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Editorial: When CMs fall like ninepins

The sudden resignation of Vijay Rupani as Gujarat Chief Minister may not have been altogether surprising, but his replacement most certainly was. No one – not even those who track the affairs of the BJP closely – guessed that it would be Bhupendra Patel, a first time MLA, who wasn’t on anybody’s political radar.

Editorial: When CMs fall like ninepins
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Vijay Rupani.

Chennai

The abruptness of the change and the choice of the successor point towards several things. First among them perhaps, is that the inner workings of the BJP High Command – which is a thinly disguised euphemism for the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine – are privy to hardly anyone outside the duopoly.

Rupani is also the third chief minister who has been shifted out in recent months – Sarbananda Sonowal of Assam and BS Yediyurappa being the other two; it is the fifth change if one calculates from the beginning of the year (there were two reshuffles in Uttarakhand). What this suggests, at the very least, is a couple of ground realities. The BJP, which tends to boast a lot about how decentralised and democratic it is, is rapidly emerging as a party that is controlled tightly by the High Command. The manner in which the changes have been rung in bear resemblance to the Congress, at a time when Indira Gandhi was at her ‘imperious best’.

Clearly, this is a party that now believes it can win elections on the basis of the so-called Modi charisma and without the aid of powerful regional chieftains. It has also become a party in which nobody is strong enough to challenge the Modi-Shah combine. It is instructive how meekly all the chief ministers have demitted office when told to go – even Yediyurappa, a man who felt strong enough to split the BJP in Karnataka, and who many believed would not step down quietly, fell compliantly in line.

There is no denying that some of the changes have been rung in because of what are perceived as electoral compulsions. The choice of Rupani’s successor, for instance, has been dictated with an eye on the Patidar community, which has been restive, and which exercises a big influence on Gujarat’s politics. But overall, the big question is what such summary changes and a centralised high command means for the BJP in the long term. The irony is that what may seem like a signal of strength and a disciplined acceptance of decisions taken by the party leadership, could lead to a weakening of the party over time.

The Congress’ decline was closely linked to the constant undermining of the regional leadership, which encouraged the growth of other political players, particularly regional ones. Rupani’s exit has already triggered off speculation whether Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh will be the next chief ministerial casualty. A country the size of India needs national parties that are made up of strong regional leaders. In the long run, it will need more than an undeniably popular face and his loyal deputy.

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