There’s something in common between Jharkhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Haryana. All four of them are under chief ministers that were handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and all of them are beset with internal conflicts in their state units.

After an intense feud over the change of guard after Anandiben Patel’s surprise resignation as chief minister on August 1 threatened the cohesion of the BJP state unit in Gujarat recently, Jharkhand has emerged as another flashpoint for the party.

Though the BJP eventually tided over the conflict in Gujarat with the appointment of Vijay Rupani as chief minister and Nitin Patel as deputy chief minister, it is now on the brink of implosion in Jharkhand, after the state BJP President Tala Marandi announced a reshuffle in his team over a WhatsApp message.

Chief Minister and Modi appointee Raghubar Das is now looking to central leadership to salvage the situation in the state, while Marandi has offered to resign over the uproar.

Trouble times four

Gujarat and Jharkhand are among four states – the other two being Haryana and Maharashtra – where loyalty to Modi, and not the leadership qualities, seemed to have acted as the sole criterion for identifying chief ministers.

Modi, who had to hand over the reins of Gujarat after he was made prime minister in 2014, handpicked Anandiben Patel as his successor. In the remaining three states, the BJP had refrained from projecting a chief ministerial face before the results of the respective state elections were announced.

After the BJP won in all three states, Modi loyalists were installed as chief ministers – Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana and Das in Jharkhand.

However, Modi’s picks have had to depend heavily on the central leadership for help and to remain stable. This is in sharp contrast to the strong leadership seen in Madhya Pradesh, under chief minister Shivraj Chouhan, Rajasthan under Vasundhara Raje, and Chhattisgarh under Raman Singh.

Crisis brewing

Many in the party believe that the crisis in Jharkhand could have been managed locally, had the chief minister and Marandi actually been holding the reins of the state party unit.

While the WhatsApp row was the latest trigger, differences between the two have been brewing for a while now. It all began with the state government’s decision last month to issue an ordinance amending Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act to facilitate acquisition of tribal land for some development projects.

Das’ failure to take Marandi, the party’s tribal face, into confidence over the move prompted the BJP president to openly voice his opposition to the ordinance on Tuesday, asserting that “it was brought in a hurry” and that if it was cleared “the identity of the tribals and Moolvasis will come under threat”.

Just two days earlier, the fault lines in the party had emerged when Marandi, on Sunday, announced his new team of office-bearers. Several BJP leaders appointed on key posts, including Meera Munda (wife of former Chief Minister Arjun Munda) and former union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha resigned saying that had not been consulted before their names were announced.

Members of BJP’s Jharkhand unit were reportedly furious over the way in which the list had been announced – unceremoniously, posted by a local journalist on WhatsApp – as also the fact that newcomers had been included, while all the party’s vice-presidents in the state and many of the general secretaries had been replaced.

As the state party plunged in crisis, Shah intervened and summoned Das and Marandi to Delhi. After a series of meetings with central party leaders, the duo returned to the state, with Marandi announcing to the media that he had offered to resign.

While the party high command is yet to decide on his resignation, BJP rival and former Chief Minister Hemant Soren from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has sensed an opportunity in the rift and declared that Marandi is being targeted because he is a tribal and is trying to stand up for the rights of the tribal people.

Poor state of affairs

The situation in Jharkhand mirrored a similar row in the party unit in Gujarat after Anandiben Patel resignation, announced on Facebook, plunged the unit into a crisis, even more so because the state is going to polls next year. While the state party unit could not come to a consensus over the choice of chief minister and Nitin Patel was widely believed to be the front-runner for the post, Shah imposed his writ and appointed Rupani as chief minister in the wake of intense infighting in the state unit.

All this came at a time when the flogging of four Dalit youth in Una by self-styled cow protectors on July 11 had led to an unprecedented show of strength by the community, which staged protests across the state, including in the capital of Ahmedabad.

Things are not much better in Haryana, where Khattar’s inability to run the show in Haryana became obvious during Jat quota agitation in February this year that had caused damage to property, loss of lives, and had disrupted vehicular movement in and out of the state. The stir was revived in June, but fortunately, was a much more muted affair. Khattar’s inability to contain the stir – after which his Cabinet cleared a Bill providing reservation to the community in government jobs and educational institutes – dealt a blow to his image, one that he is yet to recover from.

Khattar, belonging to non-Jat Punjabi community, is unlikely to gain stability in a state where politics are dominated by Jats.

Fadnavis’ vulnerability was exposed when party leader Eknath Khadse was removed from the state cabinet and and Pankaja Munde stripped of the key water conservation portfolio in July. Supporters of Khadse and Pankaja Munde turned against Fadnavis. Both are prominent in Maharashtra politics (Pankaja Munde, the daughter of the late party heavyweight Gopinath Munde) and could pose a threat to the chief minister. Moreover, Fadnavis, a Brahmin in a state dominated by Marathas, will never be able to enjoy real stability in Maharashtra.

“This has all happened very naturally," said a senior BJP leader, explaining the vulnerability of the chief ministers who were handpicked by Modi. “As long as Modi could sell his promises and retained the aura of invincibility, these chief ministers remained stable. But the situation has changed. Whether the increased vulnerability of these chief ministers reflects the weakening of Modi or vice versa is open to interpretation."