NEW DELHI Aug 25, 2017: BJP chief Amit Shah today appointed eight top-ranking ministers looking after more than 15 key departments in the Narendra Modi government as in charge of three states – Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, due for elections this year and early next year.
While senior leader and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has also held the responsibility in the past, has been given charge of the PM and Shah’s home state Gujarat, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot will take care of the BJP’s fortunes in Congress-ruled Karnataka and Himachal, respectively.
In Gujarat, Jaitley will be assisted by an array of senior Central ministers, including Narendra Singh Tomar, Nirmala Sitharaman, Jitendra Singh and PP Choudhary. While the move is indicative of the importance Gujarat holds for the BJP, the fact that in addition to the PM and Shah (who will obviously be actively campaigning in their state) five top ministers have been positioned to oversee Gujarat polls perhaps also shows that all may not be well for the saffron party in the state.
Even as the BJP juggernaut rolls on with Shah in the driving seat, events in Karnataka and Gujarat show the party may not be in as comfortable position as he would like it to be.
Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s win in the Rajya Sabha polls, despite Shah’s best efforts, proved what appears on the surface could be different from ground reality. Ever since Modi moved to the Centre, Gujarat has been a hot spot of major anti-BJP agitations, including the Patidar protests led by Hardik Patel and the Dalit revolt after the Una episode.
In Gujarat, the BJP is not just facing anti-incumbency of 17 years but also a build-up over the PM’s economic moves like demonetisation and switchover to the GST.
In Karnataka, where Union Minister Piyush Goyal will assist Javadekar, the Congress appears to be on a roll after the launch of ‘Indira Canteen’ – a new programme of the Siddaramaiah government to provide food at subsidised rates.
In Himachal, Gehlot will rely on state leaders for help, say BJP leaders. Seven key states – Gujarat, Himachal (November-December), Meghalaya (February), Karnataka (April-May next year), Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (September-October 2018) – will go to the polls before the 2019 General Election.