'There is a sense within the government and Modi that things are not as good as they were in 2019.'
In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has sacked three chief ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party in the last three months, anticipating that they had become a liability to the party and, worse, denting his own popularity.
The timing of their exit is very crucial as two of these states -- Uttarakhand and Gujarat -- will see assembly elections next year, or in 2023 as in the in case of Karnataka.
Crucially, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Mohan Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath, whose state too goes to polls in 2022, has been spared a similar fate.
Bisht not only survived Modi's wrath but has been showing early signs of chafing at the bit against Modi's centralised leadership. Witness the exclusion of the PM's photograph in the advertisements taken out by the UP government lauding the chief minister for the state's development in his four-year rule.
What is behind Modi's large-scale culling of CMs and Union ministers in the July reshuffle of the Union council of ministers?
What makes Bisht untouchable in a party where Modi has demigod status?
Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com spoke to Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and The RSS: Icons of The Indian Right, to find out more about the BJP's inner politics.
"Modi is aware of the fact if people get another sense of a real alternative, they would start looking for it," says Mukhopadhyay in the first of a multi-part interview:
What is the reason for the BJP to replace three CMs before the state elections next year? What is the message to the voters and party cadres?
The change in the leadership of CMs in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Gujarat has to be seen in conjunction with the changes made in the council of ministers.
The backdrop to that is the horrific Covid second wave and the complete mismanagement by the government in terms of managing the health crisis.
Even after a year the government has been unable to revive the personal economies of the people and is keeping them solely dependent on dole and food being distributed.
People do not have money in their hands.
You can see this from the various rating surveys, and Modi understands the pulse of the people better than most politicians in the country.
He would have realised that the fool-proof position he was in is shaky at the moment.
I am not saying that there is a dent in his popularity.
He still is the most popular leader in the country, but the point is that he is aware of the fact if people get another sense of a real alternative, they would start looking for it.
Modi would be aware that while there is greater approval for him, but there is also some disapproval for him in the surveys which we have seen.
So, there is a backdrop of unprecedented crisis and the government has not been able to come up with real solutions in terms of economy, ensuring jobs, restoring businesses and on top of it came the lack of anticipation of the second Covid wave.
A few weeks before the second wave, right from Modi to the lowest BJP workers were gloating that we have defeated Covid without understanding the imminent danger that was coming even though there were signs.
(Continuing) There is a sense within the government and Modi that things are not as good as they were in 2019, so what do you do?
Now you cannot penalise the person who is identified in the centralised system of government that Modi runs as all responsibility should lie at his door, but that is not accepted.
Therefore, he has to find people and (tell the public) that these are the people responsible for the misgovernance and lack of proper handling of the Covid situation and therefore they are penalised.
The health minister (Dr Harsh Vardhan) was made a scapegoat and that did not make much sense as everybody knows that this department was being micromanaged by the PMO.
Similarly, all the BJP-ruled states are micromanaged by the central leadership.
It is almost like the post-Nehruvian system of selecting chief ministers who are fairly low profile, faceless leaders and do not pose a serious challenge to the central leadership.
You have to make someone the fall guy who would not damage (the party).
Vijay Rupani was not a mass leader and did not have huge political support.
The same thing in other states like Karnataka as B S Yediyurappa's cushions were removed by stating he did not handle the Covid crisis well.
Tell people that action has been taken against those who were not able to deliver.