BJP reinforces embrace of ‘outside’ political talent
BJP acknowledges that it’s a new trend to keep up with the demand for leaders at a time when expansion has been at a frenetic pace.
When 61-year-old Basavaraj Bommai became the chief minister (CM) of Karnataka on Wednesday, it underlined a recent trend within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is no longer necessary to be a homegrown talent to be a top choice for key appointments.
Just like other BJP CMs — Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam), Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh) and N Biren Singh (Manipur) — Bommai was inducted into the party from outside, in his case from the Janata Dal (United) in 2008.
What makes the Karnataka CM selection even more unique is that unlike the other CMs who are from areas where the BJP has a fledgling support base, Bommai was chosen in a state where the saffron party has cadres going back to the 1960s, making it a conscious decision to pick him from a pool of available talent.
“It is unfair to call him an outsider,” said BJP’s national general secretary Murlidhar Rao, who was formerly in charge of Karnataka. “I don’t think if you’ve been in the party for 12 years like Bommai you can be called that. I think that the amount of work that he has done really made him an integral part of the BJP.”
However, the BJP acknowledges that it’s a new trend to keep up with the demand for leaders at a time when expansion has been at a frenetic pace. “Narendra Modi has such an appeal among voters that we can’t say that we need 10 years to build up cadres in a new area, and so we are co-opting talent from outside,” said Rao.
This strategy was clearly visible in the recent expansion of the Union council of ministers where the BJP was able to place former Congress minister Jyotiraditya Scindia who crossed over to the party in March last year and brings his Ivy League training and administrative acumen to the civil aviation ministry to oversee the privatisation of national carrier Air India.
“Once someone joins us, it means they accept our ideology and become one of us,” said national general secretary, CT Ravi, echoing Rao to say that the trend was largely due to the fact that BJP was now in power in several states and so the party had to adapt according to the new demands.
But has there been a dilution of the Sangh ideology with lateral entries? No, said Ravi. “Anybody new that comes in is one with our ideology.”
Incidentally, this trend is now visible in the Congress too. The party has been placing “outsiders” in key posts. The most recent instance of that is former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu taking over as the chief of Punjab Congress. When the consultations were on, one of the key arguments that partymen put forward against his appointment was that being a non-organisation person, he wouldn’t know the ways of the party. But that was vetoed by Rahul Gandhi who, along with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, favoured Sidhu whom they see as someone with a fresher, younger appeal and a foil to chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Gandhi has also been telling his colleagues to recruit more outside talent. “There are many people who don’t belong to the Congress but are very fearless in speaking the truth. Such people should be inducted into the party,” Gandhi said at an internal meeting on July 16. That may be the reason why the party has not had a cooling-off period for new recruits. While Himanta Biswa Sarma, formerly with the Congress, waited six years to get the top post in BJP and Bommai waited longer, former BJP MP Nana Patole, like Sidhu, only joined the Congress in 2017 and is now the head of the party in Maharashtra.
“Congress has always been liberal in this regard,” said former Shiv Sena leader and now Congressman Sanjay Nirupam. “People of all ideologies were always welcomed in the party as part of its pluralistic nature. Rahul Gandhi always welcomes and says ‘I don’t care what ideology you have, but once you join the party, you have to follow the Congress party’,” Nirupam said.