BJP caught between two chief ministers
Winning Assam decisively for the second straight term was seemingly easier for the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership than taking a call on the next chief minister. The delay of around six days since the results were declared on Sunday points to the dilemma of the leadership to choose between the two apparent contenders — the incumbent CM, Sarbananda Sonowal, and Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s main strategist and troubleshooter in the Northeast. On Saturday, the BJP leadership summoned both to Delhi to settle the issue across the table. Relieved, some party insiders said it was now a matter of time before the leadership — busy tackling post-poll violence in Bengal — lifted the suspense. But they also admitted that the “glaring” delay in naming the chief minister has not only exposed the intra-party power tussle but also left party leaders uneasy. Having worked so closely with both of them, most leaders do not want to be seen to be taking sides. This uneasiness became apparent when the state unit president, Ranjeet Kumar Dass, on Saturday morning not only uploaded pictures of him with Sonowal and Sarma but also praised the duo’s efforts towards the state’s overall development, emphasizing how Assam was proud to have them both soon after the duo left for Delhi. Irrespective of who wins the race for the top post, life will never be the same again for senior state leaders and workers, BJP insiders said, flagging Dass’s post.
The crippling second wave of Covid-19 and the poll defeat in Bengal has led to the ruling dispensation coming under severe attack, mostly from rivals, on social media platforms. While the BJP, with its massive machinery, is trying to counter this, a member of the parivar (family) itself, the BJP parliamentarian, Subramanian Swamy, has opened another front of attack. Swamy, who has turned rebellious since last year, has intensified his attack on both the government and the BJP, assisted by his huge number of followers on Twitter. His followers have been calling backers of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, ‘andh-bhakts’ and ‘gandh-bhakts’.
Swamy has now suggested that the senior minister, Nitin Gadkari, should be made in-charge of the war against Covid, leaving it unsaid that PM Modi has failed. However, the suggestion that seems to have angered the BJP the most is the one to turn the top six floors of the newly built BJP headquarters in Delhi into a Covid hospital. As the ruling side frets and fumes, Swamy remains unstoppable. “I give as good as I get,” he has been tweeting to justify his attack.
The Trinamul Congress might have completely decimated the Congress in Bengal but Mamata Banerjee has won the hearts of Congress leaders with her extraordinary victory over the BJP in the assembly election. Most leaders are privately showering praise on Banerjee, some even describing her as the only leader who can demolish PM Narendra Modi’s citadel in the 2024 parliamentary elections.
Some leaders went on record to praise the Bengal CM. While Kapil Sibal hailed her as a “courageous grassroots leader” and Manish Tewari called her “Jhansi Ki Rani”, Abhishek Singhvi said she was a tigress. Anand Sharma, one of the key architects of the rebel group in the party, went a step further tweeting, “Heartiest Congratulations to Mamata ji for taking charge as Bengal CM for the third time... Your heroic battle and historic win stopping the BJP juggernaut has given a ray of hope to all those who believe in an inclusive and democratic India[,] upholding the very spirit of Indian Constitution. My very best wishes for your success.” Among the Opposition CMs, Banerjee is one of the senior-most, having far greater experience than Uddhav Thackeray and MK Stalin with perhaps only Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik being her senior. Many leaders in the Opposition camp, unhappy with Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, have started looking up to Banerjee to sew up a larger coalition and challenge Modi up front like she did in Bengal.
Tamil Nadu’s new CM, MK Stalin, included a quote in his Twitter bio as soon as he was sworn in, hinting at a return to fervent sub-nationalism. His bio now says, “Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu/ President of the DMK/ Belongs to the Dravidian stock”. The last sentence is from the speech of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s founder, CN Annadurai, in Rajya Sabha before the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962. He had said, “I say that I belong to the Dravidian stock and that is only because I consider that the Dravidians have got something concrete, something distinct, something different to offer to the nation at large. Therefore it is that we want self-determination.”
Making his CM debut at 68, Stalin was elected in a close contest in which his party focused on the Centre’s undue interference in the state through the BJP ally, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The DMK revived its unfiltered espousal of Dravidian ideals that shun communal politics, and assertion of linguistic autonomy. Interestingly, the DMK replaced its demand for a separate Dravida Nadu nation with that of autonomy of states in 1963. At a time when Opposition CMs like Arvind Kejriwal and Hemant Soren are bluntly calling out PM Narendra Modi for mismanaging the pandemic, Stalin is likely to join the chorus of greater autonomy for better administration.
A Congress leader becoming the toast of the Left in Kerala is like Batman falling in love with the Joker. Two sides that never see eye to eye found common ground for celebration as the Youth Congress leader, Shafi Parambil, defeated ‘metro man’ E Sreedharan to deny the BJP any seat in the state. After leading almost the entire day of counting, Sreedharan slipped back as Shafi gained. Many Left backers shared photos of the victorious MLA who pinned down the 88-year-old technocrat and the last hope of the BJP.