BJP brass wants to move 3 former CMs out of state but they don’t want to let go. And in this tussle is stuck BJP’s pick for leader of opposition.
New Delhi: Over a fortnight after the results of assembly elections in three heartland states where it lost power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is yet to announce names of its Leaders of Opposition (LoP) following differences between the party high command and former chief ministers in these states.
Highly placed BJP sources said the party high command in Delhi is reluctant to make its former CMs — Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh — LoPs for varying reasons, but these state stalwarts are digging in their heels.
On 11 December, results of the assembly polls came as a bit of a jolt to the BJP as it lost all three heartland states to the Congress. While it put up a spirited fight in Madhya Pradesh, making it a neck and neck contest, in Rajasthan it managed to put up a far better show than expected, denying Congress the majority mark. It was in Chhattisgarh, however, that the BJP suffered a surprising rout, winning just 15 of the 90 seats, as against 68 the Congress won.
Despite its internal dilemma, with regional stalwarts reluctant to let go of their grip, the BJP has been criticising the Congress for delay in announcing its chief ministers and now cabinet in these states.
Also read: BJP lost the Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan states
In Chhattisgarh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah are reluctant to appoint Singh as LoP given the BJP’s dismal show in the recent polls. Singh, however, is clear that he either wants the position for himself or a loyalist.
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“The party’s performance in Chhattisgarh was embarrassing, to say the least. (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and (BJP chief) Amit Shah, therefore, do not want to give Singh the LoP post given he couldn’t steer the party to even a respectable performance,” said a highly placed source in the party who did not wish to be named.
“Singh, however, is refusing to let go of his hold over the state, which he has so carefully nurtured,” added the source.
Sources said the party high command is also considering over the option of getting him to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls instead — something Singh isn’t keen on because it would mean letting go of the state.
This might also mean that his son Abhishek Singh, a Lok Sabha MP, could be denied a ticket given the BJP’s ‘one family, one ticket’ principle.
“The former CM is clear that even if he is denied the post, he wants it to go to one of his loyalists. But the anti-Raman Singh camp is now active, and has been underscoring the party’s poor show and claiming it is because of him that many senior leaders lost in the state,” said a close aide of Singh on condition of anonymity.
Keen to show he is still very much in the game, Singh tweeted Thursday that he met Shah and discussed the issue of picking the LoP — unusual for a party that prefers to not discuss its internal matters openly.
The tense equations between Raje and the party’s central leadership are no secret. The Raje-Shah tussle has played out in many ways — appointment of state president of BJP, extension of Rajasthan chief secretary’s tenure, candidate selection and ticket distribution.
The LoP question has become only the latest bone of contention.
Sources said the party high command, given the history with Raje and coupled with the argument that she is an unpopular leader in the state, wants to keep her off the state’s affairs.
Raje, however, wants to keep a hold over the state and has even conveyed her wish to be made state president.
The top leadership also does not want her to be at the helm of affairs in Rajasthan during the Lok Sabha polls where it won all 25 seats in 2014.
The party believes that with a fresh leadership, it can manage to put up a good show in Lok Sabha despite having lost the assembly poll. The top command, sources said, is of the view that despite Raje’s unpopularity, a push by Modi managed to ensure a decent electoral performance by BJP.
Sources in Rajasthan’s BJP unit said Raje has been largely stationed in Delhi since the results and is going to put up a fight against being sidelined in the state, or being asked to contest the Lok Sabha poll.
Like Raman Singh, Raje’s son is also a Lok Sabha MP.
“Rajasthan has a pattern of alternating regimes. Even though the party lost, the performance was good,” said a party leader in Rajasthan, who did not wish to be named.
“Raje feels if she allows herself to be marginalised or brought out of the state, she will lose her hold completely, which will be difficult to then regain,” said the Rajasthan leader.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Among the three chief ministers, it is Chouhan who delivered the most impressive performance. Given his popularity and goodwill in the state, he continues to remain BJP’s biggest asset.
Sources, however, said the party high command is unsure if they want him to remain in the state or bring him to the Centre if they win in 2019 for a larger role and not “waste him as mere LoP”. This, more so, given the BJP’s rather lacklustre cabinet.
Chouhan, meanwhile, prefers to remain in the state and work towards 2023. Given his position and electoral show, the high command will find it difficult to deny him his choice if he asserts.
“Maybe he will be made LoP, or maybe he won’t. It all remains a bit unclear now since both sides have slightly different views,” said a Madhya Pradesh leader on condition of anonymity.
Formally, however, the state unit of the party attributes the delay to logistical factors.
“The process is on and talks are taking place. The decision will perhaps be made next month only,” said Lokendra Parashar, BJP media-in-charge, Madhya Pradesh.
“Shivraj ji is travelling with his family as he does every year-end and will return on 2 January. Given his absence, the decision is taking longer,” said Parashar.
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