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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Young blood: Modi, Amit Shah and team groom third generation BJP leaders

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah are effecting a generational change in the party founded in 1980. Younger leaders are holding the fort in states and within the organisation.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2017 09:30 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, during a meeting of BJP chief ministers and deputy chief ministers at the Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, during a meeting of BJP chief ministers and deputy chief ministers at the Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)

As the BJP was preparing for the Assam assembly election last year, BJP president Amit Shah received a call from his north-east pointsman, Himanta Biswa Sarma. The former Congressman wanted approval on some organisational matters.

“Don’t call me. Take decisions, implement them and deliver result,” a leader present there recalls Shah telling Sarma.

Sarma’s swift political manoeuvrings since then have delivered several North-eastern states to the BJP, including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. He brought six Trinamool Congress MLAs in Tripura to the BJP, making it the main opposition party in the assembly.

Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have groomed many more Sarmas in the BJP, effecting a generational change in the party founded in 1980.

If Atal Behari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were among its first generation leaders with a Jan Sangh background, the second generation, who came to prominence in 1990s, included Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar, Shivraj Singh, Vasundhara Raje, and Ravishankar Prasad, among others.

The first generation is now assigned a notional role of guides in their capacity as members of the BJP’s Margdarshak Mandal.

While the party’s second generation leaders are very much in control, Modi and Shah have over the past three years nurtured a third generation of leaders who are today holding the reins of many states, important Union cabinet portfolios, as also organisational posts . Many of them have been drawn from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Among general secretaries, Ram Madhav and P Muralidhar Rao come from a Sangh background. Bhupendra Yadav was associated with the RSS’ students’ and legal wings. Arun Singh is a practising chartered accountant and Anil Jain a surgeon.

The other two general secretaries were picked up from states: Saroj Pandey from Chhattisgarh and Kailash Vijayavargiya from Madhya Pradesh. Pandey had the distinction of being a mayor (of Durg), MLA and MP at the same time. Vijayvargiya is a six-time legislator.

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu, a former Congressman who joined the BJP last December, says Shah’s style of dealing with leaders is different from how Congress seniors did.

“The decision-making in the Congress takes time as it involves many stakeholders. Shah is different. He wants results and leaves it to his men to execute any decision,” 38-year-old Khandu told HT at his Itanagar home.

NEWDELHI: BJP president Amit Shah’s personal website has two interesting sections – "Critic" and "The Lighter Side". The two cover the negative coverage and cartoons on him. Shah’s interaction with the media might be limited compared to his predecessor’s but every word written or said on him is watched more closely than before.
Critics attribute his rise in the BJP to his proximity with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But his grit, grind and labour has as much to contribute to his No 2 position in the party today.
Since becoming the party chief in July 2014, Shah visited 350 of 707 districts in the country and addressed about 600 public meetings. The 110-day national tour he has undertaken is one such event to expand BJP’s reach , with each visit contributing to his standing as a national leader with popular appeal. His role, for now, is to execute Modi’s vision for the party and the country and it’s unlikely to change in near future.
Shah has proved his mettle as a master poll strategist and has kept the party organisation fighting fit but his own popularity has not been tested yet. An increasing demand for public meetings by BJP candidates reflect his evolution from a backroom tactician to one who can draw crowds as well, say insiders.
Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, however, believes that Shah’s ‘charisma’ works only in PM’s company. "The BJP has been winning election after election and most of the credit is being given to Amit Shah, but it would be wrong to believe that he has emerged as a mass leader. He may have emerged as a good strategist but not a mass leader."

The PM has sought to bring up these third generation leaders through their elevation in the government, too.

Nirmala Sitharaman was not even an MP when she was brought into the government in 2014, is the defence minister today. Piyush Goyal was the party’s high-profile treasurer but his promotion as Union railways minister has catapulted his stature to another level.

Similarly, Dharmendra Pradhan’s promotion to the Cabinet rank and his virtual projection as the party’s CM candidate in Odisha have greatly enhanced his political profile. Actor-turned-politician Smriti Irani has earned the reputation of a politician with a penchant for taking on her political rivals.

Nirmala Sitharaman was actively involved in assembly election in Delhi and has now been roped in for Gujarat poll preparations; Pradhan oversaw election in Uttarakhand; Smriti was engaged in Uttar Pradesh; and, Piyush Goyal will take care of the Karnataka polls next year.

The winds of change are blowing in states, too. The choice of Yogi Adityanath as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister came as a surprise to many. Devendra Fadnavis (47) was chosen over Nitin Gadkari (60) to head Maharashtra. For Jharkhand CM, Raghubar Das (62), a leader with an ABVP background, was preferred over the veteran Arjun Munda (49) who started his political career with the JMM.

Nirmala Sitharaman exchanges greetings after taking oath of office at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.
Nirmala Sitharaman exchanges greetings after taking oath of office at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. ( PTI File Photo )

When it came to picking up a chief minister in Jat-dominated Haryana, Modi and Shah reposed their trust in RSS pracharak Manohar Lal Khattar (63), although he might not exactly represent the generational change in the party. Shah’s man Trivendra Singh Rawat, 56-year-old former RSS pracharak, was the choice for Uttarakhand CM’s post, tripping veterans such as Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, BC Khanduri and Bhagat Singh Koshyari.

There have been similar changes within the organisation at the state level -- Jitu Vagahni as Gujarat BJP chief, Nityanand Rai as Bihar BJP chief and MN Pandey as UP BJP chief.

Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the Washington-based public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute, says the BJP has handled leadership change--one of the trickiest issues for political parties in India--with a great deal of sophistication and success.

“In the absence of a dynastic leader, many parties would have floundered on the fraught issue of the Vajpayee-Advani generation giving way to the Modi-Shah generation, but the BJP managed to pull it off smoothly. This successful transition has undoubtedly strengthened the party.” Dhume is of the view that it will be premature to speculate on post-Modi transition, but the BJP is obviously grooming a new generation of leaders at both the centre and the states.

Apart from some high-profile MPs waiting in the wings, such as Anurag Thakur and Poonam Mahajan, there are a bunch of young leaders who are coming up fast under the current dispensation.

For social media, Shah turns to Amit Malaviya, a former banker from UP.

Forty-four-year old leader from Uttarakhand, Anil Baluni, is in-charge of media affairs. Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation director Anirban Ganguly is responsible for research materials and Vijay Chauthaiwale for foreign affairs. These leaders are being watched out and only time will tell which ones of these make the cut when the next generational transition takes place in the BJP.

First Published: Oct 24, 2017 09:30 IST

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