Opinion: In BJP Overhaul, Modi Shows Nagpur - And Party - Who's In Charge

Yogi Adityanath, now in his second term as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, is a saffron heavyweight; in two years, he will play a key role in how many of the state's 80 Lok Sabha seats are won by his party. Yet the BJP's major overhaul of its top body today did not see him making an entry in the parliamentary board. Others who have been publicly rebuffed are Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, and RSS favourite, Nitin Gadkari, who is a Union Minister.

The parliamentary board adds BS Yediyurappa or "BSY", the Karnataka veteran, in an acknowledgement of the fact that the state votes later next year. The Karnataka government led by Basavaraj S Bommai, who is BSY's protégé, is shakier than the BJP would like and BSY's cooperation in stabilizing it and warding off in-fighting that is often on public display is essential to the party's strategy.


BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj S Bommai (File photo)

Another arrival to the parliamentary board is Sarbananda Sonowal, perhaps as compensation for being made to relinquish his post as Chief Minister of Assam to Himanta Biswa Sarma last year in May.

The reconstitution of the parliamentary board and the Central Election Committee had been postponed for nearly two years. The only survivor from the Vajpayee era of the BJP who has been retained in the new parliamentary board is Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.


Defence Minister Rajnath Singh (File photo)

For Shivraj Singh Chouhan, 63, the writing is on the wall. He has never been able to shake off his past as a one-time prime ministerial aspirant, propped up by Sushma Swaraj and LK Advani. "This term is a bonus for him because (Jyotiraditya) Scindia joined us and toppled the Kamal Nath govt. Shivraj Singh Chouhan wanted to promote his family in politics, and Modi does not approve. It will be a governorship or the 'Margdarshak Mandal' (defunct advisory committee) for him next," warned a senior BJP leader, talking to me for this column.


PM Modi and Shivraj Singh Chouhan (File photo)

Nitin Gadkari being dropped is no surprise to BJP insiders or to any political observer. It's been the long kiss goodbye for him for a while now. Sources say his flaunting of the "Nagpur connection", the RSS headquarters which he visits every week, has not gone down well with the central leadership, read Modi. Modi now calls all the shots in the Sangh and the RSS can only look on as Nitin Gadkari is pushed out of power equations. The other Nagpur favourite, Devendra Fadnavis, has been publicly applauded for swallowing his pride and becoming Deputy Chief Minister in the Maharashtra government which was formed only because of Fadnavis' pulling out the rug from under Uddhav Thackeray's feet. Fadnavis' reward - being named to the Central Election Committee.


Devendra Fadnavis and Nitin Gadkari (File photo)

But it is the overlooking of Yogi Adityanath that is the boldface headline of the BJP's changes today. His rising stature as a Hindutva icon does not sit well with PM Modi and Amit Shah. The fact that other Chief Ministers including Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Basavaraj S Bommai have tried to emulate him or cited him as a governance mascot is unlikely to win Yogi Adityanath brownie points with his top bosses. The star campaigner and chief draw of the party must remain the PM, according to them, and Yogi Adityanath being promoted as the "natural heir" to Modi's legacy is not welcome.

Much of this has to be carefully handled since Yogi Adityanath has proved his immense popularity, winning a spectacular re-election despite it taking place just after his mismanagement of the Delta wave which was captured in the unforgettable images of dead bodies floating down the Ganga. Yogi Adityanath is also a leader tough to rein in and has to be handled delicately.


Yogi Adityanath (File photo)

Five days ago, Sunil Bansal, a senior BJP official was moved from Uttar Pradesh where he had been deputed for seven years as the most trusted aide of Amit Shah. Sunil Bansal, an RSS pracharak (full-timer) from Rajasthan, has been a powerful organisational secretary of the RSS. But Yogi Adityanath did not get along with him and senior BJP sources told me, "Bansal-ji Yogi Sarkar ki shadow hain. Khushi aur gussa dono koh Delhi kei kaan mein rakhte the. MLAs unke paas jaate the (Bansal was the eyes and ears of Modi and Shah. All MLAs used to go to him.")

Yogi Adityanath was happy when Sunil Bansal moved out of Lucknow and was made General Secretary in charge of West Bengal and poll-bound Telangana, both states that the BJP is keen to take over. Sources say that now Yogi Adityanath will realise that his victory was very short-term and Modi continues to call all the shots.

That is in fact the unstated - and unnecessary, to some extent - message from the revamp. That Modi alone decides what goes. And the others must fall in line. 

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.