New Delhi: What does it take for a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader to be considered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah when they shortlist chief ministerial candidates? There are no fixed criteria, of course. When they chose Bhupendra Patel to replace Vijay Rupani as the Gujarat CM, few in the party or outside expected it. He was a first-term MLA and nobody considered him a contender for the CM’s chair in a party full of veteran leaders with loads of administrative experience.
But it’s not the first time. Modi and Shah continue to spring surprises when it comes to picking up BJP CMs.
A look at the background of 22 CMs who occupied the coveted chair under Modi-Shah’s watch since 2014 throws up certain common elements. Based on this, ThePrint analyses the five boxes that aspiring CMs must tick.
Grooming by RSS
Given Modi-Shah’s background in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), it’s no surprise that they seem to put a premium on a candidate’s Sangh association when they scout for CM position.
Out of the 22 CMs they have hand-picked, 15 have had connections with the Sangh. Seven CMs, both former and incumbent, who don’t have RSS background include Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath, Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma and Sarbananda Sonowal, Arunachal Pradesh’s Pema Khandu, Manipur’s N. Biren Singh, Karnataka’s Basavaraj Bommai, and Gujarat’s Anandiben Patel.
Adityanath might not have any grooming in the RSS but he, as the mahant of Gorakhnath Math, shared the Sangh’s larger Hindutva philosophy. He and Anandiben came directly into the BJP, while Sonowal came into the BJP from the Asom Gana Parishad, and Sarma, Khandu and Biren Singh from the Congress.
Bommai, meanwhile, had cut his teeth into politics as a Janata Dal leader in 2008. Many of the 22 CMs such as Devendra Fadnavis, Jairam Thakur and Pushkar Singh Dhami had started their politics as student leaders in Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the RSS’ students’ wing. Some of them were also part of the BJP youth wing — Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha — while the older chief ministers such as B.S. Yediyurappa, Raghubar Das and Manohar Lal Khattar have connections with the Jana Sangh.
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Low-profile with no mass base
Another key aspect of being elevated by the Modi-Shah duo is having a low-profile with no pan-state mass base. Bhupendra Patel is the third first-term MLA, apart from Khattar and Biplab Deb, to be elected as the chief minister. Rupani was also a first-term MLA when he was picked up as the CM in 2016. Ten of the 22 CMs had no ministerial experience when they were elevated to the coveted chair.
While former Karnataka CM Yediyurappa and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan were mass leaders, their elevation during Modi-Shah era was more of a reward for their role in toppling non-BJP-led governments in their states. Former CMs with a mass base such as Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje and Chhattisgarh’s Raman Singh have been pushed to the sidelines in the BJP.
44-56 the favoured age group
Out of the 22 leaders who were elevated as chief ministers, only five were above 60 years of age during their appointment.
Khandu, the youngest, was 37-year-old, while five CMs (Pushkar Singh Dhami, Biplab Kumar Deb, Fadnavis, Pramod Sawant, and Adityanath) were between 40-50 years of age. Twelve were between 50-60.
Meanwhile, five were 60 and above — Manohar Parrikar, Anandiben Patel, Basavaraj Bommai, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Yediyurappa. In all these cases though, there were political compulsions.
For instance, Parrikar had to be sent back to Goa as CM as he was the only one acceptable to the BJP’s alliance partners after a fractured verdict in the 2017 election. Anandiben was Modi’s old associate and cabinet colleague in Gujarat. Khattar, who had crossed 60 by a few months when he was made the CM in 2014, also owed his chair to his old association with Modi. Bommai’s elevation was driven by the political compulsion of installing a Lingayat leader as Yediyurappa’s successor, who also had the administrative acumen and political stature to keep the flock together in Karnataka.
Therefore, the younger a leader, the better he or she has a chance of being shortlisted by Modi-Shah. The best age group seems to be 44-56, going by the age profile of these 22 CMs. There were six each in 53-56 and 59-61 age group and five in 44-46 age bracket.
Also read: 8 of 20 CMs picked by Modi-Shah had to vacate seat. But it’s not a bad strategy
Personal history with Modi-Shah
Another element in being nominated to the post of chief minister is a long-term association with either Modi or Shah. This was exhibited in the case of Anandiben, who was elevated as the CM of Gujarat in 2014. Prior to being made the chief minister, she had a long-term association with Modi. In fact, he was instrumental in bringing her into politics in the 1980s. She went on to become one of the most powerful ministers in CM Modi’s cabinet and he chose her as his successor in Gujarat when he became the Prime Minister.
Like Anandiben, even Haryana CM Khattar has a long-standing association with PM Modi, with both being from the RSS. Khattar worked closely with Modi when the latter was the Haryana incharge of the BJP in 1996.
When they were RSS pracharaks, Modi used to stay with Khattar during his Haryana visits. Modi had so much confidence in Khattar that in the 2014 general elections, the latter was given charge of 50 wards in PM’s constituency — Varanasi. Khattar entered the electoral fray in Haryana for the first time later that year and went on to become the CM.
While Bhupender Patel may not have a close association with the Modi-Shah duo, he was Anandiben’s protege, with Congress leaders in Gujarat even saying that the government would be ‘remote-controlled’ by her now. She has had frosty relations with Amit Shah whose protege, Rupani, replaced her as CM in 2016. In what’s being seen as poetic justice, Modi has now brought her protege as Rupani’s replacement.
Another CM who was elevated, known to be closely associated with PM Modi, was former Jharkhand CM — Raghubar Das. Das was the first non-tribal CM of the state.
Himanta Biswa Sarma who replaced Sonowal as Assam CM was Shah’s point person in the northeast.
Party loyalty or political utility
Although many political turncoats have become BJP CMs, what’s unmistakable in Modi-Shah’s choices of CMs is the fact that they put a premium on leaders’ loyalty to the BJP and their connect with the grassroots.
Bhupendra Patel and Rupani had started as municipal corporators, while former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was the youngest municipal corporator of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation at 22, and was even the mayor of Nagpur prior to being elected in the state assembly.
Before being elected as an MLA in 2002, former Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat was the BJP Uttarakhand’s organisation secretary in 1997 and held the post for five years.
If some political turncoats became CMs, it was owing to their indispensability in the BJP’s scheme of things. Himanta, for instance, is indispensable to the party in Assam.
Arunachal CM Pema Khandu (who earlier moved from the Congress to the People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh) moved to the BJP in 2016 with 36 other MLAs, bringing the strength of the saffron party to 45 in a 60-member assembly in the state. Similarly, Bommai, who had joined the BJP in 2008, was needed to bring stability after Yediyurappa’s ouster.
However, BJP leaders who quit the party find it hard to win back Modi-Shah’s confidence. For instance, Gordhan Zadafia, a CM aspirant, had a long association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an RSS affiliate, and was minister of state for home in Gujarat in 2001-2002. He was seen as a strong contender for Rupani’s replacement but he couldn’t make it. He had rebelled against the party and formed his own outfit before coming back into the BJP fold.
Yediyurappa had also left the BJP and was instrumental in the party’s defeat in 2013 but Modi brought him back into the party as it didn’t have anyone else with that kind of mass base in Karnataka.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)
Also read: Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma—two outsiders playing like pros in RSS-dominated BJP