New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has found little use of at least one-third of its national vice-presidents (V-Ps), who come second to the party president in terms of hierarchy. The V-Ps without any responsibility or assignment include three former chief ministers — Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan, Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh, and Raghubar Das of Jharkhand.
After the party’s loss in the 2018 assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the then BJP president Amit Shah had appointed the former chief ministers of these states — Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh — as national vice-presidents. In June that year, Chouhan was made in-charge of the BJP’s membership drive, but the other two ex-CMs weren’t given any task.
While forming his new team in September last year, BJP president J.P. Nadda appointed 12 vice-presidents, retaining Raje and Raman Singh, and also inducting Raghubar Das, who served as Jharkhand CM from 2014 to 2019. Chouhan had gone back to MP as chief minister.
According to the party constitution, the BJP president can nominate among the members of the executive not more than 13 vice-presidents. Saudan Singh became the 13th V-P last December. However, the list is now down to 12 names after Mukul Roy quit the party to go back to the Trinamool Congress earlier this month.
Although the V-Ps come second to the president in the organisational hierarchy, it’s seen as an ornamental post. It’s the general secretaries who wield the real powers in their capacity as in-charge of states.
In the current list of V-Ps, many have been given important responsibilities. Radha Mohan Singh, for instance, was made in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, Baijayant Panda of Assam and Delhi, A.P. Abdullakutty of Lakshadweep, and M. Chuba Ao of Meghalaya. Saudan Singh has been given a “special responsibility” for Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh.
Some other V-Ps, including Rekha Verma, Annapurna Devi, and, Bharti Ben Shiyal, and D.K. Aruna were made co-incharge of different states to work in collaboration with the in-charges.
It has been nine months since Nadda constituted his team but he hasn’t allotted any work to the three former CMs — Raje, Singh and Das.
Reached for comment, BJP national spokesperson R.P. Singh said no meaning should be read into this, adding that the domains V-Ps are tasked with go beyond state-specific responsibilities.
Some other leaders of the party, who didn’t wish to be named, offered the same assertion, saying the three former CMs are active in their home states. However, others said the responsibilities given to a leader were a reflection of their stature in the party, and noted that Das, Raje or Singh weren’t exactly active at the national level.
‘Already working in respective states’
Vasundhara Raje had led the BJP to victory in the 2013 assembly election but developed strained equations with the central leadership soon. In the run-up to the 2018 assembly election, the then BJP president Amit Shah had wanted to appoint Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as Rajasthan BJP president but had to relent due to Raje’s strong objections; PM Narendra Modi inducted Shekhawat as a Cabinet minister at the Centre the following year.
After the BJP lost the assembly election in Rajasthan, Raje was sidelined in the party, with her detractors appointed to key posts in the state unit. The BJP high-command had been upset with Raman Singh, too, for the poll loss in 2018.
In fact, after the loss in Chhattisgarh, the BJP central leadership denied tickets to all sitting party MPs, including Raman Singh’s son, Abhishek. The former Chhattisgarh CM was, however, given a “short assignment” earlier this year — to look at the state of affairs in Uttarakhand as an observer and submit his report to the central leadership. It was following his report that Trivendra Singh Rawat was replaced as Uttarakhand CM.
“It is not necessary that specific state responsibilities should be given to vice-presidents of the party. There are a number of other domains where you have to work, be it coordination between party and government, special drives, as and when it is required leaders are assigned specific tasks,” BJP national spokesperson R.P. Singh said.
“I, for instance, was in charge of tours and travels of all political leaders and rallies. So, different people are given different tasks and responsibilities and there are so many other domains that exist that the media might not even be aware of and we don’t publicise them,” he added.
Another BJP leader pointed out that some of these leaders are given responsibilities within the party during some special drives. For instance, Annapurna Devi, along with senior BJP leaders such as Bhupendra Yadav, Dilip Saikia and Vinod Tawde, was given the responsibility to oversee a seminar on confronting Covid-19-related issues.
“As and when it is required, all the organisational leaders are given responsibilities. For instance, there are often special drives, Covid-19-related special drives, membership drives, wherein such leaders are engaged,” the BJP leader added.
“At the same time, as far as the former chief ministers are concerned, they are already working in their respective states, so giving them additional responsibilities doesn’t make sense,” the leader said.
A number of state leaders ThePrint reached for comment said many of the vice-presidents are actively involved in carrying out activities in their respective states.
“Raman Singh might not have been given a particular responsibility for a state but he is quite active in Chhattisgarh, and whenever the party wants to highlight the failure of the government, he is the face,” said a state BJP leader. “At the same time, whenever central party leaders visit Chhattisgarh, they always carry out consultation with Singh first.”
“These leaders are still in the race to be chief ministers in the future and they are trying to nurture their own states. It is also their way of telling the party how they are actively involved in the matters of the state they belong to, whether it is Raje, Singh or Das,” the leader added.
‘Sign of falling political graph’
Other BJP leaders, at the national level and in states, say the kind of responsibility a leader holds does come with a message.
“If you look at the kind of responsibilities they have been given, it depicts their stature in the party to a certain level. It also indicates who is in the good books of the high-command,” said a national-level BJP leader.
“The three former chief ministers — Raje, Singh and Das — have not been given responsibilities of any of the states, even though they are tall leaders. Within their respective states they have been active in some way or the other but not nationally,” the leader added.
Another leader noted that Das was earlier “hoping to find a place in the Rajya Sabha but that did not happen”.
“There were a number of complaints against him and he was blamed squarely for the assembly election loss. He was later accommodated as the vice-president to maintain his political stature. In the next polls too, the party will need him in some form or the other,” the leader said.
Another source said their responsibilities — or the lack thereof — is also a reflection of how their political graph within the party is falling.
“If you look at all the vice-presidents, Radha Mohan Singh has been given the charge of Uttar Pradesh. That is also because he is a seasoned leader and is quite balanced in his approach,” said the source. “Some of the other leaders are given this position (V-P) as a ceremonial position to keep their political stature intact. There are many calculations that go into who is included and why, and it is not always because they enjoy a good relationship with the central leaders,” said another BJP functionary.