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How a once-sidelined former chief of BJP’s youth wing won back Modi’s favour, got Gujarat ticket

Party insiders believe Amit Thaker’s proximity to Modi’s political rivals hurt his prospects. Now, 30 yrs after entering politics, he is set to contest 1st election on a BJP ticket.

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Ahmedabad: Of the 14 who have served as president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) since its inception in 1978, 13 have gone on to become MPs, MLAs, party presidents, chief ministers, governors, or Union ministers.

As the only BJYM president who remained out of the echelons of power until now, Amit Thaker — who served as president of BJYM from 2007 to 2010 — is an exception. However, Thaker is all set to contest his maiden election from the Vejalpur assembly seat in Ahmedabad district on a BJP ticket.

The BJYM is the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In his political career spanning over 30 years, Thaker courted the spotlight many times, including when he led a statewide protest in Gujarat against the film Fanaa, starring actor Aamir Khanbut his proximity with BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and Sanjay Joshi is believed to have hindered his prospects.

Sitting in his modest home in Ahmedabad, Thaker tells ThePrint: “I have performed the duties the party gave me with honesty and commitment. Sometimes, the hawa (air) blows against you but seniors in the party acknowledge my work. This time, I applied for the ticket locally and was surprised that the party chose me. In politics, it is never too late.”

Asserting that “winnability is not a problem” in Vejalpur, which the BJP won in 2012 and 2017, Rashmi Kant Shah, the party’s in-charge of the assembly constituency, said Union Home Minister Amit Shah has “close ties with voters in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad”.

“Kishorebhai Chauhan won both elections (from Vejalpur) despite a sizeable minority population here but he was denied a ticket due to anti-incumbency and a fresh face was chosen in his place.”

Vejalpur is an urban constituency, home to over 1 lakh Muslims and 2.6 lakh Hindus. By betting on Thaker here, the BJP is hoping to retain Vejalpur and revive the political fortunes of its forgotten Yuva Morcha chief.

“Thaker became a victim of infighting between party seniors but never aired his views in public and kept working for the party. His patience and loyalty began to yield results after 2014 when Modi became prime minister and he was given a different organisational role,” said a Gujarat BJP leader.

Adding, “He (Thaker) was praised for making inroads among the state’s tribal belt, particularly Bhavnagar as BJP’s in-charge of the district. He was later inducted as a secretary of the state BJP when Jitu Vaghani was appointed Gujarat BJP president in 2016. Amit Shah even deployed him (Thaker) in West Bengal but a ticket from the party seemed out of reach until now.”

Also Read: ‘Koli Hriday Samrat’ — why Gujarat BJP is breaking ‘1 family, 1 ticket’ rule for Parshottam Solanki

Fanaa protests, rapport with Modi

The year was 2002 and Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, was contesting his first assembly election from Rajkot West. The Gujarat unit of BJP’s Yuva Morcha demanded a ticket for its then-president Thaker but the request was shot down by Gujarat BJP chief Rajendra Singh Rana.

Thaker then shot into the limelight in 2006 when he led protests against Aamir Khan-starrer Fanaa over the actor’s public support for the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) led by activist Medha Patkar which had miffed then Gujarat CM Modi. Then 35, Thaker even tore up posters of the film in full public view, while making sure that he was photographed in the act.

Yuva Morcha activists led by Thaker held demonstrations across the state, threatening to stop the film’s release unless Khan issued an apology. The Multiplex Association of Gujarat gave in to the demands and decided not to screen the film fearing attacks on movie theatres.

Thaker’s role in the protests caught the eye of Rajnath Singh who upon his appointment as BJP president in 2007, chose him to replace Dharmendra Pradhan as president of the Yuva Morcha. 

But as Thaker’s graph in politics rose, his equation with Modi dipped. Among the reasons for this was the fact that Thaker was a protege of former BJP national executive member Sanjay Joshi, who shared a turbulent rapport with Modi.

In those years, then Gujarat CM Modi’s relationship with the BJP top brass, particularly Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj, was not as smooth as it seemed despite which he managed to sideline Keshubhai Patel, and got Sanjay Joshi dropped from the party’s national executive.

Thaker, who had a marginal stake in Gujarat politics, was seen as “Delhi’s man” in the state owing to his proximity with Joshi and Rajnath Singh.

A source in the Gujarat BJP, recalling a meeting of the party’s election committee held to decide names of candidates for the 2007 Gujarat assembly polls, said a party leader had recommended Thaker’s name. Modi told then-party president Rajnath Singh that “he (Thaker) is a national leader and can be fielded from anywhere in India but should not be given a ticket from Gujarat,” the source added.

Thaker was expecting a promotion as secretary of the party when Nitin Gadkari took over as BJP president in 2010. However, Varun Gandhi — backed by then-former RSS chief late K.S. Sudarshan — was made a secretary instead, and Thaker was replaced by Anurag Thakur — backed by former Union Finance minister late Arun Jaitley — as president of the Yuva Morcha.

Thaker was ready to take the political plunge given his background with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) — the student wing of the BJP — but never got the chance. He had thrown his hat in the ring in 2007 but the party decided against giving him a ticket for the Gujarat assembly polls. He was overlooked for a ticket again in 2012 but appointed co-convener of the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), the party’s diaspora wing.

Since then, he has also served as the BJP’s in-charge of Anand, Bhavnagar districts.

BJYM presidents — where are they now

Kalraj Mishra, who served as the first president of the BJYM from 1978 to 1980, is now the governor of Rajasthan. His successor Satya Deo Singh, who later became an MP, held the post till 1986 when it was passed on to Pramod Mahajan, who went on to become a minister in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. 

Mahajan was succeeded as BJYM president by Rajnath Singh who went on to become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, BJP president and is now India’s Defence minister. After Rajnath, the office was occupied by J.P. Nadda, who has been the national president of the BJP since 2019.

In 1994, Nadda was replaced by Uma Bharti, who became the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Bharti handed over the baton to Ramashish Rai, who served as the BJYM chief until 2000 when he was replaced with Shivraj Singh Chouhan, now Madhya Pradesh CM, an office he has held thrice in the past.

Chauhan’s successors G. Kishan Reddy, Dharmendra Pradhan, and Anurag Thakur are all serving as ministers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet. 

Tejasvi Surya, the sitting president of the Yuva Morcha, is the MP from Bengaluru South, while his predecessor Poonam Mahajan is the MP from Mumbai North Central. Meanwhile, former BJYM chief Ramashish Rai served one term as an MLA and another as an MLC in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, respectively.

Thaker, the only BJYM president who never held elected office, is now looking to take the next step in his political journey.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Hardik Patel, now in BJP, says Congress attacks Gujarati industrialists & Modi to appease Muslims


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