Change of guard: On BJP's course correction in Tripura

In an abrupt move few had anticipated, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) replaced Biplab Kumar Deb with Manik Saha as Chief Minister of Tripura, a northeastern State that the party had wrested from the Left in 2018. Mr. Saha’s rise in the BJP that he joined in 2016 after quitting the Congress has been dramatic, and he largely owes it to Mr. Deb. The outgoing CM threw his weight behind Mr. Saha, who had succeeded him as president of the BJP State unit also. Public disapproval and rebellion within the BJP cornered Mr. Deb, and he was forced to make way for Mr. Saha. Mr. Saha inherits at least a part of his predecessor’s baggage. A couple of BJP MLAs have publicly expressed their unhappiness with the choice. Until he puts the party house in order quickly, establishes his credentials independent of Mr. Deb, and improves public perception about the State government, the new CM will remain on tenterhooks. In Uttarakhand, the BJP changed the CM thrice ahead of the Assembly elections earlier this year. The Tripura Assembly elections are nine months away, and the change of guard indicates the party’s assessment that course correction was required. Mr. Deb is the sixth Chief Minister to be replaced by the BJP in recent times, following Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam, B.S. Yediyurappa in Karnataka, Trivendra Singh Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand in quick succession, and Vijay Rupani in Gujarat.

The BJP takes all elections very seriously, but Tripura is special. The State was a bastion of the Left Front for decades until the BJP won the last Assembly election, signifying a unique ideological victory. Since then, the party has been wobbling; two sitting MLAs, Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Kumar Saha, left the party in February to join the Congress, potentially indicating a new churning. A defeat next year could have ripple effects in other States, particularly in the northeast, and the party wants to avoid that at any cost. That said, the elevation of Mr. Saha, who has not risen through the Sangh Parivar ranks, suggests the BJP is also changing as it grows. True, there is no let-up in its Hindutva rhetoric, but it has perhaps become more opportunistic in using leaders from other ideological stables. Mr. Saha is the fourth person to become a BJP CM in a northeastern State, after crossing over from the Congress. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, one of them, is an influential actor in the BJP’s scheme of things now. The BJP continues to draft leaders from other parties in leadership positions across the country. Ideological agnosticism is nothing to be admired but it would be good if such crossovers lead to a less polarised polity. There is no evidence of any such trend, but Tripura could be a start.

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Printable version | May 16, 2022 5:19:50 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/change-of-guard-the-hindu-editorial-on-bjps-course-correction-in-tripura/article65417194.ece