Warring BJP factions in Chhattisgarh have become too disorderly to be reined in by the Central leadership pushing the BJP on slippery ground in this poll bound state, where elections are scheduled to be held by the end of 2023. It is precisely for this reason the state BJP has been put under collective leadership, which is an unprecedented move in the history of the state BJP. Obviously, there won’t be a chief minister face of the party. Rather, the party would bank on PM Narendra Modi.
It is a significant political development in the state since PM Modi has much bigger stake than any other political leader in the state, since BJP had won only 15 seats out of 90 in 2018 Vidhan Sabha election, while the party had won 9 out of 11 in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Central BJP leadership, therefore, cannot afford to ignore the factionalism pervading its entire rank and file in the state, especially at a time when the party and PM Modi would be seeking for their third term in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Congress had won 68 seats in Vidhan Sabha election 2018, but could win only 2 seats next year in the Lok Sabha election, chiefly due to BJP was riding on a wave in party’s favour after the Pulwama attack and resulting consolidation of Hindu votes. This time there is no such wave in favour of the BJP, though there is a little anti-incumbency against the Congress, but still too strong for the state BJP. If the present trend continues, BJP cannot even hope to retain its 9 sitting Lok Sabha seats, since almost all the seats are now considered tough battleground, which has been made tougher by the factionalism, though the party had bagged over 50 per cent of votes in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
As far as Vidhan Sabha election is concerned, the winning margin of the Congress candidates were over 10 per cent of the valid votes polled as against the BJP in majority of seats in 2018. Contest in the state was almost one-on-one between the Congress and BJP. Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (J) could win only 5 seats while BSP only 2.
It is in this backdrop Central BJP leader Amit Shah had meetings last week with several senior BJP leaders of Chhattisgarh, since the party is facing a significant challenge in the state. The party has appointed its National Vice President Om Mathur, and Central BJP leader Mansukh Mandaviya (Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare) as the election in-charge of the state.
The Central BJP leadership has been trying to cash in on the anti-incumbency of the Congress government led by Bhupesh Baghel, apart from infighting in the state Congress. The party knows it very well and hence taken steps to significantly reduce their impact on the party’s political prospect both in the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha elections by the end of 2023 and Lok Sabha election in 2024.
Congress has changed its state president. Deepak Baij has been made new Pradesh Congress President. TS Singh Deo has recently been appointed as Deputy Chief Minister. Congress is likely to bring other organizational changes to rein in factionalism. To blunt the anti-incumbency, the state government has been implementing several dozen pro-people schemes, apart from going offensive against BJP alleging non-cooperation and victimization of opposition ruled states by the PM Modi led Union Government.
The BJP has also set up a 31-member manifesto panel to underpin the Congress led state government, that took over the power in 2018 after throwing BJP out of power after 15 years. Those were the worst days of the Congress. In 2013, almost entire Congress leadership of the state were killed in a Naxal attack that had caused at least 27 deaths. Congress had suffered a split in 2016 when Ajit Jogi, the first Congress Chief Minister of Congress split the party and formed JCC (J). However, now the party is under strong state leadership again.
Congress led by Ajit Jogi had lost its power to BJP in 2003 which ruled the state for 15 years under chief minister Raman Singh. Therefore, BJP’s decision to not field Raman Singh as chief ministerial face is a significant decision of Central BJP leadership. Not only that, BJP will not have any other chief ministerial face too this time which marks a strategic shift in party’s electoral battle in the state.
Only two months ago in May, the former BJP chief Nand Kumar Sai, who was a long-time Hindutva tribal face has left the party to join Congress, since he was fed-up with the factionalism in the party. He alleged that some party leaders were tarnishing his public image by false allegations. Urination by a BJP leader on a tribal in Madhya Pradesh has also infuriated the tribals of the state against the party.
BJP has not been able to rein in factionalism in the party is clear from this incident, though it had put in place a new 54-member state committee only in September last 2022. It was a mix of young and old faces which had included OBCs and tribals intended to take on ruling Congress in the 2023 Vidhan Sabha elections. It was reported at that time that the strategy was to slowly wean out the older faces like Raman Sing and his arch rival Brijmohan Agrawal and build a state party leadership without factionalism for the next 10-15 years. However, factionalism in the party is at its worst and hence a shift in the BJP’s electoral strategy of putting the state under collective leadership and going to poll without chief minister face.
In the meantime, BJP has been organizing PM Modi’s rallies. Only last week, PM Modi laid foundation stones and dedicated various development projects worth about Rs7500 crore in Raipur. Many more rallies are scheduled for him before Vidhan Sabha election by the end of 2023. (IPA Service)