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PR Disaster

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In Uttarakhand’s relatively brief history as a state, changing the Chief Minister in the midst of a government’s term has proved ineffective every time. It makes sense if an incumbent is facing corruption or other serious charges, but to do so in the hope that the people will forget bad governance is wishful thinking. It merely adds credibility to criticism. The farcical drama that took place in Dehradun on Saturday cannot have impressed the public, or achieved anything other than disrepute for the BJP.

It has never been the case that Trivendra Singh Rawat was selected for the Chief Minister’s post because of his charismatic leadership. He was the archetypal party apparatchik who was expected to maintain the delicate balance between the newly inducted leaders from the Congress and the old guard. This was to be closely monitored by the party High Command. It is also a fact that there are not exactly any outstanding leaders in the state unit of the party capable of taking over the helm in the present circumstances. At best there are leaders representing factions. Their primary concern is to remain politically relevant in the run up to the next assembly polls.

Was the rebellion brewing among MLAs so imminent that party officials Raman Singh and DK Gautam had to be rushed to Dehradun, the CM and other high functionaries summoned in the midst of a Vidhan Sabha session? Could the matter not have been dealt with more subtlety? Right now, the wrong message (from the BJP’s point of view), has been sent to the general public. An otherwise demoralised Congress, thus far depending solely on street protests against fuel prices, inflation, etc., will now attack with renewed morale.

It is not that the High Command has been unaware of the reasons for legislators’ dissatisfaction. For some inexplicable reason, the vacancies in the Cabinet have not been filled. Early on, it could have been said that, having so many legislators, the carrot of a Cabinet appointment was expected to ensure disciplined behaviour. But, with no one being actually promoted, the tactic became ineffective. All this was just an acknowledgement that the party lacked the talent to fill these positions. Ideally, the Cabinet should be regularly reshuffled to weed out non-performers and give a chance to others. Performing junior ministers should be promoted to Cabinet positions. This situation could not have been the Chief Minister’s decision alone.

This turn of events will have an adverse impact on the BJP’s chances of getting a mandate similar to that in the last election. One of the strong points of the BJP is its time-honoured reputation for party discipline. That has most definitely been dented. It remains to be seen what turn events will take in the future and whether the party will be able to recover the lost ground.