Nadda as BJP president: A look at one year in office
After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged victorious in the fiercely contested Bihar assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave credit for the win to party chief JP Nadda. At the BJP headquarters where the Prime Minister addressed a crowd that had gathered to celebrate the party’s success, Modi said the poll results are an outcome of the leadership of the party president and the strategies he made.
He then went on to describe how unlike the other parties where only a few can rise to the very top, the BJP is a party with a difference. “This is the party where the country‘s prime minister can chant ‘Nadda ji tum aage badho, hum tumhare saath hain,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s rousing reception and acknowledgement of Nadda’s leadership was seen as the final stamp of approval of his presidency. Since electoral wins are considered the hallmark of the party boss’s leadership and a measure of success, Nadda, in the 12 months of being in the hot seat can claim credit for electoral victories in the Bihar assembly elections, bypolls in 11 states; and eight local body elections.
“It was under Naddaji’s leadership that Kamal (lotus, also the BJP’s symbol) bloomed in Kashmir and spread to down south and the far northeast,” said former minister and national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
To buttress his claims, he said from Arunachal Pradesh where the BJP established victory in 184 of the 242 zila panchayats, to Gujarat where the party won all eight seats in the bypolls and to by-election in Telangana, the BJP has performed well. “A big victory was in Uttar Pradesh bypoll, where the BJP won six of seven seats and in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation where the party created history by winning 48 seats, up from just four in the previous election,” said Hussain, who was given in-charge of overseeing the DDC election in Jammu and Kashmir. In this election, BJP won 75 seats.
It wasn’t however a smooth start for the 60-year-old, who started his political innings with the RSS’s student body, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Soon after he was appointed as the working president of the BJP in June 2019, with Amit Shah continuing as the party president, the BJP faced elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand. While it could not form the government in Maharashtra after a fallout with its oldest ally, the Shiv Sena, over power-sharing; the party lost power in Jharkhand and cobbled up a government in Haryana with support from the JJP. The party also could not wrest power from the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi in 2020.
Winning elections was not the only challenge for the leader who cut his teeth in Bihar politics and moved to Himachal Pradesh. Months into his presidency, a global pandemic led to a grinding halt in every sphere. The BJP, which was known for its ‘boots on the ground’ approach, had to reinvent its political outreach. With party activity on hold and workers unable to congregate, it was a challenge to keep the political machinery rolling.
“The victory march that Amit Shah started has been continued by Nadda. But the biggest challenge he faced was the pandemic. Everything was shut. But he found a way. He took up the PM’s directions of ‘seva hi sangathan’ and ‘aapda mein avsar’ and came up with the idea of keeping the party workers connected digitally. Food and necessities were supplied to households across the country, a network was ready through digital connectivity even during the lockdown,” said Sanjay Mayukh, the national media co-head and an MLC from Bihar.
Sanjay Jaiswal, president of the Bihar unit, credits Nadda’s “feed the needy” programme, the insistence of reaching out to the people on the ground and the way he used the internet as the reasons that helped the party succeeded in Bihar. “He fought like a karyakarta (worker),” said Jaiswal.
Comparisons with Shah
A delay in announcing the new national team led to murmurs that Nadda would borrow from the Amit Shah playbook. A party colleague speaking on condition of anonymity said, “There has been no major change in the party in last one year. It is a continuation of what Shah started.”
This was countered by many others who pointed out that opportunity given to “new faces” is an indication that the Nadda “has stepped out of the shadows of Shah”.
“Just as Nitin Gadkari did during his tenure as president, Nadda has a mostly- new team in place. He has shown his political acumen by handling crisis in the party’s unit Rajasthan and Karnataka and the BJP’s fallout with the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal,” said another senior leader requesting anonymity.
Political commentator Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said Nadda‘s presidency has “been fairly decent” as he has performed well in two areas. “An indicator of performance is winning elections; he won the Bihar election, which was not easy because there was the 15 year anti-incumbency factor against Nitish Kumar. And the second achievement is that he has been able to undertake changes in the party structure without facing any criticism or rebellion,” Kumar said.
The challenges ahead for Nadda include the electoral battles in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam; and continuing to expand the reach of the party by inducting more members, winning more states and establishing its presence in the local bodies. He will also have to find a way to keep the flock of allies together, with SAD and Sena having broken ties, the BJP does not want to be seen as a party that cannot take allies along.
“He has already announced that he will be visiting each state for two days and will be leading the charge in WB along with Shah. But these elections will be the litmus test of his leadership,” said one of the functionaries quoted above.
National media head Anil Baluni, however, said the upcoming elections will not be the only pulpit to showcase Nadda’s leadership. “The party takes all elections, from the panchayat to Parliament, as a challenge and under his leadership, it will contest the upcoming state elections with its full might,” he said.
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