Mantra of Politics: Change is the only Constant
Change seems to be the only constant - this appears to be new rule of contemporary Indian politics. This is true for all the major political parties in India, especially for the BJP and the Congress. At the national level one saw a revamp of the Union Council of Ministers with sweeping changes. Unquestioned loyalty and evidence of performance seemed to be the key factors to decide who was in and who was out. In the past few months, the BJP saw a change of guard in three important states.
There is a change of guard effected by the Congress in Punjab. The JDS in Karnataka constantly shuffles its partners - at times wooing the Congress and at other times aligning with the BJP. In different local bodies it could have alliances with different parties and constantly shifts its stand when it comes to state and national level politics. After the Trinamool returned to power in West Bengal we saw a procession of BJP leaders returning back or moving to the Trinamool. Babul Suprio being the lastest in the procession! The Shiva Sena aligned with the Congress and NCP with consummate ease to form a government in Maharashtra. The developments in Gujarat of not merely a change of the Chief Minister but putting in place a totally new look Council of Ministers is the quintessence of change being the only constant!
The developments in Gujarat have verily become the focus of attention. Firstly, the Chief Minister abruptly submitted his resignation. There was immense speculation on who his successor would be. I had maintained in the print and electronic media that the Central leadership of the BJP would come up with a surprise name. All those mentioned as probable Chief Ministerial candidates must have been hoping that their name was not projected so much. Since 2014, in the choice of new Chief Ministers in the BJP, the stamp of the central leadership in making the choice and ensuring a surprise element has been a unique feature. This has been the case in Haryana, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand (all three times in the recent past), Karnataka and now Gujarat (both when Rupani was made and now when Patel took over).
In some ways this is reminiscent of what happened in the Congress party in the 1970s and 1980s. Congress State governments saw frequent change of Chief Ministers at the will of the High Command. The powerful Central observer carried the name of the new leader to be unanimously elected by the legislature party. There is a well-known story relating to the Congress High Command. A leadership change in a state was due, but the High Command was unsure of who the new leader should be. The Legislature Party meeting had been fixed and the Central Observers were leaving Delhi for the State capital. They were handed over three envelopes with three names and they were instructed to await the final decision of the High Command, as to which name to announce. The story goes that the Observers opened the wrong envelope and announced the name. The person was unanimously elected and stayed on as Chief Minister for two years!
In Gujarat not only was the Chief Minister choice a surprise, there was more suspense awaiting all. The Chief Minster was heading a Ministry with no one from the previous Council of Ministers. The writ of the central leadership was clearly evident when Ministers from the Rupani ministry publically applauded the sweeping changes and were present for the swearing in ceremony of their successors. The writ of the central leadership of the BJP is seen observed across multiple levels. This was seen in the Union Council of Ministry reshuffle and in the leadership change in Uttarkhand, Karnataka and now Gujarat.
There are important similarities and critical differences between what happened in Karnataka and Gujarat. What were the similarities? The timing of the change was clearly decided by the central leadership of the party. The choice of the new leader had the clear stamp of approval from the Central leadership. In the manner that the Ministry was constituted too, the role played by the Central leadership was evident.
The similarity ends here. Karnataka has had a revolving door policy with the electorate changing the ruling party every five years since 1989 (more than three decades). On the other hand, in Gujarat, the BJP would be, next year going back to the electorate after being in power for three decades. A totally new look Council of Ministers in Gujarat was dictated by the fact of having to make an attempt to return to power and stave off any possible trace of anti-incumbency. One way of wishing off anti-incumbency was presenting the electorate with a totally new set of leaders in government. One needs to wait till next year to see if this strategy would pay any dividends.
In Karnataka too, one notices that in the making of the ministry the clear influence of the central leadership was evident. Not saddling the Chief Minister with any Deputy Chief Ministers and bringing in new comers even while retaining a core of the old team was the strategy. In Karnataka, the BJP has never won a clear majority in a state election. Thus, a balancing act was required.
The Congress too has its share of change. Its long serving Chief Minister in Punjab has resigned, albeit in protest and kicked up a storm. A new leadership has been announced by the High Command. The absence of a clarity and stability in the central leadership, has to an extent weakened the capacity of the High Command to Command. This is clearly seen in Punjab. Developments in Chattisgarh and Rajasthan are being keenly watched. In the past, such changes have led to leaders moving out of the Congress and forming their own parties.
This happened in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. This led to the fall of their government in Madhya Pradesh and also weakened it in Assam where a former Congress leader in today the BJP Chief Minister.
Unless the Congress brings in an element of clarity and decisiveness with regard to its central leadership, any changes lower down could have its hiccups, as is being seen now in Punjab and as was seen earlier in Rajasthan.
We thus have two models of change - one endorsed by the BJP and the other adopted by the Congress. The way politics shapes up in the coming months and in the crucial elections next year would define and decide the impact of these changes.
(Dr. Sandeep Shastri is a keen student of Indian politics. Dr Shastri is a researcher on politics for the last four decades)
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