The BJP will be celebrating Diwali on Sunday itself. Party leaders are hoping that the “exact polls” would be better than exit polls predictions – being sure about victory in Maharashtra and very positive about Haryana.
Victory in these two states, one in north and another in west, if it comes true on 19 October will be a phenomenal achievement for the party. The likely addition of Maharashtra and Haryana would take the tally of BJP-ruled states to seven. In Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, BJP’s alliance partners Parkash Singh Badal and Chandrababu Naidu are heading the government respectively.
But ahead of likely victory in Maharashtra and Haryana, the BJP leadership is placed in a piquant situation. Unlike all the other states ruled by the BJP – Shivraj Singh Chauhan in MP, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, Manohar Parrikar in Goa and Anandiben Patel (named chief minister after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister), the BJP has neither named its chief ministerial candidate nor has an established leadership in Maharashtra and Haryana. That places the BJP leadership –particularly Narendra Modi and Amit Shah — in a tough position when they decide on the chief ministerial nominee, anytime after Sunday. The technicality of convening a meeting of Parliamentary Board — the party’s highest decision-making body — would just be a formality.
After all, the election was fought in Narendra Modi’s name and the result was dependent on the reach of his personal charisma. The poll campaign punch line ‘Chalo Chale Modi ke Saath’ seems to have had the desired effect. It is thus supremely important as to whom Modi chooses to head the government. After all the people chose to believe in him.
The fact that BJP would for the first time be leading the government alone, gives added significance to the future leadership. A senior government functionary told The Metro Talk that Modi would be applying his mind to the decision only after election results are declared on Sunday. A decision on who would be chief minister would also depend on the number of seats that the BJP gets. Whether it gets a clear majority, or close to a majority needing support of some Independent candidate and others or whether an alliance partner will be required.
Modi and Shah’s problem is that they have to pick up from the existing talent pool and unfortunately the bench strength is not too robust. The position is even tighter in Haryana.
In Maharashtra, the state party president Devendra Fadnavis is considered to be the front runner. The 44-year-old leader has good organisational skills and to his credit, he has been the youngest elected Mayor of a municipal corporation. He was also the youngest municipal councillor of Nagpur. A Brahmin by birth from Nagpur, he has deep roots in the RSS. Simple logic suggests that he couldn’t have grown so fast and be the front runner for chief ministerial position so early without blessings of BJP’s ideological fountainhead.
But beyond that he does not have any other administrative experience. To head the government in India’s financial capital, requires much greater experience and administrative prowess. In terms of numbers and clout in Parliament, Maharashtra is second only to Uttar Pradesh and its perceived financial clout is greater than Gujarat. Will Fadnavis be the most suitable man to lead Maharashtra government, is the key question.
The other contender is Eknath Khadse. Currently leader of opposition in Maharashtra legislative council, he belongs to OBC community and had been finance and irrigation minister in the earlier BJP-Sena government. Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in a recent interview said “Khadse has health issues”.
While the BJP leaders did not approve of Chavan’s observation but it’s something they’ve not rejected outright either. Pankaja Munde, late Gopinath Mude’s daughter, is the emerging OBC face in the party but she is considered to be too young and inexperienced.
Then there are two union ministers, Nitin Gandkari and Prakash Javadekar. Incidentally, both are Brahmins. Gadkari, former BJP president and current Union Minister of Rural Development, Surface Transport and Shipping has so far denied any possibility of his return to Maharashtra.
Gadkari is energetic and as a state PWD minister had several highways and flyovers to his credit. But the RSS wanted him to shoulder bigger responsibilities at the centre. He is now part of Modi’s informal core committee. Besides Modi’s discretion much would dependent on the fact if RSS does a rethink about Gadkari’s status. Incidentally, it was Gadkari who won the Nagpur parliamentary seat for the first time for the BJP.
I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar, who also has the additional responsibility of the critical Forest and Environment ministry, is another contender. To his advantage, he is a Rajya Sabha MP and as such if he is sent to Maharashtra as Chief Minister the party would not have to go through the hassle of a by-election. A Rajya Sabha seat would automatically come to the BJP. But some leaders consider him to be too much of a gentleman to be CM of a state like Maharashtra.
Prithviraj Chavan in an interview to Telegraph, which put Congress on fire, made an interesting observation about BJP’s chief ministerial choices:
“You see, there lies the catch… Gadkari and Fadnavis are RSS nominees and front runners. But the problem is that all three — Javadekar, Gadkari and Fadnavis — are Brahmins. The mention of caste politics, however divisive and offensive, is a political reality in Maharashtra. To make a Brahmin the chief minister is not going to be easy in a largely Maratha-dominated political milieu. There is not a single Brahmin in the Maratha dominated Maharashtra cabinet of 43 today. They do not count in local politics. So, they are a baggage for the BJP as well. These harsh local realities are stopping the BJP from projecting a face…So, the BJP needs to put its eggs in the Modi basket.”
In Haryana, the BJP faces a severe talent crunch for the top position. The two most talked about CM contenders Captain Abhimanyu and Ram Vilas Sharma faced a very tough challenge from their rival candidates in their respective constituencies. Both of them are heavily depending on the Modi wave to sail through the elections. Abhimanyu is Jat and Sharma is Brahmin. The BJP had given tickets to 27 Jats, highest by any party but Jats mostly favoured OP Chautala’s INLD. The BJP’s electoral strength came from non-Jat OBC’s and dalits. Other CM contenders like the Gurgaon MP and union minister Rao Inderjit Singh have only recently crossed over from Congress.
There are some muted voices – could Sushma Swaraj be an option for Haryana? The current External Affairs Minister, part of the Big Five at centre, has been the Delhi chief minister in the past. She belongs to Haryana but had never been part of rough and tumble Haryana politics. It’s a different matter though that in these elections she campaigned hard in her native state. But there are others who rubbish any such speculation around her name.
Naming the Chief Minister for these states is no mean challenge for Modi. After all, he or she has to walk in synergy with him and deliver.