New Delhi: Two tweets by Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma Wednesday evening highlighted what has long been an open secret in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — that J.P. Nadda is the BJP president for ceremonial purposes while Union Home Minister Amit Shah runs the party from his Krishna Menon Marg residence.
Sarma, the BJP’s point man in the Northeast, was in Delhi along with four ministers of the National People’s Party (NPP) whose resignation had threatened to bring down the BJP-led government in Manipur. On Wednesday evening, he posted two tweets in a span of 45 minutes — first about the resolution of the political crisis after the NPP leaders’ meeting with Amit Shah, and then repeating it after their meeting with Nadda.
As if to make amends for publicly crediting the Union home minister with the BJP’s crisis resolution, Sarma posted a third tweet with three pictures of Nadda’s meeting with the NPP delegation. The Assam minister was, however, unnecessarily hassled about political propriety. Nadda, who became BJP president five months back, is reconciled to being a rubber stamp, say his party colleagues.
What has, however, surprised them is his failure to appoint state BJP presidents of his choice, or protect his loyalists even on his home turf, Himachal Pradesh.
Appointments and removals
Himachal BJP president Rajeev Bindal, Nadda’s close associate and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur’s rival, had to resign last month in the alleged PPE kit scam. Thakur was learnt to have secured Shah’s support for Bindal’s resignation as an official arrested in connection with the scam was perceived to be close to the state BJP president.
It’s the chief minister who headed the health department, but it’s the state BJP chief, a former minister, who had to pay the price.
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The BJP national president couldn’t have his way in the recent appointment of the Delhi BJP chief. Nadda, say party insiders, wanted Ashish Sood to replace Manoj Tiwari as the party head in the national capital. Sood and Nadda go back a long way — in the 1980s, when Nadda was the organising secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Sood worked with him in the organisation.
According to party functionaries, some of Nadda’s junior colleagues involved in Delhi affairs went over his head to get Amit Shah’s nod for Adesh Kumar Gupta’s appointment as Delhi unit chief.
It’s not just organisational appointments that have underscored the undermining of the incumbent BJP president, with his predecessor taking decisions. When the party launched virtual rallies 10 days back to connect with party workers and reach out to the people, it was Home Minister Shah, and not the BJP president, who was at the forefront, launching the rallies with his address to Bihar. Nadda’s turn came later.
BJP leaders are of the view that Nadda has no reason for complaining as it was Shah who re-built the party with his sweat and Narendra Modi’s popular appeal. They say it’s necessary for Shah, PM Modi’s putative successor, to keep control of the party, especially when it shows signs of fraying in assembly elections.
No assertion of authority
Not that Nadda has shown any inclination to assert his authority. He was elected BJP president on 20 January, about three weeks before the Delhi assembly elections. He chose to remain a spectator as Amit Shah led the charge.
In March, when the BJP was busy engineering defections in the Congress camp to topple the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, Nadda was busy organising his son’s wedding.
It was at the wedding reception in Delhi that Shivraj Singh Chouhan briefed the central BJP leadership about Jyotiraditya Scindia and his loyalists’ plans to bring down the Congress government. As they confabulated over a sumptuous dinner and left for another location to carry the discussions forward, Nadda was busy greeting his guests, the who’s who of the capital’s power circuit.
Days after Scindia had discussed the terms and conditions of his entry in the BJP with Modi and Shah, Nadda was at the BJP headquarters to complete the formality of Scindia’s induction in the party. After Chouhan’s return as the CM, it’s Modi and Shah who have been holding up the expansion of his cabinet, with Nadda and the CM awaiting their signal, say party insiders.
So, Nadda wouldn’t mind if Himanta Biswa Sarma told the world about Amit Shah saving the BJP government in Manipur. He can never replace Amit Shah, and the good thing is he knows his limitations, a senior BJP parliamentarian opined.
That’s why Nadda is in no hurry about the organisational reshuffle, five months after taking over from Shah. Usually, the new president of a political party would like to constitute his own team and try to make his mark on the party and its politics.
But not Nadda. He would play second fiddle to his predecessor — happily — if that’s what it takes to survive.
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