Concerns within Chhattisgarh BJP over ‘serious differences’

Months before the Lok Sabha elections, there is disquiet within the Chhattisgarh BJP, with some leaders pointing to “lack of accountability” for the drubbing in the Assembly elections and a lack of “dispute resolution” among senior party leaders. These differences, sources told The Indian Express, came to the fore in a meeting of the state leadership last Thursday, the first such after the Assembly elections.

In 2014, the BJP won 10 of the 11 Lok Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh. With the general elections nearing again, following the debacle in the Assembly polls, many in the party believe that corrective measures and involvement of the central leadership are required for the party to get back on track.

Party president Amit Shah had on December 11 set a “mission 65” for the BJP to win the Assembly elections for the fourth time, but it was the Congress that wiped out the BJP, winning 68 of 90 seats. Immediately after, there were murmurs within the state BJP that former chief minister Raman Singh should take responsibility and that the state leadership had been “over-confident”.

“There was a feeling among some in the state leadership who were hurting after the big loss. Dharamlal Kaushik, the BJP state president who led us to this situation, has been elected Leader of Opposition. He is close to Raman Singh, and no accountability seems to have been set for the election losses,” a BJP MLA said.

Sources said that when the announcement was made in the state BJP office, there was a sense of “unease”, with a former state minister showing his displeasure, and those close to a senior minister saying the party was “no different from the Congress”.

Sources said the recent drubbing exacerbated differences within the party. A senior BJP leader said, “The BJP thought it would come through, and the Congress infighting was highlighted. But even in the BJP, they put on a united face, but behind the scenes there are many attempts to undercut each other.”

For some in the BJP, what is more worrying is the situation on the ground, rather than squabbles among the state leadership. They said that the extent of disconnect between the people and ground workers was clear with the 9 per cent drop in votes. “There are allegations that the Raman Singh government ran on its bureaucracy. That became clear when the model code of conduct came into effect. There used to be crowds of thousands managed by the officers. But once it was left to the party, the crowds were tiny, and that was a red flag,” a senior leader said.

At the review meeting of the Assembly elections last week, MLAs cited different reasons for the loss, including overemphasis on bureaucracy, disrespect of senior leaders, inefficient ticket distribution, infighting, demonetisation and GST. BJP state president Dharamlal seemed to suggest that ground workers also needed to do more, prompting angry responses on social media from the workers.

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel added, “If credit for the victories go to the generals, then why should the losses be attributed to the workers? Please forgive me. This has not remained an internal matter of yours because an attack on the workers of any party is an attack on democracy. And when democracy is in danger, how can we remain mute?”
However, the BJP believes that with Narendra Modi being a bigger factor in the national elections, and some strong leaders among its current MPs, a united effort may bring them a win.

“For that, we have to realise there are problems and introspect. There were some differences of opinions, in seat allocation for instance, between the central leadership and state, which also affected a few seats. That cannot be if we have to perform well, which is certainly possible”, a former minister said.