New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) highest decision-making body, the parliamentary board, has become mostly dysfunctional. Reduced to almost half of its strength over the past five years, the board exists only in name as it hasn’t met even once in over two years.
During this period, at least four party chief ministers have been replaced — two in Uttarakhand and one each in Assam and Gujarat — while Shivraj Singh Chouhan was installed as Madhya Pradesh CM and four incumbents were retained after elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
The parliamentary board, which is mandated to take all such important decisions, however, played no role in these appointments. As it is, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah take all the decisions, which are then conveyed to other members by party president JP Nadda, who chairs the board.
“The fall of board in decision-making happened due to many reasons. After the exit of conscience keepers L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in 2014, the two stalwart leaders who always took a stand were Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. Venkaiah Naidu was always ready to give suggestions. Now no such leaders who offered diverse views remain on the board, except Nitin Gadkari,” a senior BJP leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
After Yogi Adityanath led the party to a historic win in UP, he was expected to join the high table in the BJP as a member of the parliamentary board. However, Nadda has so far refrained from filling up the five vacancies on the 12-member panel, which was last reconstituted by then party president Amit Shah way back in 2014.
The induction of Yogi and others could necessitate convening of board meetings to deliberate over the selection of CMs, alliance strategies and other important policy decisions, say BJP functionaries.
The vacancies have been adding up since 2017, brought about by the deaths of Ananth Kumar in 2018 and Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley in 2019. The elevation of Venkaiah Naidu as Vice-President in 2017 and Thaawarchand Gehlot’s appointment as Karnataka governor last year created two more vacancies.
Swaraj’s demise has also rendered the board an all-male body. At present, Modi, Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the party’s National General Secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh are members of the BJP’s parliamentary board, apart from Nadda.
Contacted by ThePrint, BJP spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan said: “The party takes decisions in consultation with other leaders. BJP is the most democratic party when it comes to decision-making. It has many forums for this including the election committee and national executive. The party will fill the vacancies in the parliamentary board at the appropriate time.”
Board’s relevance in ‘Vajpayee-Advani era’
In the past, veteran BJP leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi had been members of the parliamentary board.
It was Rajnath Singh who had first inducted Modi into the board way back in 2006, but dropped him in 2007. In 2013 however, he reinducted Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, into the apex body.
A BJP functionary told ThePrint that the decision-making process was different during the “Vajpayee-Advani era”, when the board “would have meetings during which members would articulate their viewpoints and decisions would be taken after the exchange of ideas”.
“Now the process simply entails Nadda consulting Modi and Shah, who call the shots, and their decision is simply conveyed to other board members by phone,” he claimed.
According to the BJP’s constitution, the parliamentary board comprises the party president and 11 others. The party president becomes the board’s chairman, and a general secretary is nominated by the party president as the board’s secretary.
When Shah last reconstituted the parliamentary board in 2014, he inducted Chouhan, and nominated Nadda as the board’s secretary. Before Shah, the board was chaired by Rajnath Singh.
“Since Yogi Adityanath became chief minister, there have been rumours that he is the right choice to get a position in the highest decision-making body. Since Shivraj (Chouhan) is already on board, the chief minister of the most populous state can’t be denied a chance. But the party will have to be pragmatic about whether it wants two chief ministers in the panel,” a party leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya could be another possible candidate for the parliamentary board, a party source said, but added that inducting Vijayvargiya — who used to be a minister in the Madhya Pradesh government — when Chouhan is already part of the board could upset power equations in that state.
The name of Arun Singh, also a national general secretary and party in-charge for Rajasthan and Karnataka, is also floating around. “He could fit into that bracket without any political baggage,” the source further said.
The names of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Labour Minister Bhupender Yadav are also doing the rounds as probables.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)