That the Amit Shah-Narendra Modi duo is in complete control of the BJP is an understatement.
Shah has now decided to press his individual stamp on the party while getting rid of the margdarshaks – he has decided to clinically phase out non-performing first and second-rung leaders from the state apparatus and bring forward those from the third and fourth line who are likely to remain personally loyal and ever grateful.
This moment may also define the limits of Modi’s charisma. The 2019 election will go down as, among other things, one that changed the BJP as a party from bottom up, with a pruned top.
If the BJP does win, its benches will be full of political newbies crouching under the shadow of the leader.
Since the declaration of the candidates’ lists, this Shah formula has been most visible in Chhattisgarh, which goes to the polls first and finishes earliest in three phases by April 23.
Just six months ago, Shah had been convinced that the BJP would see its fourth consecutive term in Chhattisgarh. The results were disappointingly opposed to Shah’s expectation of 65 seats.
In one fell swoop, he has decided to dispose off all the leaders of the past 15 years and make a fresh start.
Immediately after the polls, RSS ideologue Saudan Singh, the state BJP secretary in charge for 15 years, was replaced with Anil Jain – a relative lightweight within the saffron system.
The state party president was the next step. Shah ignored the claims of all senior tribal leaders like Nand Kumar Sai and Union minister Vishnudeo Sai and others to bring in Vikram Usendi, who had recently lost the Kanker assembly seat.
Shah has also consistently ignored the claims of Raman Singh to any role in the state politics, kicking him upstairs as vice president of the BJP at the national level – a position he shares with two other defeated chief ministers from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and which has little relevance within the party.
A day after Holi, Shah declared that the BJP would not give tickets to any of the 11 candidates – including 10 sitting MPs – who had contested the Lok Sabha last time. If one looks at the entire list of 11 candidates, it is very clear that he has decided to bring forward third rung leaders to the fore at the expense of the well known faces.
None of the ministers, like Brijmohan Agarwal, Amar Agarwal, Rajesh Mudat, Gaurishankar or tribal faces like Mahesh Gagda, who formed the second rung of state leadership, have been given any prominence or tickets.
The message is clear –Shah-Modi can make or mar careers at will and those chosen must deliver.
The latest list of six candidates announced from the general seats, after the five reserved seats announced earlier, has two Brahmins, two Sahus and two OBCs. Former Raipur mayor Sunil Soni, who had been in the doldrums for past five years, has been thrust forward to contest against sitting mayor Pramod Dube of the Congress.
In Mahasamund, former one term MLA Chunnilal Sahu has been pitted against sitting Congress MLA and former PCC president Dhanendra Sahu. In Raman Singh’s backyard, his son and sitting MP Abhishek Singh has been denied the ticket and Santosh Pandey, a low profile sangathan man, has been chosen instead.
Two surprises have been sprung from Korba and Bilaspur as well. Jyotinand Dubey, who will be the candidate from Korba, has already lost the assembly elections once in 2008 and was appointed a chairman in 2017 a year before the BJP term ended in the state. A completely new face, Arun Sav, who is a former additional advocate general, has been fielded from Bilaspur – which is also the seat of the Chattisgarh high court. Sav was considered close to Bilaspur strongman Amar Agarwal, but in the new paradigm Agarwal may have to ensure that he wins and if he does, he is bound to be rated ahead of Agarwal who recently lost the assembly elections.
In many quarters, Shah’s stubbornness is being seen as a walkover by the BJP. But Congress, in its usual devil may care attitude for the cadres, decided to field old party loyalist families and tried and failed faces from almost all seats.
These developments have made sure that it has become difficult to predict winners. If Congress does well, it should not come as a surprise as they hold a never before 68-15 advantage in the assembly. But if BJP does well, only one man can take all the credit.
At any rate, one thing Shah has ensured is that the state BJP will look very different in the near future and that those who have enjoyed unbridled power for 15 years will now have more than enough time on their hands to reflect.
Chattisgarh is proving to be the perfect laboratory for the national scenario.