A party which is highly proficient in perception management is in for tough questioning to explain the ordeal of imposing a third chief minister within four months on Uttrakhand. The ordeal would not end here but has got murkier on the issue of inability of the most methodical and resourceful BJP high command’s failure to fathom or ignore that the incumbent Tirath Singh Rawat, a Lok Sabha MP, had to get elected as MLA within six months of taking over as chief minister and that the assembly elections were round the corner.
Mr Rawat who took over as chief minister on March 10 last had six months time till September 10 to become member of the legislative assembly so as to continue in the post. Section 151A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 mandates the Election Commission to fill vacancies in Parliament and the state legislatures by conducting by-polls within six months from the date of their occurrence, provided that the remainder of the term of the new member is one year or more.
In the case of Uttrakhand the assembly election is due less than a year. The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo and their set of advisors must have been fully aware of this constitutional position. They must also be aware that the state has no legislative council. So becoming MLA before the deadline was imperative for Mr Rawat to continue as chief minister.
Notwithstanding the poor account that Mr Rawat gave of himself as chief minister during his short stint, sundry reasons are being offered for this ominous situation to occur. The COVID-19 pandemic, as expected, is being portrayed as a big villain preventing the Election Commission from ordering a bi-election earlier on.
Wasn’t the pandemic situation prevailing four months back when Mr Rawat, MP, was selected to become CM? The ignominy of getting him elected to the assembly stood as it is even at that time also.
This faux pas is the backdrop which has already spurred factional uneasiness in the hilly state as over half-a-dozen CM-hopefuls, many of them Congress turncoats and some senior BJP leaders, have been left squirming as they could not find favour with the high command as this was the last chance for them before assembly elections. This would only increase their unease at a crucial juncture. As it is some of the disgruntled leaders, who were threatening to boycott, fell in line only after frantic phone calls from Delhi.
With polls round the corner, the BJP top brass would like to win Uttrakhand along with neighbouring Uttar Pradesh to enter the 2024 Lok Sabha elections on a strong footing. It will be interesting how the warring factions are brought on the same platform for elections as the party high ups in Delhi had to pull strings to ensure that the disgruntled seniors, all of them have been included in the new cabinet, attended the swearing-in ceremony, which they were reportedly threatening to boycott, of Mr Pushkar Singh Dhami,45, signalling heralding of new generation.
Past masters in the art of winning elections, with West Bengal defeat staring in the face, the BJP poll strategists might try and succeed to quell factionalism in the poll-bound Uttrakhand at least for the time being. But the developments relating to sudden change of guard has the potential to further perpetuate political instability. Even the party’s state unit would not be comfortable with the situation before the coming assembly election.
The run up to the selection of Mr Dhami as the new chief minister was replete with factional infighting within the state BJP. It is to be seen how the new CM with the backing of the powerful high command overcomes the intra-party rumblings and at the same time prepares for the assembly elections through offering semblance of good governance.
The internecine organisational squabbles of BJP are not confined merely to Uttrakhand and are spread across most of the states governed by the party. In this case it could not be prevented, despite best efforts, from getting highlighted as it involved sudden unseating of a chief minister in the most unceremonious manner within months. It is to the credit of Mr Rawat that he created a controversial image of himself within short span of time which could not escape the media glare and the glitch on his contesting the bi-election.
All eyes would be on Uttrakhand BJP’s affairs in the coming months. The developments in the hilly state have definitely given fodder to the restive rival groups particularly in the other BJP ruled states.
There is ever-prevailing situation of flux in the BJP’s Karnataka unit with the beleaguered chief minister, B S Yediyurappa getting a new lease of life every morning as his detractors with the active help of some central quarters are perpetually seeking his removal. The septuagenarian CM manages to hold his ground by “hook or crook”.
Similar situation is being faced by Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, and Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Tripura chief ministers, where there is persistent demand for replacement of the incumbents. The story is not only confined to the BJP ruled states but elsewhere also where it is in the opposition.
There is a total unease prevailing in states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In assembly election bound Punjab the BJP is already fighting for survival in the face of ongoing farmers’ movement. The situation has been compounded with its oldest ally Shiromani Akali Dal walking out.
The prevailing situation of uncertainty in these states is the creation of the high command’s wait and watch policy, reminiscent of Congress approach. The Central leadership of the party has a lot to explain as the manner in which either the selection of chief ministerial candidates, or handling the factional crisis, has left much to be desired. In this connection Uttrakhand is a glaring example- how a CM was selected and then sacrificed within three months.
The Uttrakhand episode involving Mr Rawat, the outgoing chief minister, has the potential of bringing the pressure back on the high command from the party’s other state units. Neither the wait and watch policy nor the strong arm measures would help contain the situation across the states if the situation was allowed to unfold the Uttrakhand way.
After a prolonged buzz about the Cabinet expansion/reshuffle at the Centre coupled with organisational shake-up, the things finally started falling place with gubernatorial appointments/ transfers and the Cabinet expansion. However, it will be interesting to see whether these changes would reflect any corresponding change in approach to run both the Government and the party affairs. Delivering on promises both at the Centre and the BJP-ruled states level has left much to be desired.
One has to watch with baited breath whether the proposed shake-up at the two levels would be aimed at making the governments and the party more responsive to the needs of the day by shoring up the delivery system or would be a mere exercise in soothing ruffled feathers. Any cosmetic change of bringing in new faces or adjusting the disgruntled ones without a rethink on the broader policy framework will only perpetuate the current situation.
It will be a daunting challenge for the BJP strategists to contain the after effects of Uttrakhand and stop its ripples from reaching other states.