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Why PM Narendra Modi Should Worry About Dissent in BJP State Units

The BJP is facing growing dissent in states like Tripura, Karnataka—a characteristic of the Congress hitherto.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
The decline in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity over the last year has created a perfect storm for state-wise factionalism and for voices of dissent to become more prominent. 
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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing growing dissent in states, which has till now been a characteristic of the Congress party. BJP is witnessing factionalism in many state units as the party grows in power and it is becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy all sections.

While there are reports of a crisis in Congress state units of Punjab and Rajasthan, the BJP has its own set of problems in Karnataka, Tripura, Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh (UP).

This is the first time since 2014 that BJP is facing such a situation after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah established a firm grip on the party.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Declining Popularity

The decline in popularity ratings of PM - though highest in the world - and some CMs, which is natural during such a pandemic and witnessed across the board globally, has provided an opportunity for these voices to become louder.

For a party which prides itself on discipline and seva bhav, this is a big embarrassment as it punctures its claim of being a party with a difference.

There is a growing demand in Karnataka to replace the existing Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa. A section of party MLAs are unhappy with the CM Biplab Dev in Tripura. After Mukul Roy’s exit, it is rumored that some more BJP MLAs could leave the party and join Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.

Uttar Pradesh CM met the PM in Delhi recently amidst reports of disgruntlement among a section of MLAs due to alleged authoritarian and partisanship approach of Yogi.

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BJP’s Culture of ‘Discipline’ May Not Suit ‘Outsiders’

The BJP is a much more disciplined, cadre-based party compared to the Congress. The workers and leaders are committed to a strong ideology unlike in the Congress. The BJP has faced very few splits in its four decades of existence. Uma Bharti and Yediyurappa formed their own parties but returned. Many Congress leaders, on the other hand, have left the party to become formidable regional satraps like Pawar, Mamata, and Jagan.

Over the years, the party has adopted an approach of banking on leaders of other parties to grow in states/regions where it is not strong, doesn’t find an opening, or does not have acceptability like the North East, Bengal, etc. It has admitted many leaders from the Opposition in UP, Maharashtra, Bengal, and other states, just before the elections, to bolster its prospects.

However, these leaders are attracted to the BJP for the sake of power and not ideology. When things don’t pan out as planned, some of them start fanning trouble. The crisis in Bengal and Tripura state units of the BJP are prime examples. These leaders labelled as ‘outsiders’ also cause discontent among old loyalists of the party.

The party’s ‘Congressisation’, culture of high command, alleged concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Chief Minister’s Offices is leaving many leaders disgruntled.
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Firefighting in BJP State Units

The opposition is also learning a few tricks from BJP’s playbook, fanning revolt. The TMC is threatening to tame the BJP in its own game by asking MLAs to resign from the House and then get re-elected on their ticket, escaping the provisions of anti-defection law.

The central leadership has made it clear that Yediyurappa will remain the CM in Karnataka. However, as a compromise, the chairmen of many boards are likely to be changed. BJP central leadership is not in a position to antagonise Yediyurappa as he is a powerful Lingayat leader with RSS roots. He has split the party in the past and damaged the BJP in 2013 state elections. A smooth transition of power before state elections due in 2023 is a big challenge for the party.

The BJP has staved off a Trinamool-triggered crisis for now in Tripura, but the threat to the government remains. The Sandip Roy Barman camp has been assured that their grievances will be addressed by the CM.

Burman considers himself to be a bigger and deserving leader than Deb. It is only a matter of time, say political observers, before Barman with the help of Mukul Roy and the TMC starts his machinations to engineer a split in the BJP legislature party.

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A Formidable Fight Awaits in Bengal

It’s very difficult to survive as an opposition MLA in Bengal due to politics of violence and intimidation. The BJP is likely to have a tough time retaining its leadership as well as support base.

In Bengal, six turncoats who won contesting on BJP ticket as well as a few others close to Mukul Roy, could leave the party. As per reports, the Dilip Ghosh camp is also not backing Suvendu, bargaining hard for a cabinet post for the State President.

Some MPs of BJP including John Barla, Soumitra Khan are demanding partition of the state and creation of a separate union territory of North Bengal. The region is party’s stronghold as it swept the seats here in the recently concluded state elections. This is likely to further create factionalism in state unit (north vs south) as it is a touchy subject and will be seen as an attempt to gain power through back-door entry. Any such decision will further strengthen the TMC’s allegation that the BJP doesn’t represent Bengali identity and fuel dissent hastening exodus of leaders from the party.

While the party has managed to douse the fire in the state units for now, the crises will keep the central leadership on its toes and could mar its prospects in upcoming elections.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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