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ANALYSIS | Total Makeover or Cosmetic Changes? BJP Faces Tough Call Ahead of Ticket Distribution for Lok Sabha Polls

There is no clear answer as the BJP’s predicament has been complicated by its recent defeat in the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls.

Anita Katyal |

Updated:January 27, 2019, 4:10 PM IST
ANALYSIS | Total Makeover or Cosmetic Changes? BJP Faces Tough Call Ahead of Ticket Distribution for Lok Sabha Polls
File photo of BJP chief Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI)

The BJP is currently caught between a rock and a hard place.

As it prepares for Lok Sabha elections due in two months, the BJP leadership has to take a call on whether it should persist with its earlier policy of going in for en masse changes in the party candidates or should it merely opt for minor revision in the current list of lawmakers.

There is no clear answer as the BJP’s predicament has been complicated by its recent defeat in the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls.

Before these elections, it was a given that many sitting Lok Sabha MPs would not make the cut this time and that they would have to make way for new faces. This has been BJP president Amit Shah’s mantra to overcome anti-incumbency against individual candidates. And it has been working. The BJP has chalked up a string of electoral victories in the states under his watch following the party’s spectacular performance in the 2014 general elections.

The BJP chief felt confident in making such far-reaching changes as he was convinced that Narendra Modi’s unwavering popularity would ensure a victory for the newcomers. In addition, Shah’s vice-like grip on the party organisation meant that there were no murmurs of dissent and, even if there was any dissension in the ranks, it was quickly quelled. Those who were unhappy with the leadership’s decisions had no option but to suffer in silence.

But the BJP’s loss of three Hindi heartland states has changed the internal dynamics in the party. If Shah goes ahead and makes large-scale changes in the list of Lok Sabha candidates, there is every possibility that he could invite backlash from disgruntled party members. On the other hand, anti-incumbency against sitting MPs could cost the party if the BJP chief decides to adopt a more cautious approach in the selection of candidates.

The BJP’s recent electoral losses have clearly emboldened party members who are no longer afraid to speak up. They realise that Shah and Modi are more vulnerable now as their image and reputation has taken a hit after these elections. The sitting MPs believe this is a good chance for them to retain their seats or demand a constituency of their choice.

For instance, Manoj Sinha, Minister of State for Railways, has publicly stated that he will only contest the next Lok Sabha election from the Ghazipur constituency in Uttar Pradesh, which he currently represents. He also made it clear that he would prefer to opt out if he was not fielded from this seat.

Then there is Ramesh Bais, Lok Sabha MP from Raipur in Chhattisgarh. Known to be a dissenter, there was talk he would be denied a ticket in the coming election. However, the party’s crushing defeat in the Chhattisgarh Assembly election has secured his position. The BJP leadership can no longer afford to deny Bais a ticket for fear that he could play spoiler in the Lok Sabha polls. Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharati have already announced that they will not be contesting.

In fact, the signs of defiance were visible during the recent elections in the three Hindi heartland states. Former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje insisted that her choice of candidates be endorsed by the party leadership. And in Madhya Pradesh, the party paid a heavy price for giving in when senior leader Kailash Vijayvargiya insisted that his son be given a ticket. This triggered similar requests from other leaders, who pushed the case of their loyalists. This cost the party as these leaders failed to deliver. The scale of rebellion witnessed both in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, resulting in expulsions in many cases, was unusual in a party with a tough top boss and known for its discipline.

Shah and Modi will have to tread more carefully as 2019 is not 2014. Five years ago, Modi’s unprecedented popularity combined with his promise to deliver acche din to the people had steered the BJP to an unprecedented victory. This time, the BJP is going into the general election, not as a challenger but as an incumbent. The Modi magic may not have dissipated completely but it is not at its peak. The party can no longer depend on Modi alone to ensure a second term in office. Lashing out at political opponents will not suffice. The BJP lawmakers will have to necessarily provide an account of their government’s performance. And Modi-Shah can ill-afford to create any major ripples in the party at this critical juncture, particularly when they are in the driver’s seat and their government’s performance is under intense scrutiny.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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