New Delhi: After its victory in the assembly elections in four states, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has no shortage of leadership candidates. Yogi Adityanath is set to be sworn in for his second term as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and the party also has incumbent CMs in Manipur and Goa — N. Biren Singh and Pramod Sawant, respectively. The BJP also has plausible alternative candidates among the second-rung leadership in Goa and Manipur.
The situation in Uttarakhand, on the other hand, is more ambiguous. After having changed chief ministers twice last year, the BJP is left in the same position it was in after the 2017 election — a majority in the assembly, but no clear leader.
In Manipur, the BJP has won 32 seats in the 60-member assembly under Biren Singh’s leadership. The party hasn’t yet announced his name, and while the incumbent chief minister is the frontrunner for the post, there are other contenders, according to party sources.
One is Thongam Biswajit Singh, a former Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLA who left the party and was re-elected on a BJP ticket in 2015, a year before Biren Singh joined from the Congress. Biswajit was a contender for the CM’s post in 2017, but the party convinced him to wait. He has held several portfolios in the ministry, from public works to information, and many in the party favour him as a CM candidate, sources said.
The party high command also has a high opinion, sources said, of Govindas Konthoujam, a former state Congress chief and six-time Bishnupur MLA who has a background in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and who defected to the BJP in 2021.
Speaking to ThePrint, Manipur BJP president A. Sharda Devi said, “Central observers will make a decision after consulting the MLAs. It will be decided by the central leadership. There is no division of opinion on the leadership issue.”
In Goa, party leaders said incumbent Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had done well to secure 20 out of 40 seats in the assembly, with the claimed support of three independent MLAs and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) getting the BJP over the majority mark.
“He has won with more seats than (former Goa CM and defence minister of India) Manohar Parrikar. He is of course the main choice for the top seat,” said a BJP leader who did not wish to be named.
However, party sources said that Sawant faces a challenge from state health minister Vishwajit Rane, an ex-Congressman and son of former chief minister Pratapsingh Rane.
Speaking about Rane, a BJP leader said, “He is second in command in Goa, and an ambitious, popular young leader. The only problem is that he is in a hurry and is more ambitious than Sawant. But Sawant is from the cadre, and the party has to balance both factions for seamless governance in Goa.”
The BJP has stormed to power once more in Uttarakhand, winning 47 out of 70 seats — but Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami lost in his own constituency, in keeping with a long-running trend in the state.
Now, the choice of a new chief minister isn’t an easy one. A senior BJP leader told ThePrint, “It’s a really tough call to select a CM in Uttarakhand. The people here have defeated leaders like [former CMs] Narayan Dutt Tiwari, B.C. Khanduri, Harish Rawat and [Union minister of state and former state BJP chief] Ajay Bhatt.”
“It’s true that people voted on the prime minister’s name, but without able chief ministers, beating anti-incumbency hasn’t been easy,” added the leader.
Another BJP leader said, “Dhami has performed in containing anti-incumbency, but the problem is that reappointing defeated chief ministers and getting them back into the assembly through a bypoll would not send a good message to the electorate.”
However, BJP MLA Khajan Das disagreed, saying, “Dhami led the party to victory, and he can win in a bypoll. Many MLAs are ready to vacate their seats for him, but ultimately the prime minister and Home Minister Amit Shah have to make the decision.”
The other names doing the rounds include state ministers Satpal Maharaj, Dhan Singh Rawat, Bansidhar Bhagat, and Arvind Pandey, Union minister Ajay Bhatt, and MLA Vinod Kandari. However, Satpal Maharaj and Bhagat are both elderly — touching or past 70 — whereas Rawat is a younger man at 49 who is from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) student cadre.
Rawat is considered a serious contender for the post according to party sources, although they said the caste arithmetic may not favour him — if he is selected, the BJP would have Rajput chief ministers in three states, the others being UP CM Yogi Adityanath and Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur.
Selecting Bhatt, on the other hand, would avoid these issues, BJP leaders said, as he is a Brahmin and aged only 60. He has experience as leader of the opposition in the assembly, and was also state BJP president when the party came to power with a massive mandate of 57 out of 70 seats in 2017. Bhatt was considered a CM candidate at the time, but — like Dhami this time around — he was defeated in his own seat of Ranikhet.
However, balancing Uttarakhand’s two divisions, Garhwal and Kumaon, is also a consideration in the state’s politics. Bhatt is from Kumaon, but the party has won more seats in Garhwal — 29 out of 41 seats, compared to 18 out of 29 in Kumaon. BJP leaders said the party may be uneasy choosing a chief minister from Kumaon in such a situation.
In 2017, it had won 23 seats in Kumaon and 34 in Garhwal, helped by the defection of Congress leaders such as former CM Vijay Bahuguna, Harak Singh Rawat, and Satpal Maharaj. Former CMs Trivendra Singh Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat were both from Garhwal.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)