2022 vision: The next batch of state leaders to watch out for

Not all leaders who head states become national leaders. But, the leadership at the Centre has many leaders from the states who have transformed themselves at the national level — whether they are in the government or opposition — and whose voices have becomes important. Right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh to road transport minister Nitin Gadkari, the BJP’s top echelons have leaders who were once state leaders. In parties such as the Congress, Trinamool, the numbers are lesser.

The conventional route of rising through the ranks is now just one option to be a big political leader. The new generation of leadership includes those who have performed and catapulted themselves to certain positions or who have established a regional identity over time. And then, there are the political inheritors, but their profile is also changing as they adapt to the demands of contemporary politics.

Staking their claim

These are leaders who work in a corporate, target-oriented style of performance-based appraisal. They are vocal about their ambitions. They deliver, but don’t shy away from staking their claim on what they think they deserve.

Himanta Biswa Sarma

The Congress-turned-BJP leader worked hard not only to deliver Assam for the BJP but also to establish the party in the Northeast region. Post 2021 elections, Sarma felt the CM’s post was rightfully his and got his way with the top BJP leadership recognising his contribution. The challenge before Sarma is to manage inter-state conflicts in the Northeast and remain acceptable to the BJP and RSS.

Sachin Pilot

As a state Congress president of Rajasthan, Pilot helped the party form the government in 2018. He worked hard and never hid his ambition to rule the state. But till now, Ashok Gehlot has thwarted all his attempts to emerge as the top choice. The challenge before Pilot is to break Gehlot’s control and establish himself as the new leader of the Congress. His rebellious foray fell short, but he remains a leader to watch out for.

Bhupesh Baghel

Baghel, one of the leaders who has risen through the ranks, got his chance when the entire Chhattisgarh Congress leadership was wiped out in a Naxal attack in 2013. Like Pilot, he proved himself as state Congress president and is now the CM. He was made CM for half the term under an agreement with the Congress high command and TS Singh Deo. The fight is still going on and he doesn’t seem to be ready to step down. The challenge before Baghel is to not only deal with Singh Deo but also become an inclusive leader in Chhattisgarh. Much would depend on the Congress high command’s approach.

The Chosen Ones

These are the leaders who have been given posts by their parties, but through their performance and stature, are carving a niche for themselves.

Yogi Adityanath

The BJP surprised political pundits when it opted for the Gorakhpur MP to be the Uttar Pradesh chief minister in 2017. In the past five years, Adityanath has raced ahead of many central BJP leaders. He blends Hindutva with development and that is where BJP’s politics is focused on. However, internal rivalry in the state and caste issues are the biggest challenges for Yogi. His future course would depend on the performance of the BJP in UP assembly election.

Uddhav Thackeray

Post the 2019 assembly elections, Thackeray created an opportunity for himself by forging a new political alliance with the NCP and Congress. Till now, he has been successful in running the MVA government for two years amid differences within the alliance partners. Differences are surfacing as Congress has decided to contest the BMC polls alone. The challenge before Thackray is to keep the alliance partners together. His toughest task would be to manage the ambitions of the Congress and NCP and strike a seat-sharing deal among them as the three parties have never contested together.

Charanjit Singh Channi

He benefited from the internal fight between the Congress leaders of Punjab. Channi, projected as the first Dalit CM of Punjab by the party, is gaining popularity within and outside the party. Channi is fighting a battle within the party with leaders like Navjot Sidhu. He is yet to prove whether the Congress can win an election under his leadership and without Captain Amarinder Singh. The challenge becomes tougher as the Captain and the BJP are fighting together.

Devendra Fadnavis

He was party president who became CM after the BJP won the 2014 elections. In 2019, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance won the election but due to the formation of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, he couldn’t become the CM. Fadnavis had tried to form a government with the NCP with an early morning oath ceremony. But that brought more embarrassment for him as a leader. The challenge before him is to fight with the Shiv Sena-Congress- NCP trio and to dissents from within.

The Inheritors

These are regional leaders who have inherited their title from their family but are now fighting their own battles.

MK Stalin

Stalin became CM at a time when Tamil Nadu was facing a leadership void with the demise of Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi. DMK fought two assembly elections under his leadership and he is one of the main opposition faces in the country. General elections are still far away and Stalin needs to work on the ground to maintain a winning streak. His leadership will be tested on whether he will be actively involved in uniting opposition parties against the BJP or remain a distant participant in the opposition camp.

Jagan Mohan Reddy

Jagan Mohan Reddy also got his post through legacy but he fought his battles to prove himself as leader. He launched his own party and won the elections defeating TDP in 2019. Andhra Pradesh also has a considerable play at the Centre. Jagan needs to chart his vision for the state beyond the freebees schemes he has started. The challenge before Reddy is to not only keep TDP at bay but also deal with a highly ambitious challenger — the BJP. His party has maintained good relations with the BJP barring one or two issues.

Hemant Soren

Leading a party which has a base majorly among tribals and the lower strata, Hemant Soren has kept his politics limited to Jharkhand, playing on regional pride. He runs a coalition government with the Congress and is trying to win the populace with government schemes. He needs to coordinate with the Congress in the government and deal with the BJP under Babulal Marandi.

Akhilesh Yadav

He became CM for five years which many consider was a mandate for his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. UP is a crucial state which plays a major role in any central formation and hence every stakeholder in UP becomes important nationally. Akhilesh Yadav has never played the regional card. Under his leadership, the party is yet to give a performance which would make him the next leader. The 2022 assembly election is the biggest test for Akhilesh Yadav.

Tejashwi Yadav

While his father Lalu Prasad was in jail, Tejashwi Yadav was the sole campaigner for his party in 2020 assembly elections. He capitalised this opportunity to focus on real issues like unemployment and health from what used to be a caste fight. Though the RJD couldn’t win the election, Tejashwi established himself as the next generation leader from Biha. The RJD has not been in power for 17 years now. Tejashwi is yet to taste an election success.

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