Jagat Prakash Nadda: BJP’s Man of Moment & Future
The unanimous election of 59-year-old Jagat Prakash Nadda as BJP president to succeed Union Home Minister Amit Shah on January 20 is significant for more than one reason.
Only the BJP choses its president the way it does.
At a time when many political parties do not shy away from embracing dynastic successions and a pedigree culture, the party has shown that an ordinary worker always makes it to the top— after striving through the ranks.
Also, all those leaders who chose Nadda to head the party had themselves come up through a similar ladder in the last three decades.
And, those at the helm have never hesitated even for a second to step aside to make way for another person, upholding the principle of “one man, one post.”
In contrast, the Congress has never been able to let go of its dependence on one family for even survival.
Since the days of veterans Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani, who laid the foundation for the rise of an alternative pole in the Indian politics, the story of the BJP has also been the story of individuals who have risen from the bottom— from being a student activist or an ordinary worker to finally occupy a key post at a crucial time.
Nadda today heads a party that boasts of 11 crore primary members. No ordinary achievement for the party or the individual concerned, by any reckoning.
There is no doubt that the BJP faces a severe political challenges ahead as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading the country on his second term, determined to pursue with his mantra—reform, perform and transform.
His government’s determination to herald a big change in all sectors has seen unprecedented opposition from many quarters.
During a felicitation ceremony for Nadda, Modi could not help recalling that “Nadda is an old friend. When I handled the party organisation in Himachal Pradesh, he was looking after the Yuva Morcha. We travelled together on scooter.”
As Modi reminisced about the days when they were lower-rung workers of the party, it also amplified their humble beginning to take on huge responsibilities in their later years.
Modi went on to say that “Nadda’s leadership will give us new energy, hope, and inspiration. We must ensure that he is successful. Whatever he asks for, we must deliver. I’m sure that under his leadership, the party will move forward with its core values. The BJP may face more difficulty in the future and we must be ready.”
In his thanks _ giving speech, Nadda indicated as much. “Amit Shahji says party is yet to see its pinnacle. , I can assure you that Modiji has given us direction and destination, we will work hardfor the party. We will take party to pinnacle,” Nadda said.
Compared to all leaders, Nadda’s biggest advantage is that he has served under Amit Shah for the last three years. Therefore, Nadda has had the leverage of getting direct guidance of Modi as well as Amit Shah, who has made the party what it its today.
Challenges ahead fro Nadda
As the trusted helmsman, Nadda will remain the party president till January 2023. During this period, 14 states will go to polls. The BJP has governments or is part of governments in seven of these states.
Bihar will be the first big test for Nadda. Coincidentally, it was in Bihar that he cut his teeth in politics as a student leader in the Patna University, where his father, N L Nadda, was a professor. Between 1977 and 1979, Nadda was in Ranchi. (His father was also the vice-chancellor of the Ranchi University between 1978-1980).
In Bihar, the BJP is fully committed to go to polls in alliance with the Janata Dal(United) under Nitish Kumar. Nadda will have to sensitively handle the seat-sharing with the assertive NDA allies. It is well known that Nitish Kumar has never had high comfort levels with senior BJP bigwigs though he broke away from Lalu Prasad’s RJD in 2017 to align with the saffron party.
In 2021, the elections will be held in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu where the BJP has high stakes— in that order.
Though Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has had a number of achievements to his government’s credit, the state has posed a big challenge to the BJP because of protests ever since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by Parliament in December last year. While it will be the task of Amit Shah to handle it at the government level, Nadda will have to work hard to blunt the role of the opposition parties that have successfully thrown their weight behind the street protests.
As the BJP’s new boss, it will be one of his first assignments to assuage the anger among some sections without compromising on the stated party position that the “CAA won’t be rolled back, even by an inch.”
West Bengal’s test will see whether the BJP can actually unseat Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress from Kolkata’s Writers Building after striving hard so much on the ground in spite of unprecedented violence unleashed by her party. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP made history by winning 18 of the 42 seats from the state.
In Kerala too, the BJP has been working on the ground for a long time in the hope of emerging as an alternative to the Left-headed LDF and the Congress-led UDF. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu and Pudducherry where the polls are due in 2021, the BJP may not hope to make a big mark but has reasons to expect results after building up a network of cadres.
In 2022, seven states will go to polls. Six of them – Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand — are ruled by the BJP. Uttar Pradesh will be a test of popularity and delivery of CM Yogi Adityanath who has emerged as a star campaigner for BJP all over the country. Other BJP CMs face a similar challenge. In Punjab, the BJP and its ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will have to work together if they want to deny a second term to CM Captain Amarinder Singh.
