NEW DELHI: Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur and other BJP chief ministers may be a tad worried about their future.
And why not?
The BJP has installed three new chief ministers in three states in three months. This may have added an air of uncertainty over the fate of some other chief ministers of the BJP.
So, when Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur was recently in Delhi on a sudden visit, the BJP had to clarify it was a routine visit and had nothing to do with a possible change of guard in the state.
Changing chief ministers has been a hallmark of the Congress high command culture.
But 2021 has seen the BJP taking a cue from the Congress.
However, the leadership changes effected by the BJP in the states are significant. It points to the end of an experiment that the BJP started around 2014, riding on its unprecedented electoral success in the national elections.
Breaking caste barriers
Let’s analyse BJP’s CM pick in three states - Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana - after its victory in 2014 Lok Sabha elections to understand the party’s experiment to break the caste barrier in politics.
In Maharashtra, the BJP won 122 of the 288 seats in the 2014 assembly elections. The party’s ally Shiv Sena won 63 seats.
Maharashtra politics has been dominated by the Marathas and so it's not a surprise that most of the chief ministers of the state have been from the community.
But the BJP surprised everyone by picking up Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, as its chief minister in the state.
In Jharkhand, the BJP won 35 of the 81 assembly seats in 2014.
Jharkhand, which is tribal dominated, had chief ministers from the community since its creation in 2000, when it was carved out of Bihar.
However, the BJP once again defied the trend and selected Raghubar Das, from the Vaishya caste (OBC), as the first non-tribal chief minister of the state.
The OBCs do make a significant population in the state, but the fact remains that the politics of the state has been dominated by the tribals.
In Haryana, the BJP won 47 out of 90 seats in the 2014 assembly elections.
Haryana’s politics over the decades has been dominated by the Jats, a landowning community.
So, when the BJP picked Manohar Lal Khattar, a Khatri by caste, as its chief minister, the indication was clear that the party wanted to break the caste barrier in the state.
This was after 2014.
Cut to 2019.
The BJP won a much bigger national mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as it retained power with a majority.
However, the scenario was different in the states, many of which slipped out of BJP’s hands during the period.
Five years later, the BJP had lost in Jharkhand, was unable to form government in Maharashtra due to break up in its alliance with the Shiv Sena and returned to power with reduced numbers in Haryana forcing it to enter into an alliance with the newly-formed Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) of Dushyant Chautala.
Clearly, the BJP’s experiment to break the caste-barrier was not helping the party electorally.
Moreover, data shows that BJP’s performance in state elections take a significant dip compared to the Lok Sabha elections.
Back to caste math
Little wonder, all the significant leadership changes in states after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have been caste-driven.
In Karnataka, when the BJP replaced BS Yediyurappa, the new CM was from his Lingayat community which has traditionally rallied behind the party.
In Gujarat, Vijay Rupani as chief minister was an experiment that gave a big scare to the BJP in the 2017 assembly elections.
The BJP managed to win 99 seats while an aggressive Congress increased its tally to 77 seats. The BJP’s vote share was just 7 per cent over the Congress’s.
Clearly, as the party gears up for the 2022 assembly elections in the state, it has decided to play safe and has opted for a ‘Patel’ as the chief minister.
In Jharkhand, the BJP has once again roped in Babulal Marandi, who was the party’s first tribal chief minister of the state. He had left the party after differences to form his own outfit.
Babulal Marandi is now the BJP leader in the legislative assembly.
In Haryana, the BJP has continued with Manohar Lal Khattar for now. But with the farmers’ agitation likely to impact the party’s poll prospects, the BJP may contemplate a leadership change in the state at some stage ahead of the next assembly elections.