The BJP, in the past six months, has changed two chief ministers in Uttarakhand, one in Assam, one in Karnataka, and one in Gujarat.
As Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani resigned on Sunday along with his cabinet, the 65-year-old becaBJP, me the fifth Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister to be asked to step down in the last six months. The BJP, in the past six months, has changed two chief ministers in Uttarakhand, one in Assam, one in Karnataka, and one in Gujarat. Though in Assam, the change of leadership came post the assembly elections, in other states, sitting chief ministers were asked to step down. Many political pundits see these leadership changes by the BJP in the context of the upcoming assembly polls. Uttarakhand and Gujarat will go to polls next year i.e. 2022, while Karnataka is scheduled to vote in 2023 for its assembly.
In this piece, let’s talk about all five change of guards in the BJP’s state units and the plausible reasons that caused them.
Trivendra Singh Rawat
The first casualty in the flurry of resignations from the BJP chief ministers was Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat.
Mr. Rawat, in a presser held after he submitted his two-line resignation letter to Governor Baby Rani Maurya, said he was “nine days short of completing four years at the helm” and that he was grateful to the BJP and people for getting an opportunity to serve.
Mr Rawat’s continuance on the post had become an issue of contention since there were complaints against him by his own party MLAs and others over his style of functioning and administration. Moreover, the observers sent by the top leadership to Uttarakhand, comprising of former Chattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Rajya Sabha member Dushyant Gautam, underlined serious concerns over his chief ministership. From being tardy in implementing the ‘chardham yatra’ projects to not being accessible to his own partymen, to facing a corruption charge wherein the Uttarakhand High Court had ordered a CBI enquiry against him (later stayed by the Supreme Court, and still being examined), there had been a multiplicity of reasons for his removal.
A report by The Caravan also suggested that while the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Uttarakhand cabinet ministers wanted to host a ‘bhavya’ (grand) Kumbh Mela, Trivendra Singh Rawat insisted on holding a ‘pratikatmak’ (symbolic) festival. The report suggested that Mr Rawat’s opposition to holding a full-fledged Kumbh Mela was the major reason why the saffron party fired him.
Tirath Singh Rawat
Barely four months after replacing Trivendra Singh Rawat and becoming the chief minister of Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat resigned from his post on the instructions of the party high command. One of the major reasons for Tirath Singh Rawat’s resignation was the nearing six-month window for him to get elected to the Assembly as he was not an MLA. The Election Commission (EC) had not made a decision on conducting bypolls in the state, which would have given Mr Rawat an opportunity to carry on as Chief Minister.
Rawat said due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Election Commission had decided to not hold a by-election, thus leading to Rawat’s resignation. He also mentioned that he could not participate in the bypoll to Almorah’s Sult seat in April as he was suffering from Covid-19.
However, many also saw Mr Rawat’s several unusual and bizarre statements in the span of his time at the top office as one of the reasons why he was asked to step down.
Rawat, in an event in Haridwar, compared Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Lord Rama and Krishna and said that Modi will be admired like Ram and Krishna in the future. Two days later, during a workshop organised by the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Rawat contended that women wearing ripped jeans send the wrong message to society and children. Rawat also said that people with fewer “units (family members)” had ended up getting less government rations during the Covid-19 lockdown as compared to those who “reproduced 20”, creating “jealousy”, saying it was their fault for not reproducing enough.
The saffron party fought the Assam assembly elections under the leadership of Sarbananda Sonowal, who was also the chief minister of the north-eastern state in the previous term.
However, the BJP high command opted for a change of guard in Assam, picking Himanta Biswa Sarma over incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal as the new chief minister. Himanta Biswa Sarma, who joined the BJP in 2015, had worked in the Congress party for 23 years before falling out with former Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Tarun Gogoi.
The announcement of Mr Sharma’s appointment as chief minister came after a week-long deadlock as the BJP top brass met both Sonowal and Sarma to resolve the impasse.
Many saw Sarbananda Sonowal’s departure from the post unnecessary as he was fairly popular among the masses, compared to other CMs of the BJP like Manohar Lal Khattar and Vijay Rupani, who had often faced criticism. In fact, in terms of both governance and popularity, Sonowal was rated better than most other BJP CMs.
Since Himanta Biswa Sarma’s ambitions to become a CM was clear to the BJP since the beginning, and as the majority of MLAs elected from the party supported him, the saffron party’s top leadership knew the risk of not accepting Mr Sarma’s demand. Had they not made him CM, he would have split the party in the state, they feared. His status as the North East Democratic Alliance convener also meant that he had the power to harm the party in other northeastern states as well.
After months of speculation due to growing dissidence within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the only southern state it has ever been in power, Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa resigned in July. The 78-year-old made the announcement in an emotional speech at an event celebrating two years in power before submitting his resignation to governor.
After battling criticism and public attacks from within his party and cabinet over the months, Mr Yediyurappa said he quit “voluntarily” and thanked the BJP.
“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,” said Yediyurappa. “There is no question of political retirement for any reason, I’m with the karyakartas and the people.”
Yediyurappa’s legacy is tarnished by multiple corruption charges, including that of bribing and influencing Opposition legislators to prove his government’s majority. Moreover, the party veteran battled rising dissidence during his last year, especially over his son and Karnataka BJP vice-president BY Vijayendra. Several party leaders and ministers accused Vijayendra — Yediyurappa’s younger son — of corruption, heavy handedness and running a parallel administration.
After riding on the rumours of his anticipated resignation last year, Gujarat CM Vijayan Rupani, in a dramatic sequence of events, resigned on Sunday with his entire cabinet. Addressing reporters, Mr Rupani said the decision had been taken by the party “in the larger interest of Gujarat”.
Mr Rupani, amid furious speculation over his possible replacement- including bitter rival and Deputy CM Nitin Patel, released a letter from the Chief Minister’s Office which said Modi was the face of the party in Gujarat and the next election would be fought under the PM’s leadership. This brought the infighting in the BJP’s Gujarat unit out in open.
On the reason behind his resignation, Rupani 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.”
However, those aware of the developments say the reasons for Mr Rupani’s resignation could be different than what’s being projected. “The centre had been watching Gujarat closely for the past few months. It was decided to cut our losses after ascertaining the public sentiment,” a BJP leader told Outlook. The discontent among the people over handling of the Covid-19 second wave was also a major reason why Mr Rupani and his cabinet was asked to step down.
Another reason could be the party’s inability to win over the Patidars, a politically powerful community in the state, which could swing the electoral outcome.
BJP’s feedback mechanism
Even though the opposition Congress has hit out at the BJP for changing 5 chief ministers in six months, and has attributed the leadership changes to the saffron party’s failures to fulfill poll promises, it is noteworthy that how early the BJP has swung into action to make “course-correction” and prepare for the assembly polls well in advance.
In Assam, the BJP also showed how to manage internal feud without letting the party get split and be all over the place, something which the Congress has failed to manage in the last few years.
However, it is also important for the BJP to understand that the central leadership has also failed the country on the fronts of Covid management and economic distress. If the saffron party’s top leadership thinks thay throwing state leaders under the bus, and making them scapegoat for the difficult situation the country is in right now will help them transfer the blame, they are greatly mistaken.
When the credit for every small achievement of the government is given to the top leadership, the blame for failures will also be attributed to them.
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