In 2023, when Nadda finishes his first term as BJP president, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Karnataka will go to polls. The BJP faces the challenge of ensuring the re-election of its government in Karnataka and Tripura under CMs B S Yeddyurappa and Biplab Kumar Dev, respectively.
Bigger work in Hindi heartland
However, Nadda’s real test will be to revitalise the BJP in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it lost power in 2018.
In Gujarat, the BJP managed to add another term in its 22-year-run but with lot of difficulty. Despite being the home state of Modi and Amit Shah, the party has been facing increasing resistance from the Congress.
Even in Haryana, a deal with the party of Dushyant Chautala helped Manohar Lal Khattar become CM again when the BJP was on its own. It lost power in Maharashtra in spite of a winning alliance with the Shiv Sena due to Uddhav Thackeray’s ambition to be CM.
Resetting ties with allies That means Nadda will have to work on the allies of the BJP. The phenomenal growth of the party under Modi’s popularity has also meant that allies of the NDA have gone distant because of their worries about their survival and future. Consequently, their relationship with the BJP has remained jinxed.
A big pointer is the shifting of the Shiv Sena from the saffron group to a “secular” Congress-NCP combine. Why BJP’s traditional allies do not mind the crossing the political divide for the sake of power? Is it because they think that the BJP has become a Big Brother?
The allies will remain important because of inherent deficiencies in the BJP base even though conceding too much to them is also not feasible.
That is why the BJP went alone in Jharkhand after its bitter experience with the Sena in Maharashtra left behind hard lessons. But it suffered a terrible defeat in the tribal state. An alliance with the old ally All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) could helped the BJP to retain power and prevent the JMM-Congress-RJD coalition from coming to power. But that was not to be.
With his soft-style approach, Nadda can reset ties with allies, starting with the Janata Dal(United) and the Shiromani Akali Dal and improve their comfort levels with the BJP.
This is an important task because the Opposition camp is ready to make any sacrifice for an anti-BJP front to checkmate Modi. The return of Modi as PM in 2019 has meant an unbridled gang-up of all forces opposed to the BJP with a bid to create an anarchy-like situation in the name of opposing the Hindutva agenda.
The BJP leadership has had to navigate a difficult course since the Lok Sabha polls. A favourable Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya title suit, enactment of law to criminalise instant triple talaq, and recent enactment of the CAA excluding Muslim refugees of neighbouring countries from the purview of automatic citizenship have hardened the attitude of its political opponents who do not mind going to any extent to disrupt normalcy in the country.
Nadda will lay foundation for 2024
It is true that Modi remains the biggest vote aggregator for the BJP. The BJP still retains the hopes of many people for ushering big positive changes in the country. That is why it won 303 seats – the biggest tally of any party since 1984.
In many states where the BJP had not done well in assembly polls, Modi wave got the party more than 50 per cent vote share.
Therefore, Nadda’s biggest challenge will be to ensure that the organisation rises to the task of exemplary ground work to keep pace with what Modi does as PM in the remaining four-and-half years in office.
Modi will remain a big factor for the party even beyond 2024. The BJP’s popularity by then must match Modi’s fame.
Why Nadda will succeed?
An affable, soft-spoken leader, Nadda has it in him to propel the BJP in the direction set by Modi and Amit Shah, both of whom have worked tirelessly, inspiring millions of the party workers.
During the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, Nadda managed the BJP headquarters and remained the key person for Modi through his campaign.
In the 2019 polls, Amit Shah had assigned the task of Uttar Pradesh. Nadda carried forward Amit Shah’s work in the state, bringing rich electoral dividend for the BJP.
After the 2019 elections, when Amit Shah entered the Modi government as Home Minister, no body was surprised that Nadda was made working president under Shah who continued as BJP president.
Therefore, having played his part as behind-the-scene strategist in both 2014 and 2019 parliamentary polls, Nadda’s contribution in building the foundation for the 2024 polls will be very important for the BJP.
Nadda has an additional challenge to meet – living up to the expectations of Modi and Amit Shah.
A big advantage is that Nadda enjoys the trust of Modi and Amit Shah. He knows the principles of success of Amit Shah. Incidentally, Nadda is also a man who prefers to keep a low profile.
His leadership ability lies in mobilising the cadres, especially the youth, and taking everyone along without a tinge of ego. The reason for this approach is the fact that he rose through the party ranks first as a student leader and later as a member of party’s youth wing, the Yuva Morcha. He also spent his childhood in Bihar and learned the nuances of politics in his home state of Himachal Pradesh. He was detained for 45 days for protesting against the imposition of Emergency in 1975.
