After Leadership Changes in BJP-ruled States Since 2019, Party Repeats ‘CM-change’ Gambit for Tripura

After successfully testing the strategy of going with a new chief ministerial face for state assembly elections, the BJP once again applied it to Tripura. On Saturday, the saffron party’s first-ever CM in the state, Biplab Deb stepped down from the post to make way for Dr Manik Saha.

Rajya Sabha MP Saha is the state BJP’s president and will now face the challenge of keeping all party ranks together ahead of the assembly elections in March 2023. The transition seemed to be smooth and regimental in typical BJP style. The party’s move is an apparent effort to ward off anti-incumbency and stem disgruntlement within its ranks in the state unit.

In the legislative party meeting, Saha was elected as the new leader. Deb, who met union home minister Amit Shah in Delhi a few days ago, congratulated his successor on Twitter and said it had been his pleasure to serve “the people of Tripura”, and that he was “thankful” to the party for giving him the opportunity.

Ahead of assembly polls, the BJP has applied their “CM-change formula” in Uttarakhand, which turned out to work for them. So, they are hopeful the same will happen in Tripura as well. The party has changed five CMs since 2019, including in Gujarat and Karnataka.

Saha is the fourth former Congress leader from the northeast to become CM in the region after joining the BJP, a clear signal that a leader’s electoral value is of paramount importance. Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma, Pema Khandu in Arunachal Pradesh and N Biren Singh in Manipur are the other CMs earlier with the Congress.

The what and why of BJP’s formula

Political analysts said the BJP’s move to change CMs, while being flayed by the opposition for doing so, shows that the party analyses its ground feedback and is always ready to address it. A BJP leader said broadly three factors worked behind such changes in the last two to three years: “delivery on the ground, keeping the organisation in good humour and the leader’s popularity”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the Gujarat CM from 2001 to 2014, had favoured a long rope to CMs but after the BJP was defeated in the Jharkhand assembly polls with CM Raghubar Das losing his seat, the party realised the need for changing the leadership.

The BJP has marked a return to more conventional politics with regard to political fault lines such as caste identity in its most recent changes in the central government or in states ruled by the party. Pushing the urge to experiment to the background, it has even preferred leaders who started their career in other political outfits.

In September 2021, the BJP changed Vijay Rupani with Bhupender Patel, who hailed from numerically significant Patel community, as Gujarat CM. While changing the CM in Karnataka, the party replaced Lingayat stalwart BS Yediyurappa with another Lingayat leader Basavaraj S Bommai. In Uttarakhand, it replaced two Thakur CMs with another Thakur. In Assam, the BJP replaced its CM of five years Sarbananda Sonowal with Himanta Biswa Sarma.

(With PTI inputs)

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