Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during a public meeting, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh (File image: PTI)
It is ironic that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are currently in the news for the same reason, as both parties are busy dealing with the internal factional battles in their respective state units.
Infighting in the Congress is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it was actively encouraged in the past by the party’s Central leadership to keep regional satraps in check.
But the loud rumblings being witnessed in various BJP-ruled states have come as a jolt for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah who are encountering this kind of open rebellion for the first time since the BJP swept to power in 2014 and the two leaders established total control over the party apparatus.
But this control is clearly slipping. From Karnataka and Kerala in the south to Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in the heartland and Tripura and West Bengal in the east, the dissenting voices are getting louder and bolder. Though it is the chief ministers who are on target here, this open show of rebellion is also a challenge to Modi and Shah’s authority because the rebels believe the Prime Minister is on a weak wicket due to his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Of all the states, Karnataka presents the biggest headache for the Modi-Shah duo. It is all-out war in the southern state as chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa's detractors have refused to back down from their demand for his replacement despite the party’s Central leadership's pleas that they refrain from going public with their grievances. Charges and counter-charges are flying thick and fast while a team of senior BJP leaders, comprising Arun Singh and B.L. Santosh, is in Bengaluru to quell the dissidence. The chief minister’s detractors have been contained for now but this is, at best, an uneasy peace.
The BJP is unable to accept the demand that Yediyurappa be given the sack as any such move has the potential to invite a backlash from the powerful and numerically-strong Lingayat caste group to which the chief minister belongs.
The BJP learnt a bitter lesson in the past when it forced Yediyurappa out of the party in 2012 after which its tally came down to 40 seats, thus paving the way for a Congress government. The party is helpless even though it is an acknowledged fact that the BJP’s Central leadership is not happy with Yediyurappa’s larger-than-life image and his penchant to chart an independent path.
While Karnataka is on the boil, Uttar Pradesh is another trouble spot for the BJP. Here, too, chief minister Yogi Adityanath is in the eye of a storm as a large number of MLAs are unhappy with his centralised style of functioning and his heavy dependence on bureaucracy. The MLAs had been feeling neglected for some time but decided to speak out now as the next assembly election is due early 2022 and they maintain, they will find it difficult to face their voters because they were unable to redress their grievances because local officials would simply ignore them.
The palpable anger among the people with the Yogi government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the BJP’s below-par performance in the recent panchayat elections further impelled the frustrated legislators to raise their voices. In addition, Yogi Adityanath has also invited the wrath of his colleagues for doling out undue favours to members of the Thakur community to which he belongs while ignoring the others.
As matters reached a flashpoint, the BJP sent a team of senior leaders to Lucknow to get feedback from the legislators who minced no words in listing their complaints about the chief minister. Yogi was subsequently summoned to Delhi where he met the Prime Minister, Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda ostensibly to discuss the coronavirus pandemic but primarily to tell the chief minister to take corrective measures and to reach out to the MLAs for better coordination.
These meetings came in the backdrop of reports about tensions between Modi and Yogi. The Prime Minister has been pushing for a ministerial berth for former Gujarat cadre bureaucrat A.K. Sharma, now an MLC in Uttar Pradesh, but this has been resisted by Yogi.
Here again, the BJP is in no position to replace Yogi barely nine months before assembly polls but the party leadership is leaning on him to be more inclusive as it cannot allow matters to slide in an important state like Uttar Pradesh. However, only time will tell if the BJP has succeeded in containing Yogi and safeguarding the party’s electoral prospects.
West Bengal is another state which has been grabbing headlines, especially after the BJP failed to dethrone its two-time chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The BJP’s state unit has been in turmoil for the past month as the party’s old timers have taken umbrage at the importance being given to newcomers who joined the party recently.
Knives are also out for leaders like Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP in charge of West Bengal, and Dilip Ghosh, state unit president, for mismanaging the poll campaign. Then there is a fear in the BJP that its workers and cadres may move en masse to the ruling Trinamool Congress. As it is, Mukul Roy, who joined the BJP in 2017, returned to the Trinamool earlier this month, while many others who had gravitated to the saffron camp before the assembly polls, are ready for a ghar wapsi to the Trinamool Congress.
This is not all. The list of BJP state units which are beset with internal tensions is long. In Madhya Pradesh, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is constantly looking over his shoulder as his bête noire Narottam Mishra never stops needling him because he believes he is the rightful claimant to the chief minister’s kursi since he was instrumental in bringing down the Kamal Nath government.
The Prime Minister’s home state Gujarat is also witnessing a battle royale between chief minister Vijay Rupani and C.R. Paatil, president of the party’s state unit, while deputy chief minister Nitin Patel is known to be sulking. As reports of a build-up of intra-party tensions trickled in, BJP quickly rushed Bhupendra Yadav, party’s Gujarat in charge, to Gandhinagar to resolve matters.
Similarly, there is trouble brewing in Tripura where chief minister Biplab Deb is facing the heat from former Trinamool Congress legislators who want to see him out.
Needless to say, these developments have kept the BJP leadership on its toes as it has been busy sending emissaries to the various trouble spots to douse the political bushfires engulfing the states. The party has to act swiftly to shut down these rebellious noises for if it fails to restore soon, it would not just jeopardise the BJP’s electoral prospects in the poll-bound states but further undermine Modi’s authority.