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Who Will Modi Pick For Assembly Polls Later This Year?

By Radhika Ramaseshan
May 29, 2023 17:15 IST
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The BJP is faced with the crucial question of who will lead the party in the four impending state polls this year: In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party Lead Campaigner Narendra D Modi is felicitated at an election rally in Shivamogga, May 7, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Karnataka elections done and dusted with a Congress chief minister in place, the Bharatiya Janata Party will have to appoint the Leader of the Opposition in the state legislature.

There is no precedent to establish that Basavaraj S Bommai, former chief minister, will get the post by right, as it were.

Each state where an incumbent BJP government was unseated followed a different norm.

If Jai Ram Thakur, cherry-picked by the BJP's central command, got the position even after losing the last election in Himachal Pradesh, in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the brass moved in swiftly to bring in new faces as Leader of the Opposition instead of handing it to the CMs who brought the party to defeat.

In Rajasthan, Gulab Chand Kataria initially became Leader of the Oppostion, and once he was appointed Assam governor, Rajendra Rathore, a seven-term MLA, succeeded him.

In Chhattisgarh, former chief minister Dr Raman Singh, who was still not out of favour with New Delhi, leveraged his influence to bring in his loyalist Dharam Lal Kaushik as Leader of the Opposition.

In August 2022, Kaushik was replaced by Narayan Chandel, the Janjgir-Champa legislator.


Bommai was doubtless New Delhi's choice to helm a BJP government in Bengaluru, a factor that might give him an edge when a Leader of the Opposition is chosen. The jury is out on this.

"Karnataka is more complex than Himachal Pradesh. Bommai is New Delhi's man, but in the new situation, the leadership will have to take caste into consideration. The LoP could be a Lingayat, a backward caste, or a Dalit," a political observer from Bengaluru said.

If a Lingayat is the criterion, then Bommai stands a chance, he added.

New Delhi will have to take a call on its own intention: To control Karnataka's affairs or nurture a state leader because the rout underlined the significance and salience of regional chiefs in an assembly election.

The admirers and detractors of B S Yediyurappa, the former chief minister and the BJP's Karnataka architect, said his marginalisation was a factor, which contributed to the party's downfall.

"Yediyurappa's finished, his shelf life is over," stressed a senior BJP functionary.

IMAGE: Modi greets then Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje as then Chhattisgrah chief minister Dr Raman looks on at then Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani's swearing in in Gandhinagar, December 26, 2017. Photograph: PTI Photo

As the BJP sorts out the Leader of the Opposition issue, it is faced with a more crucial question of who will lead the party in the four impending state polls this year: In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana.

Rajasthan is decidedly the trickiest because against the central leadership's oft-signalled intent, Vasundhara Raje, twice elected CM who led the party to defeat in 2018, has refused to forfeit her claim for a third shot at power.

R Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya, a right-leaning magazine and news portal and author of the book Dharmic Nation, said: "Vasundhara's problem is not so much about Delhi disliking her as dissidence within the BJP."

A BJP source said: "Remember the slogan in the last assembly elections which said voters don't have a problem with Narendra Modi but won't accept Vasundhara? Modi won for us all the seats (in Rajasthan) in the Lok Sabha polls. If Vasundhara is projected again, we will lose because she will resurrect memories of her misrule."

IMAGE: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan shows us an unfamiliar side of his personality while inaugurating the 28th IES-Digiana Inter-press cricket tournament-2023 at the Old Campion ground in Bhopal, January 4, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

In MP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the reigning CM who ruled for four terms earlier, was approximately in the same place as Vasundhara.

"There's a trust deficit between him and New Delhi," a Bhopal-based political observer said.

Still, party sources admitted that "it's too late to replace him and we don't have a substitute".

Chouhan's alleged rivals, Narottam Mishra, the home minister, and Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP's national general secretary, had declared in the recent past that he would lead the party in the coming election.

"Chouhan hasn't allowed another leader to come up. His loyalists muster the crowds for him in meetings and that gives an impression that he is invincible. The truth is as in Karnataka, there's huge resentment against his government," a BJP source in the state said.

Asked if Chouhan would be relegated to the background and Modi placed front and centre in the elections, the source said: "That won't happen. Modiji won't take the risk of losing another state so close to the Lok Sabha polls (April-May 2024)."

In Chhattisgarh, the BJP has not zeroed in on a face after Raman Singh took a back seat.

It is still trapped in a caste dilemma on whether to focus on an Adivasi or a backward caste representative to take on the Congress chief minister, Bhupesh Baghel.

IMAGE: A galaxy of BJP leaders at the Vijaya Sankalpa Sabha in Hyderabad. Photograph: ANI Photo

Karnataka has the "loudest message" for Telangana, where the BJP thought it had displaced the Congress as the Opposition, according to a state BJP office-bearer.

"The Congress has credible and charismatic leaders in Siddharamaiah and D K Shivakumar. They galvanised the party workers as well as voters. In such a situation, religion and caste don't work."

Asked about Telangana, where the state president, Bandi Sanjay Kumar, campaigned aggressively, the functionary said: "I think elections will be fought under the collective leadership of Kumar, G Kishan Reddy (a central minister), and Modi."

While Kumar, he said, appealed to the backward castes, Reddy would work on the Reddy community, "which felt left out under a Velama" (Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao belongs to that caste) and Modi had an "overarching captivation, particularly among the young and educated".

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Radhika Ramaseshan
Source: source