The case of Raje in Rajasthan, BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka and Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh are recent examples where the BJP high command has tried to rein them in but ended up burning its fingers in the process.
Raje is a veteran at asserting herself against the central leadership. When the BJP government led by her was ousted in the 2008 Rajasthan assembly elections, the party tried to corner her. She was asked to quit from the post of Leader of the Opposition a few months later. She relented but only after putting up a strong resistance. In 2013, the party had to again bank on her to win the assembly polls though the central leaders would have wished to put any other leader at the helm.
There has been a buzz in Karnataka that BJP central leaders are trying to nurture a new crop of leaders who can replace Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. This is not the first attempt to do so. During his earlier stint as CM, Yeddyurappa had faced a challenge from the Reddy brothers, the controversial mining barons. While he survived that, he was forced to step down when charges of financial wrongdoing against him came to the fore. The party experimented with a few chief ministers in the remaining period but none could match his support base, comprising mainly of Lingayats.
Yeddyurappa had later floated his own party, which only cut into the BJP votes. Both he and the BJP realised that they compliment each other and he was back. At 78, the old warhorse is still difficult to replace.
In Madhya Pradesh, there are BJP leaders who have ambitions of replacing Chouhan, now in his fourth term as chief minister. While Chouhan has not been as belligerent as Raje or Yeddyurappa in dealing with the high command, he has had his way with the support of RSS and also as the only BJP leader who can hold the party together in the state. He enjoys formidable support from the cadre as he has cultivated many followers over the years. He is also the only chief minister who is a member of the BJP Parliamentary Board, the highest decision-making body of the party.
The high command in both BJP and Congress always prefers to promote regional leaders who do not have mass support as it makes it easier to deal with them and they can be dispensed with when required. But in the caste-ridden politics of these states, some of them have carved a niche for themselves and the party cannot do without them, even when these leaders have erred.
Moreover, they have gained strength over the years after beating several odds and are masters at dealing with their challengers. Gehlot is such an example in the Congress.
Years back, BJP had to face a similar challenge when it tried to replace Kalyan Singh during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era. While Singh was in political wilderness after leaving BJP, the saffron party lost the loyal Lodh votes that he commands. Finally, Singh walked back into the BJP fold, a move that was mutually beneficial. He had a big say in ticket distribution in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections and ensured Lodh support. The party made him Rajasthan governor, his son Rajveer an MP and his grandson Sandeep a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government.
Since such leaders with mass support are rudderless without their party and the latter too ends up incurring big losses by antagonising them, the two will have to learn to co-exist with both sides making some adjustments.
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