity to serve as Chief Ministers.

Trivendra Singh Rawat said: “I have been working in politics for a while now and my party gave me an opportunity to work as the state Chief Minister for four years—the golden years of my life. Despite coming from a rural background, I was entrusted with the responsibility to lead the state; that is only possible in a party like BJP”. He added: “Now the party has taken a collective decision to entrust the responsibility of state chief ministership to some other leader.”

Tirath Singh Rawat said: “I must express my gratitude to the party’s central leadership which has given many responsibilities from time to time. I have been MLC, MLA, MP, party state president and recently Chief Minister. I thank my party president JP Nadda, home minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister from the core of my heart”.

BS Yediyurappa said: “I’m not sad. I’m happy. I can’t thank in words PM Modi, Amit Shah, and JP Nadda to let me be the Chief Minister even though I was over 75 years…There is no question of political retirement for any reason, I’m with the karyakartas and the people….I will work to strengthen the organisation in Karnataka”. He also said nobody pressured him to resign.

Vijay Rupani said: “This is a relay race, everybody runs and goes ahead. I had the responsibility for five years, I was running. Now, I will give the flag to someone else. (Now) He will run… With my resignation, the party’s new leadership will get an opportunity. And we will all take Gujarat to new heights under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi.”

When prodded further by the media on reasons for his resignation, he said: “It is a natural process in our party. The party worker gets different responsibilities at different times. We do not call it a post, we call it a responsibility. Now, I will shoulder whatever responsibility the party gives me.”

It is indeed a relay race where everyone has to play the role assigned to him without fear or favour. This explains why there is a striking similarity in responses from all four Chief Ministers. The reason being the fact that nobody got the post due to dynastic links or special God-like quality or can claim that he was singularly responsible for bringing the party to the position of power. Charisma works but it fades without the massive organisational muscle the party’s well-oiled machinery provides. The party is an instrument to bring change and individuals aspirations must not hinder this forward journey. 

Not one strategy has guided the party in these resignations but there is one undercurrent which is to strengthen the party. Uttarakhand goes to the polls in February 2022 along with elections in Uttar Pradesh.

Tirath Singh Rawat is a Lok Sabha member and there was uncertainty on whether there would be a by-election to enable him to get elected to the assembly within six months of becoming the Chief Minister—a constitutional requirement which if not fulfilled would have disqualified him to remain on the post. His resignation came after three-day chintan baithak in Nainital which discussed the political situation. A much younger Pushkar Singh Dhami, who is an MLA Khatima, became the Chief Minister. He is expected to provide dynamism to the State and expedite faster delivery of good governance.

The BJP had swept to power in Uttarakhand in 2017 winning 57 of the 70 seats. The Congress won only 11 while two seats had gone to independents. It was all Modi wave that the Congress was reduced to such a pitiable situation. Nobody knew that Trivendra Singh Rawat would be picked for the role. Similarly, nobody knew that Tirath Singh Rawat would succeed him. Various factors help to decide who should be given the baton. Now, Dhami wears the crown.

Gujarat is the BJP’s pocket borrow continuously for the last 23 years since 1998. The Prime Minister who was Chief Minister of Gujarat for more than 12 years from 2001 became the Prime Minister of India but this is his image that counts in the State. Change brings new energy and focus.

This always keeps ringing in the mind of the incumbents that their task is to deliver the promises made to the people of the state. Nobody can take the position for granted and the only way to shine is to work hard to the best of one’s abilities. The incumbents also take their positions as roles and there is no turbulence when the roles are rejigged whether at the level of Central government or at the level of state government or party organisations.

The case of BS Yediyurappa is no different. The party is at times forced to take such decisions in view of organisational needs. Old guards must pave way for new players so that the race can continue uninterrupted. We have seen how the party leadership has brought younger faces into government at the Central level. Those who have played their roles must fade out gracefully, unlike in other parties where individuals can’t live without power.

When the party is strong it is a sign of healthy democracy. People mostly vote for parties and hence symbols are very important. It is the party that gives stability to governments. In the course of time, some individuals acquire larger than life images such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Narendra Modi. Their charisma works wonders for the party and helps to strengthen roots at the grassroots.

From top to bottom in the pyramidical structure, the BJP’s rank and file are taught that the party is an instrument for change. Ideology guides this change. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, vikas or development and good governance have become the ideology of the government at every level. Strengthening delivery mechanism for faster development is the buzzword. Therefore, tightening of nuts and bolts here and there to reorient the focus should not be grudged.

The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.