Sujata Anandan

There is good reason why Amit Shah will continue as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President — at least till the assembly polls later this year. Despite an uninterrupted five years in power, the chief ministers of both Maharashtra and Haryana, which go to the polls in September-October, are unlikely to make the cut without a leg up from Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar lacks charisma, in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has been unable to spread his footprints across the regions of the state. Even in his home turf of Vidarbha he is more a Nagpur leader and fails to impress voters outside the city (six assembly segments make up the Nagpur Lok Sabha constituency).

More than that Fadnavis has been unable to gain the confidence of both his Cabinet and party workers — on the contrary his chief ministership has been racked and troubled by dissent and resentment in the BJP, apart from the fact that the Shiv Sena has had various disagreements with him over the past five years.

That said, Fadnavis appears to be the most-favoured among BJP CMs to both Modi and Shah. He has also successfully pulled off a tightrope walk between the BJP top duo and Nitin Gadkari, Cabinet minister and senior BJP leader who is also from Nagpur, and is considered a favourite of the RSS leadership.

Left to his own resources, Fadnavis is unlikely to win a majority in the upcoming assembly polls. Even at the height of Modi’s charisma in 2014 with hope on the horizon and without the baggage of demmonetisation, GST, vigilante violence, etc that overtook the later years of Modi’s first stint at the Centre, the BJP fell short of a majority on its own, winning 122 in a House of 288. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had split 15 days prior to the polls — perhaps the BJP’s calculation was that it could win the assembly polls on its own. That did not happen, and the BJP had to eat humble pie and spend the next five years in a troubled relationship with the Shiv Sena.

The Shiv Sena may now be on the same page as the BJP, but the party is aware that Maharashtra has not lost its socialist ethos and is still not integrated into the kind of Hindu majoritarianism that is clearly visible in many states north of the Vindhyas.

Had it not been for the presence of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi led by Prakash Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the Dalits and the Muslims could have voted in large numbers for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance. In fact the votes polled by the VBA in many constituencies aided the BJP-Shiv Sena to score over the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). However, when the votes are broken down into assembly segments, the secular allies could be on a better footing.

This will be possible only if the UPA wakes up to the alarm bells ringing all over India and pull itself up by the bootstraps. While the NCP — led by Sharad Pawar who has not lost an election from his home turf despite huge waves in 52 years — has got off to an early start in preparing for the assembly polls, the Congress seems to be not just in deep slumber but virtually comatose after its massive defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. The NCP has already begun its region-wise meetings to take stock and chalk out a strategy ahead of the state polls; the Congress is still licking its wounds.

Lethargy and inaction in the Congress seems to be percolating from the top. The grand old party is yet to decide whether or not Rahul Gandhi will continue as its President. In addition to this, the party is yet to decide on state presidents who need to be replaced by bold and combative leaders whose commitment to the party is clear and who are unafraid of taking the fight to the Modi-Shah duo.

Far from combating the BJP, the Congress leadership has been unable to take action even against party defectors. For example, when Sujay Vikhe Patil, the son of Congress leader of the opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, was denied a party ticket, he joined the BJP. Rather than taking any action then, the Congress put up with the farce of Radhakrishna swearing not to campaign for his son and maintaining a silence throughout the election. The Congress was trounced in the state and Sujay won the election in a resounding manner — but the Congress allowed grass to grow under its feet and did not act against Radhakrishna. Finally, on June 4, Radhakishna quit the Congress to join the BJP and this brought the party more ignominy — whereas, if it had acted swiftly, the Congress might have had the cold comfort of letting the world know it will not tolerate defections.

Finally, in the upcoming Maharashtra assembly polls, Pawar is expected to outmanoeuvre Fadnavis and this is why it is important for the BJP that Shah remain party President. The NCP leader could even match the Modi-Shah duo. As for the Congress, it is looking at a deep, dark abyss.

Sujata Anandan is a senior journalist and author. Views are personal.Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro and gain access to curated markets data, exclusive trading recommendations, independent equity analysis, actionable investment ideas, nuanced takes on macro, corporate and policy actions, practical insights from market gurus and much more.

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