BJP 2.0: State leaders are near invisible

The kind of micro-management which the present brass long figured out held the key to success in every election. What is the offshoot of the centralised style?

Published: 13th August 2022 01:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th August 2022 07:27 AM   |  A+A-

Express Illustrations | Soumyadip Sinha

Express Illustrations | Soumyadip Sinha

A hallmark of the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, his understudy, is the ubiquitous presence of the party’s central command over every apparatus that keeps the humongous machinery going. There’s no escaping the omniscience of the multi-storeyed structure on Delhi’s 6-A Deen Dayal Upadhayay Marg, the BJP headquarter, whose 70 rooms coordinate operations with the states, districts and blocks. The working embodies the kind of micro-management which the present brass long figured out held the key to success in every election, including local body elections. What is the offshoot of the centralised style?

The party which once granted its state leaders leeway to grow and flourish as near-independent entities even under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani in NDA 1.0 has reduced the provinces and their putative chiefs to near-invisibility, to an extent that it is sometimes hard to track who is ruling a state given the authority’s penchant for replacing them.

Think, if Vajpayee and Advani had not given rein to the state leaders in their time, could Modi have soared to the heights he did? Or could Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Rajnath Singh reach where they did although they were shadows of their former selves? The BJP was a textbook counterpoint to the Congress high command’s pursuit of the off-with-their-heads dictum, practised by Indira Gandhi, which destroyed the party from within. The BJP was lauded for the absence of a “high command” that manifested in the way in which some of its former CMs snubbed Advani and Vajpayee for being “interventionist”. Vajpayee and Advani realised that, but for the states the party ruled, the Centre would be a hollow entity.

The domination of the BJP’s central command over the states is beginning to extract a political cost. It’s inconceivable to imagine that the state representatives would rebel given Delhi’s overwhelming bearing but Bihar serves a heads-up not a day too early. Karnataka is on the rocky road to self-damage.

It’s said that the Delhi leaders had “no clue” that Nitish Kumar, the CM in his latest incarnation as part of the “secular” Mahagathbandhan (MGB), was about to up and leave the NDA. Of course, each one of them, in Delhi and Patna, knew what was coming but deluded themselves to believe that they could push Nitish again to the threshold. An element of one-upmanship defined the BJP’s equation with the Janata Dal (United), Nitish’s party. He was the smaller party and the BJP, the second largest one in Bihar. So when Modi and Shah acceded CM-ship to Nitish, they expected him to be obligated for eternity.

Nitish could never forget the history of his partnership with the BJP. He joined the embryonic NDA in 1995, when the BJP sorely wished to shed the “untouchable” baggage it was saddled with after the Babri mosque demolition. Mayawati, the BSP chief, had collaborated with the BJP before Nitish’s entry but the partnership was cut-throat and short-lived. With Nitish, it heralded the start of an enduring relationship with a socialist leader, who, unlike Mayawati, was not regarded as mercurial and brought electoral dividends in what was then a no-go Bihar to the BJP under Lalu Prasad’s supremacy.
Unlike the present-day feisty Bihar representatives, those in the ’90s accepted Nitish’s upper hand over the BJP and Sushil Modi, who was initially nurtured as the party’s face, became Nitish’s best friend. A Delhi cabal of Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj patronised Nitish.

Modi and Shah wanted to rewrite their terms of engagement with Nitish, given an acrimonious chapter in their relations but they were up against insurmountable hurdles. The central command wanted to dictate to Nitish but there was no state leader to execute its dictation. Sushil Modi was marginalised and in any case, it’s doubtful if he would have pushed his friend Nitish around. The flaws inherent in a state’s over-dependence on the centre were visible in Patna. A hollowed-out Bihar BJP couldn’t challenge Nitish because he wouldn’t take any of its self-assumed leaders seriously. So, even if the BJP pompously claimed that Bihar’s opposition terrain was theirs for the asking, the point is who is there to water the land and harvest the gains? Nobody.

Southward to Karnataka. The perils of dumping B S Yediyurappa, the last of the BJP’s powerful provincial satraps, have only just begun to dawn on the leaders. When Basavaraj Bommai replaced Yediyurappa a year ago, Modi and Shah were lauded for “achieving” what their predecessors set out to, but could not. 

In retrospect, it might be deemed as “over-achievement” because Bommai, acting on the behest of the RSS and the BJP’s central brass, has thrown Karnataka in a mess, nine months before an assembly election. Bommai is not a bona fide regional representative who earned his spurs by strengthening the BJP in Karnataka; he is simply Delhi’s emissary in Bengaluru. A state that sets store by its stalwarts, to an extent that the Congress was ousted after Rajiv Gandhi had humiliated a former CM, Veerendra Patil, and lost the Lingayat votes for time to come, is unlikely to easily pardon the BJP for marginalising Yediyurappa unless he is rehabilitated suitably.

It’s apparent that in order to cut the losses it might accrue from the Hindi heartland where it peaked in the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is focussed on Telangana, Odisha and West Bengal for compensation. It is up against formidable regional challengers with charismatic chiefs. Will this circumstance compel the leaders to revisit their stand on nurturing state leaders or will Delhi continue to call the shots?

Radhika Ramaseshan
Columnist and political commentator

India Matters


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