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Where is Ram Madhav — the RSS pracharak who was Modi’s Man Friday not long ago

BJP general secretary Ram Madhav no longer handles Modi's foreign tours. His involvement in BJP affairs in Northeast and J&K has also reduced.

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New Delhi: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was with US President Donald Trump at the ‘Howdy Modi’ rally in Houston early this week, a BJP leader, once synonymous with the PM’s foreign trips, was conspicuous by his absence — RSS pracharak and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav.

TV cameras in Houston even caught the presence of Vijay Chauthaiwale, the BJP’s foreign affairs cell chief who Madhav had combined with to play a key role in Modi’s early NRI outreach efforts.

Madhav, however, was in Bengaluru at around the same time, explaining his party’s stand behind scrapping Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir.

If that wasn’t enough, Madhav, who is known to hobnob with diplomats from across the globe, has been missing from the BJP’s missions abroad.

He was also not a part of the 11-member BJP delegation that visited China in the last week of August that was an attempt by the party to strengthen its ties with Communist Party of China. Madhav is seen as a China expert of sorts within the party — he is the author of the book Uneasy Neighbours: India and China after 50 Years of the War.

Then, in early September, the party sent its vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and young Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal to Mongolia for the International Hindu Buddhist Conflict Resolution Conference. Madhav was missing from this delegation too.

It’s a far cry from Madhav’s heady days in 2014 when he was at the heart of Modi and the BJP’s trips abroad. He was instrumental in the PM’s presence at Madison Square in New York, Wembley in London and Sydney.

Madhav’s star was on the ascendant then, with the general secretary tasked with stitching alliances in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. But five years on, the influence of the man, once seen as the most powerful organisational man in the party after chief Amit Shah, appears to be on the wane.

He has fallen off the radar, while he has not been handling the Prime Minister’s foreign tours, the party has also delegated the Northeast and J&K to other leaders.

Also read: Let us hope Amit Shah puts the entire opposition in jail 

The No. 2 no more

The belief that Madhav was the BJP’s No. 2 behind Shah was due to the party work he juggled. But the BJP has now appointed the powerful Assam minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, as the convenor of its North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a platform of non-Congress parties in the region.

Shah has now taken charge of Jammu and Kashmir affairs since he took over as home minister and has appointed party vice-president Avinash Rai Khanna as the BJP in-charge of the state. Though Madhav still informally looks after the Northeast and Kashmir affairs for the BJP, a parallel structure has been created to officially give charge of these states to other leaders.

A senior BJP leader, on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint that Madhav had fallen so far down the pecking order that Shah did not even keep him in the loop over the Article 370 decision. However, the following day, 6 August, Madhav said that the Modi government would carry out a delimitation exercise in the state. There has been no word of it since.

Another leader said Madhav’s place in the party had been taken by national general secretaries Bhupender Yadav and Anil Jain, who are now beside Shah in most of his rallies. Yadav is also the party in-charge of Bihar while Jain has in his charge, poll-bound Haryana besides Chhattisgarh.

A party insider said Madhav’s strength — an ability to cultivate ties in diplomatic circles — had now turned into an Achilles heel.

“It soured his relationship with two senior cabinet ministers,” the party leader said. “They complained to Shah and Modi that Madhav was obsessed with foreign affairs. Since then, his participation in managing the PM’s foreign tours and meeting foreign diplomats has been minimal.”

Also read: Sidelined in BJP, ex-CM Raman Singh fights a lone battle in Chhattisgarh

A decline that began in 2018

A BJP leader who knows Shah from his Gujarat days told ThePrint that the home minister doesn’t take kindly to “leaders who work more than their briefs”.

“Shah likes backroom leaders who work without making a noise, which is why BJP general secretaries stay away from the media,” the leader said. “Madhav never hesitated in showing his growing clout with foreign diplomats. At one point, a senior cabinet minister complained to Shah that Madhav was more involved in personal branding.”

The leader added: “Madhav’s evening hangouts with diplomats caused heartburn in many seniors.”

The first signs that the tide was turning against Madhav came in 2018 when Shah nominated Jain, media in-charge Anil Baluni and party leader G.V.L. Narasimha Rao for Rajya Sabha berths, ignoring Madhav and another general secretary Arun Singh.

Madhav also did himself no favours when in an interview to Bloomberg in May, he said that the BJP may just fall short of the majority on its own in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This, when Shah had been projecting over 300 seats for the party.

The statements also prompted union minister Nitin Gadkari to come out to snub him, saying the party would get over 300 seats.

A source said Madhav told friends that he is a pracharak and so concentrates only on organisational work, but his detractors said it is known that he harbours political ambitions.

Also read: BJP’s new rhetoric ahead of state polls — press meets, articles on ‘economic turnaround’ 

(The report has been updated to correctly reflect the name of BJP vice-president Avinash Rai Khanna, and the nature of Ram Madhav’s involvement in NE and Kashmir.)   

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  1. This is not the first time that PM Modi has fired form others’ shoulders at people whom he wants to show their place. In early years Modi 1.0, when Rajnath Singh appeared to be gaining prominance as No. 2 in cabinet, he was greatly embarrassed by the allegation that his son was involved in selling favours. Rajnath’s stature suffered. But, nothing else happened to him or his son. Next, for sometime, Jaitley enjoyed prominance at 2-in-1 minister for Finance and Defence. At that time, Dr.Subramanian Swamy attacked him relentlessly for a couple of months. Suddenly, his attackes stopped as though plug were pulled. Now, Ram Madhav is being show his place. Many more such instances must have happened, which have escaped public attention. It is said in sanskrit: “Vaaranganeva nripaneetih aneka rupaa” – Royal policies are like concubines dressed differently for different occasions!

  2. Diplomats are always hungry for inside information of Govt & Party. Too much hobnobbing some time gives worry in Indian diplomatic circle. Madhav’s confession on TV Channel that BJP may get seats less than majority required was a surprise within party & outside which surely not appreciated by the Party think tank.

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