Amid speculation the BJP’s national leadership is worried about its government in Uttar Pradesh – where the party’s own MLAs and MPs have gone public with grievances – Prime Minister Narendra Modi not tweeting birthday wishes to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has raised eyebrows.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office, however, pointed out PM Modi had, in fact, spoken to Yogi Adityanath on the phone on Saturday and wished him on his birthday.
They said he has not tweeted to anyone in the second wave of the pandemic and also provided a list of top leaders, including those from the opposition, for whom he skipped Twitter wishes over the past few weeks.
The list includes the chief ministers of Kerala, Rajasthan, Haryana and Goa.
The buzz this week was that the BJP’s top leaders were worried about criticism of the Yogi Adityanath government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
Rumours suggested changes being considered – ahead of a critical election next year, one that could set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls – included either replacing him or his two deputies.
That buzz was quickly rubbished by BL Santosh, the party’s General Secretary, who, with former Union Minister Radha Mohan Singh, held a two-day “review” exercise of the state government.
On Tuesday he tweeted high praise of Yogi Adityanath and his handling of the pandemic.
On Friday BJP sources again ruled out Yogi Adityanath’s’ removal, but indicated that a cabinet expansion was likely. Former bureaucrat AK Sharma, known to be among Prime Minister Modi’s close aides, may be given an important role in the UP government, party sources said.
The source said the expansion could take place as soon as this month, and that new ministers will be picked with caste and regional equations in mind.
That decision, sources said, was taken after the “extensive feedback exercise” led by BL Santosh and Radha Mohan Singh; the two met with Yogi Adityanath, senior leaders, ministers and MLAs.
They also assessed reasons for the party’s poor performance in recent panchayat elections; the results showed big losses for the BJP in its strongholds.
The UP government’s response to the second Covid wave has drawn sharp attacks from experts and the opposition, which alleges that the mishandling caused a large number of deaths.
Images of bodies floating in the Ganga generated international headlines that the state trashed, accusing the media of misreporting the situation and insisting that Yogi Adityanath was constantly monitoring the on-ground situation.
UP was among the states most badly affected by the second wave, with active cases peaking at over three lakh at the end of April, and several hospitals running short of resources.
Since then there has been a steady decline, with the state reporting 1,113 new cases in 24 hours on Saturday morning. Active cases have fallen to around 23,000.