State polls to BJP membership drive, Nadda has his task cut out
A former minister and a BJP veteran, JP Nadda will have to face a four-fold challenge after taking over as ruling party’s chief.Updated: Jun 23, 2019 07:53 IST
When Jagat Prakash Nadda, 58, narrowly missed the Himachal Pradesh chief minister’s post in December 2017, he may have not known that a bigger responsibility would come his way soon. Nadda was the front-runner for the CM’s post, but a last-minute decision at the highest level in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saw the responsibility going to Jairam Thakur.
Nadda moved on, accepting the party’s decision without creating any trouble. On June 17, the party announced his appointment as the BJP working president, a precursor to his formal coronation as the head of the party in January. When he met BJP general secretaries this week, the party decided he will set out on a countrywide tour soon.
A similar plan was worked out for Union home minister Amit Shah when the Gujarat politician took over the reins of the party in June 2014 to familiarise him with the party’s strengths and weaknesses in states.
“It was also an exercise to connect Shah with BJP workers and make him a familiar face. A similar effort is being made for Nadda now,” a BJP general secretary present in the meeting said on condition of anonymity. A Rajya Sabha member, Nadda’s tryst with national politics until now has been as the party’s national general secretary in 2010 and then as Union health minister in 2014.
Shah continues as the BJP chief till the election for the post in January. Nadda will continue to work under Shah’s shadow till then, and, possibly, even later.
Shah ’s stepping down as the BJP president in January is in line with the “one-man-one-post” principle the BJP follows, but its current size and expansion plans might require Shah to play an influential role in steering the party for longer.
“Shah’s shoes are too big for Nadda to fill,” said Sidharth Mishra, president of the New Delhi-based Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice. “Given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s confidence in Shah and the latter’s organisational skills, he will remain the driving force behind the BJP for at least some time now.”
Nadda rose through the ranks of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the ideological fount of the BJP) and the BJP, but is yet to demonstrate the strengths Shah did as in-charge of Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the 2014 election -- when the BJP won 71 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats and later as party president, steering the BJP to wins in many states.
But Nadda’s non-confrontationist approach, affable personality and experience of working within the BJP set-up are likely to help him tide over many challenges. He has worked at different levels in the party and knows how the BJP functions. It will a be a big advantage in his favour.
Nadda’s immediate challenge is four-fold.
First, he has to ensure that BJP’s membership drive is a success. The last such exercise under Shah made BJP the world’s largest political organisation with over 110 million workers. The fresh drive from July 6 has to enroll at least 22 million new workers across one million polling stations.
Upcoming assembly elections in three BJP-ruled states later this year are the second challenge although less daunting . The party swept Haryana and scored big in Maharashtra and Jharkhand in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections; with chief ministers – Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Raghubar Das in Jharkhand – in complete command of their provinces and Shah remaining the BJP president until the state elections, Nadda does not have much of a role to play.
His leadership skills will be put to a more serious test in January when Delhi votes.
The BJP lost Delhi to the Aam Aadmi Party in 2015 despite winning all seven Lok Sabha seats in 2014; it was the first setback to Shah in his otherwise sparkling career as BJP president.
If Nadda can pull off a victory in Delhi, it will help him consolidate his authority as the party’s top leader. The assembly election in Bihar, slated for October next year, will be another challenge. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is reputed to be a hard negotiator, and Nadda will have to handle tricky issues of seat sharing and keeping the alliance afloat. If Jammu and Kashmir goes to the polls this year, Nadda will have to steer the party to success in the terror-torn state.
Third, Nadda will have to build a new team of office bearers at the national level and in the states. With several senior leaders joining the government, just like in 2014, Nadda will have to choose from a limited pool of talent for appointment to various organisational posts. Most of the general secretaries, such as former RSS leader Ram Madhav and Rajya Sabha member Bhupendra Yadav, are likely to continue and remain the main resource for Nadda in the BJP.
Fourth, the BJP has made big inroads in West Bengal, Odisha and Telangana. These are states that Shah identified as potential greenfield regions where the party needs to grow. Nadda will not only have the challenge of converting the gains in West Bengal -- the BJP won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, its best showing ever -- into victory in the assembly elections in 2021.
The BJP will also have to strike a delicate balance between governance and ideological issues, such as building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya and abrogation of Article 370 that provides special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Affiliates of the RSS, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had suspended their campaign for a Ram Temple in view of the parliamentary elections, and they are likely to take it up soon. Nadda will have a critical job on hand to take them along without causing embarrassment to the government.