Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have taken the BJP to new heights, much higher than what the duo of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani ever could. But there is one KRA — key result area — in which the jury is still out on Modi-Shah’s record as compared to the BJP founder members’: grooming future leaders.
Not that the Prime Minister and the BJP president haven’t worked on this KRA. They have installed more new faces in positions of power than their predecessors did. Of the 13 BJP chief ministers today, 12 are greenhorns who owed their ascension solely to Modi and Shah. Only Karnataka’s B.S. Yediyurappa, an old war horse, can claim to have ‘earned’ the coveted post without much backing from them.
Also read: How Modi’s BJP has become Nehru’s Congress
Vajpayee-Advani nurtured BJP’s best crop
There are 52 BJP leaders who were in Vajpayee’s last Council of Ministers and who are still around today. Of those, only six have made it to Modi 2.0 Council of Ministers — Rajnath Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prahlad Singh Patel, Santosh Gangwar, Shripad Yesso Naik, and Faggan Singh Kulaste. Of the remaining 46, M. Venkaiah Naidu has made it to the Vice-President’s office while C. Vidyasagar Rao and Ramesh Bais have got accommodation in Mumbai and Agartala Raj Bhawans. The rest have fallen by the wayside, left to lick their wounds. But they can’t grudge Modi his resolve to promote a new set of leaders.
These facts run counter to the common perception about Vajpayee and Advani having done a lot better in nurturing next generation of BJP leaders. That’s probably because of the quality of leaders they nurtured: Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, late Sushma Swaraj, Ravi Shankar Prasad, late Pramod Mahajan, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, and Raman Singh among many others. You name any BJP leader worth his/her salt in public life today and all of them owe it to Vajpayee-Advani. Now look at the crop of leaders who have been promoted by Modi and Amit Shah: Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Bhupendra Yadav, Prakash Javadekar, Nirmala Sitharaman, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Muralidhar Rao, and the likes of Giriraj Singh and D.V. Sadananda Gowda. The less said about the qualitative difference between the two groups, the better.
Modi’s success stopped at Shah
Modi and Shah must be conscious of the extreme limitations of the leaders they have promoted. They couldn’t help it though. The BJP has poor bench strength. Besides, the two together don’t need much talent around, anyway.
What Modi and Shah have invested in heavily is the new generation of leaders in states. Don’t forget, few outside Gujarat knew about Shah until Modi pitchforked him to the national centre-stage. And what an extraordinary find Shah has been for the BJP! The two have since been trying to create a new breed of leaders in states. The success or failure of their endeavour would answer the question that we set out to explore at the beginning: Who groomed the BJP’s future leadership better — Vajpayee-Advani or Modi-Shah?
The first indication of whether Modi has been able to create mass leaders—and not parasites thriving on his popularity—will be clear in September-October when Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand go to polls. Modi and Shah had picked three greenhorns to rule these states — Manohar Lal Khattar, Devendra Fadnavis and Raghubar Das. It’s time for these chief ministers to vindicate their leaders’ decision in the coming assembly elections. These polls will be the first litmus test of the first set of chief ministers picked by Modi.
Modi wave and a new BJP
In his first term, the BJP rode on ‘Modi wave’ to sweep its political adversaries out of power from one state after another, except from a few pockets such as Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi, Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal, Biju Janata Dal-led Odisha, and the southern states. But this wave wasn’t very effective when the BJP chief ministers (of pre-Modi era) faced anti-incumbency.
The BJP virtually lost Goa in 2017 but outmanoeuvred the Congress to form a coalition government. The party also lost Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh last year. But the chief ministers of all these states were not Modi-appointees. Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh were all from Vajpayee era, though all of them did benefit from the early gust of Modi wave in the 2013 assembly elections. They were all strong and popular leaders who were once Gujarat chief minister Modi’s counterparts. They were never seen as Modi’s regents in states the way his appointees are seen.
BJP’s hope 3 Modi-picked CMs
That’s why there is much at stake for Modi in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana elections. To be fair to the three chief ministers — Khattar, Fadnavis and Das — they have done their best to model themselves on Modi and their governance on Modi’s. All three have ensured that there is not a stain on their clean image. Das calls himself Labourer No. 1 on the lines of “pradhan sevak” that the Prime Minister calls himself. Khattar has publicly acknowledged he follows Gujarat model of governance, obviously believing that Modi still drives it in his home state.
Whenever there is a new scheme to be rolled out, Khattar sends a message to his bureaucrats — find out how Gujarat is implementing it. He wouldn’t meddle in recruitments because one of his predecessors, Om Prakash Chautala, is in jail for doing so. And he wouldn’t acquire land for any project because it got another predecessor, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, in trouble. There have been murmurs and whispers in Mumbai’s corridors of powers about many files cleared by the Maharashtra government, but Fadnavis remains taint-free in public perception. He has also made a name for himself as an administrator who is a ‘quick decision-maker’ even though many of his colleagues in the party and the government aren’t very appreciative of it.
Tough task for Modi-Shah
Modi had made another experiment in the appointment of these chief ministers. They were all from non-dominant communities in their respective states — a non-Maratha in Maharashtra, a non-tribal in Jharkhand and a non-Jat in Haryana. All three have delivered on this score. Fadnavis, who belongs to a minuscule Brahmin community in Maharashtra, has successfully wooed Marathas and non-Marathas alike. The tenure of Khattar, a Punjabi Khatri, has witnessed non-Jat polarisation in the BJP’s favour. Raghubar Das, an OBC, is the first Jharkhand chief minister who would complete five years in office; his regime has also witnessed non-tribal consolidation in favour of the BJP. Each of these chief ministers has a long list of achievements in governance to boast of.
Modi and Shah could, therefore, afford to go easy about the coming assembly elections, especially after generating so many talking points in the last session of Parliament — defanging Article 370, criminalising triple talaq, toughening anti-terror laws, and fixing a universal minimum wage. But, as Amit Shah’s Jind rally Friday indicated, they are preparing to sweat out even more in the coming elections. After all, Vajpayee-Advani’s legacy isn’t so easy to surpass.