List of ex-BJP CMs grows as challenges mount
On May 14, the BJP, in a surprise move, chose Manik Saha to be the new chief minister of Tripura in place of Biplab Kumar Deb.
The move came as Assembly polls were due to be held in the state in 9 months and Deb – who has previously set social media ablaze with her bizarre claims including that the internet existed during the Mahabharata – did not was no longer as popular.
Thus, he went to join the league of BJP Chief Ministers who were removed from their positions before and after the assembly elections.
And the list goes on: Trivendra Singh Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand; Vijay Rupani in Gujarat; BS Yediyurappa in Karnataka and Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam.
This illustrates a unique problem facing the saffron party. While the BJP seems stronger than ever in the Center, the party is struggling to retain the CMs in some states for long.
But the ever-alert BJP continues to win in post-overhaul states and faces no rebellion anywhere. Contrast that with Congress still in crisis.
Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab opted to form a new party and align himself with the BJP when he was replaced ahead of the Assembly elections. Congress has lost the polls badly. Rubbing it in, top party leader Sunil Jakhar joined the BJP a few days ago.
In Gujarat, which is heading to the polls, Congress appears to be in trouble.
Firebrand Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who was the face of Congress in the 2017 Assembly polls, resigned from the party this month, throwing “chicken sandwich, cellphone” barbs at Team Rahul .
However, ushering in ruthless change has not been a major headache for the BJP, with most of its ex-CMs quietly choosing exile instead of going public with their anger.
For the saffron party, the only problem at the moment is former Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje who has apparently dug in his heels instead of retiring.
The party now appears to have reconciled with its leadership for next year’s state elections.
High drama in the hills state
Of all the BJP-ruled states, Uttarakhand produced the most drama as the hill state saw three chief ministers in the span of four months last year.
Trivendra was replaced after four years, while his successor Tirath Singh left in just four months. The BJP battled state assembly polls under the leadership of a relatively young leader, Pushkar Dhami, the third CM between March and July last year. As Dhami returned to CM after BJP won polls this year, the other two are cooling off
Trivendra, however, enjoys his free time being busy on Twitter, posting party messages, while Tirath’s Twitter timeline shows the leader raising people and legislative issues and still angry at women wearing ripped jeans.
Their biographies identify them as “former CMs” because they did not progress to a more prominent role in the party hierarchy.
In Gujarat, Rupani has all but disappeared from the political landscape after his unceremonious exit in September 2021. The former Chief Minister of Gujarat now keeps a very low profile and is barely seen.
“He is hardly present in party meetings since most of these meetings are chaired by Paatil saheb (CR Paatil). The last time the two (Rupani and Paatil) were seen together was at Chintan Shivir” , said an executive.
A close associate said: “These days, Vijaybhai spends more time working for his trust, Shri Pujit Rupani Memorial Trust, which works for the upliftment of poor children and frequently commutes between his hometown Rajkot, and Gandhinagar.”
It is no secret that Paatil, the Gujarat BJP chairman, said he is close to Modi, and Rupani could never get along.
Last year, the party nominated Bhupendra Patil as chief minister, apparently with an eye on Patidar’s votes.
End of Deb
In 2018, Deb was the BJP’s toast to Tripura as he led the Saffron Party to its first government in the state. In doing so, the Deb-led BJP ousted the 25-year-old CPM government led by veteran politician Manik Sarkar.
The BJP has talked about making Tripura a connectivity hub by integrating HIRA (Highway, Internetway, Roadway, Airways). “BJP will give you HIRA instead of Manik (Sarkar),” Modi had said. The Deb experiment lasted four and a half years.
A BJP leader in Tripura said Deb’s bad moment started with the “odious” statements he made frequently shortly after becoming the CM. Deb asserted that the internet was present even in Mahabharata times.
Another time, Deb said he wanted every family to raise ducks because ducks give off more oxygen.
At a ceremony to observe Civil Service Day, Deb said only civil engineers should become civil servants because they can give better suggestions for infrastructure development. “Such comments affected his image as a young and educated leader,” he said.
(With contributions from Satish Jha in Ahmedabad and Sumir Karmakar in Guwahati)