BJP president Jagat Prakash Nadda must be watching developments in London out of the corner of his eye as he fully takes charge of the ruling party post-Delhi election. Many of his party colleagues certainly are.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to finance minister in India) Sajid Javid resigned last Thursday. The reason: his boss, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wanted him to sack his advisers and replace them with those from the PM’s Downing Street office.
Javid chose to quit instead. Johnson has replaced him with Rishi Sunak, better known in India as Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy’s son-in-law. Sunak is obviously not hung up on getting his own team or pushing his own ideas about running the world’s fifth largest economy. Or so PM Johnson seems to believe.
That’s why J.P. Nadda’s colleagues are glued to thedevelopments in London, with a lot of curiosity and a bit of anxiety. Whose example would the new president of Bharatiya Janata Party follow: Javid’s or Sunak’s? On the face of it, the choice would be simple for a BJP leader: Javid is of Pakistan-origin while Sunak is from an Indian Punjabi family.
And yet it’s not as simple. Nadda is not a lightweight or a pushover as many believe. Nadda may not have a mass base even in his home state of Himachal Pradesh but none in the pantheon of BJP presidents had it when they were made the party’s presidents — not even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who became the first BJP president in 1980;or Lal Krishna Advani, who succeeded him in 1986.
Nadda is not known for making hate speeches but he has been a quiet, committed worker of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since his days in its students’ wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). He was the secretary of the BJP parliamentary board, the party’s highest decision-making body, for close to a decade, rubbing shoulders with top leaders.
BJP in desperate need of overhaul
There are compelling reasons for Nadda to bring drastic changes in the BJP, which has developed all the essentially negative characteristics of the Congress — dynastic politics manifesting in the form of a totally centralised high command, rootless wonders and sycophants holding top posts and wielding powers, deliberate undermining of mass leaders in states, absolute lack of internal democracy, and you name it. Remove Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the equation and the BJP looks as good, or as bad, as the Congress.
Most national general secretaries of the BJP, picked up by Home Minister Amit Shah, who are in charge of states, have never contested a direct election — Ram Madhav, Bhupendra Yadav, Muralidhar Rao, Anil Jain and Arun Singh. And those repeatedly elected as chief ministers — Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje — have been sidelined with the ceremonial posts of vice-president.
The situation is no different in state units. A post-mortem of Delhi election results by the BJP has brought out the hitherto hushed up facts about massive infighting and factionalism. It’s been there in every state unit but nobody talked about it as long as the ‘Modi wave’ could deliver victories in assembly elections, too.
Nadda’s appointments have Shah’s total imprint
While the BJP is in desperate need to start afresh under a new president and overhaul its organisation, Nadda doesn’t seem to have the fire in the belly to do it. For the first three weeks after his unopposed election as BJP president on 20 January, Amit Shah, his predecessor, continued to run the show, micro-managing the party’s election campaign in Delhi. On Wednesday, a day after the poll verdict, when Nadda was waiting for Shah to join a meeting of party general secretaries at the BJP headquarters, he got a missive that the Home Minister wouldn’t come: ‘In what capacity would he join a meeting of party office-bearers?’
Not many in the BJP were swayed by this though. The appointments in the states, supposedly made by the new party president, have Amit Shah’s imprint all over them. Last week, Nadda re-appointed Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil and Mumbai unit chief Mangal Prabhat Lodha. Patil’s proximity with Amit Shah is no secret. He was also reported to be in the reckoning for the chief minister’s post in Maharashtra when the BJP central leadership was toying with the idea of agreeing to the Shiv Sena’s demand for a rotational CM formula, a proposal vehemently opposed by Devendra Fadnavis.
On Saturday, Madhya Pradesh BJP chief Rakesh Singh was replaced by Vishnu Dutt Sharma, an RSS leader said to be anti-Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Though the former chief minister and many other state BJP leaders wanted Singh to be replaced, they didn’t expect another snub to Chouhan by the central leadership through Sharma’s appointment. Given how Chouhan has been pushed to the margins in the BJP by Modi-Shah, the choice of the new BJP chief in Madhya Pradesh was another indication of Shah remote-controlling the party, technically headed by Nadda.
Ready to be the fall guy?
Well, that’s what BJP functionaries believe. They think he is not ambitious enough to try to come out of Amit Shah’s shadow. The BJP lost half-a-dozen states in the past one year of Shah’s tenure. But public memory is short. If the BJP ends up winning in Bihar assembly election in November this year, the credit has to go to Shah. Don’t forget it was he who solidified the coalition by declaring Janata Dal (United)’s Nitish Kumar the CM candidate when it just seemed to be wavering a little. In case the BJP still loses, Nadda, the BJP president, must take responsibility. After all, he also presided over the party’s debacle in Delhi, didn’t he?
In 2021, of the five states that will go to polls — Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry — the BJP would have stakes in only the first two. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are likely to be the BJP’s central planks in Assam and West Bengal. If the BJP wins, the credit must go to Shah for being their architect; if it loses, you know who to blame.
But these are early days yet. Unlike Sajid Javid, the former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nadda is flexible and accommodative. But it’s also too early to look at him as Modi-Shah’s Rishi Sunak. Mind you, Sunak is also new in the job; he may not, for all we know, turn out to be the yes-man that Boris Johnson thinks he will be.