A series of appointments and changes in the Bharatiya Janata Party over the past four weeks suggest how Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have set out to bring a sense of stability and certainty in the party organisation about 17-18 months ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
The big message, it seems, is that BJP president J.P. Nadda is set for a second term in office. Reconstitution of the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee, appointment of new party presidents in several states and bringing in new in-charges of states are a pointer to his continuation. With a little over four months left in Nadda’s three-year tenure, which started on 20 January 2020, Modi and Shah wouldn’t go for such large-scale organisational changes if they had a new party president in mind. Guessing their mind, based on deductions or logical reasoning, can be a hazardous exercise. They are known to spring surprises. Nadda has been a perfect fit as the BJP president, fully knowing his limitations in a party run by the Union Home Minister in consultation with the Prime Minister. He knows his role is to implement whatever he is tasked with. He has excelled at that. His loyalty to them is unquestionable. On the face of it, Modi and Shah may not have reasons to find his replacement.
Also read: There’s a Gujarat-shaped flaw in Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra
The appointments and the big picture
The organisational changes carried out by Modi-Shah since the third week of August seem to be a concerted attempt to accommodate leaders who may be feeling left out – and sulking – to draft a new crop of leaders into organisation work and to promote those who have shown promise.
Look at the new in-charges of states appointed last week. Sambit Patra, who was made in-charge of Manipur in November 2020, has been given a big promotion with his appointment as the Coordinator of Northeast states. He is virtually stepping into the shoes of Himanta Biswa Sarma. Patra has obviously been rewarded after the BJP secured a majority on its own in the Manipur assembly. Rituraj Sinha, a young leader from Bihar, has been appointed joint coordinator for the Northeast. He is the son of former MP R.K. Sinha, founder of security service provider, SIS (India).
Vinod Tawde, general secretary in-charge of Haryana, has been given charge of Bihar, a very important responsibility given how the party has been dumped by ally Nitish Kumar in a state that sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Tawde, a Maratha leader from Mumbai, and Devendra Fadnavis are not the best of friends. He was a high-profile minister in the Fadnavis-led government, with multiple portfolios, including school, higher and technical education, medical education and cultural affairs. The then chief minister had divested him of medical education portfolio. In the 2019 assembly election, Tawde was even denied a party ticket. In November 2020, he was made national general secretary in charge of Haryana and has now been entrusted with a crucial responsibility of Bihar. Incidentally, another BJP leader, Chandrashekhar Bawankule, who had also been denied ticket in 2019 assembly election, was appointed Maharashtra BJP president last month. It’s not just about rehabilitating leaders who had found themselves sidelined when Fadnavis ruled the roost in Maharashtra BJP. They are also part of the BJP’s social engineering strategy. While Tawde is a Maratha, Bawankule is an Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader belonging to the Teli community. Bawankule, like Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde, was also an auto-rickshaw driver. Another Fadnavis detractor, Pankaja Munde, has been retained as Madhya Pradesh co-in-charge in the latest organisational reshuffle.
Former Tripura chief minister Biplab Deb, who had been suddenly removed as the CM last May, has been rehabilitated with his nomination to the Rajya Sabha and appointment as in-charge of Haryana. Deb, who had been dropped for what his party colleagues attributed to non-political reasons, was sulking after his ouster. The most popular face of the BJP in Tripura, Deb had to be mollified and co-opted. The party has also appointed Rajib Bhattacharjee, a leader known to be close to Deb, as the new Tripura BJP president.
Vijay Rupani, who had been suddenly removed as Gujarat chief minister last September, has been given charge of Punjab, while Mahesh Sharma, who had been left out of the Union Cabinet in 2019, has been given charge of Tripura.
Also read: Did Bose flirt with fascism? Both Modi govt and West are reading him wrong
As a BJP leader quipped to this writer: “You should see these appointments as a reflection of Modi ji’s sabka saath, sabka vikas slogan. It’s a message that nobody is left out in this organisation. Everybody will be accommodated somewhere sooner than later.”
Well, it’s true to a certain extent. But it also depends on their utility and perceived loyalty quotient. While B.S. Yediyurappa, a powerful Lingayat leader who has been sulking since his removal as Karnataka chief minister, found a place in the BJP’s Parliamentary Board, Nitin Gadkari and Shivraj Chouhan were dropped from the top decision-making body. Prakash Javadekar, 71, dropped from the Union Cabinet last year has been ‘rehabilitated’ as Kerala in-charge. But many other ministers who were dropped along with him and earlier have been left high and dry, including Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sadananda Gowda, and Harsh Vardhan, among a host of others.
Fate of individual leaders aside, BJP high command’s attempt to co-opt leaders, who might be feeling left out for various reasons, reflects PM Modi’s idea of a party organisation, as shared with this writer by a friend who had an opportunity to interact with the PM. Asked about his idea of a political organisation, Modi said, “You see there are hundreds of people sitting in a cinema hall. They are all there with a common objective — to watch the movie. Suppose someone shouts ‘snake, snake’. What will happen? People will jump over one another’s shoulders and bodies to run out of the hall. That’s not an organisation. You have to be trained to be together and work for a common objective, no matter what crises come.”
And those who stick together will get their rewards sooner or later. That seems to be the message from Modi and Shah as they carry out the current round of organisational revamp.
The author is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)