From Bilaspur to Patna, then to Bilaspur, later to Delhi
Nadda was born in Vijaypur village of Bilaspur district on December 2,1960 to Narain Lall Nadda and Shrimati Krishna Nadda. He studied at the St. Xaviers School in Patna and earned his Bachelors degree from Patna University. He was an active student leader between 1977 and 1979 in the Ranchi University from where he migrated to the Himachal University in Shimla to earned his LLB degree.
Later, he shifted from Patna to Himachal Pradesh to pursue LL.B. from Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla.
(Nadda is married to Mallika Nadda and the couple has two sons. Interestingly, Nadda’s mother-in-law was Jayshree Banerjee, a senior BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh and former Lok Sabha Member from Jabalpur.)
Nadda has been a member of the Himachal Pradesh assembly thrice— in 1993, 1998, and 2007.
Nadda began his first innings in 1985 as a student leader from his hometown Bilaspur. He was also elected as ABVP president.
He contested his first assembly elections in 1993 from Bilaspur Sadar assembly constituency and was leader of opposition in Himachal assembly between 1994 and 1998.
During his stint as an MLA, he also became part of the BJP government and served as a minister in charge of health and family welfare and parliamentary affairs, forest, environment, science and technology and parliamentary affairs in the Himachal Pradesh government.
In 1998, the BJP had sent Modi as general secretary in charge of the state to handle the assembly election. Nadda was then the BJP’s leader of opposition in the state Assembly. Working closely together, Modi and Nadda boosted the BJP’s tally in the state from nine to 31 in the elections. That brought them close and understand each other’s working style.
Nadda’s foray into the national scene came in May 2010 when the then BJP president Nitin Gadkari made him the general secretary of the party under his leadership. Since then Nadda has played an important role for BJP at the national level and has not gone back to the state.
When Modi became PM in 2014, Nadda was inducted as a central minister. He handled the health ministry till 2019, playing a key role in the role out of the world’s largest insurance scheme, Ayushman Bharat.
When the Modi government was elected for the second time in 2019, Nadda was made BJP’s working president as Amit Shah went on to become the Home Minister.
Almost seven months as the working president, Nadda took over as the new president of the party, replacing Amit Shah. These seven months gave Nadda a rich experience to handle the challenges faced by the BJP, which also endeared him to Modi and Amit Shah, party insiders say.
For Nadda, the organisation is the most important set-up. Everyone who is part of the BJP set-up has some quality to strengthening it and must be utilised for the greater goal of taking the country forward. Whatever task was given to Nadda, he accomplished it by taking everyone along. That is his core philosophy.
Always smiling and easily approachable, Nadda has shown how you can be a firm leader yet be pleasant in dealings with the rank and file.
Also, he has never been an overtly ambitious person.
He has never aspired for any post. He has known to take personal setbacks in his own stride and never let them come in the way of his dedication to the BJP.
In 2017, Nadda’s name was in the reckoning for the post of CM of Himachal Pradesh once the power was wrested from the Congress. Nadda, perhaps, thought the post could come to him. But the BJP picked Jairam Thakur to be CM.
Nadda did not ever show an iota of hesitation or disappointment. He focused attention on UP. In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won 62 of 80 seats from the state.
He always took up his assignments in a whole hearted manner —never ever looking back as what
he had missed. That’s the important lesson for most BJP leaders, which has been shown by his determination and actions.
Nadda will be different from Amit Shah
There will be temptations among many to draw comparison between Amit Shah and Nadda. But in a world of excellent individuals, comparison is a meaningless exercise.
Many cite the example of the futility of comparing Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi. Indeed, Vajpayee was one of the best and greatest PM that India has ever had. However, in his own way, Modi has also emulated Vajpayee’s ideas in trying to take the country forward. Therefore, many people consider Modi as one of the best PMs of India.
Everyone brings their own style and approach to the working of the party.
As BJP leaders feel, Shah is a disciplinarian and an aggressive go-getter and hard task master. On the other hand, Nadda is more approachable, and never rude or confrontational. But he is also known to be tough if he wants something done. That is why he has delivered in whatever role he has been assigned by the BJP.
Having risen through ranks, Nadda knows difficulties faced by hundreds of ‘karyakartas’ in the states where the BJP’s full potential is yet to realised. As a great listener, Nadda’s big advantage will be his excellent one-to-one equations with all top leaders as well as the rank and file.
There are some states where the BJP’s presence will have to grow leap and bounds. Also, the BJP cannot go back to old ways of doing things. New challenges require new ways of overcoming them.
As Nadda sits in the sprawling room of the BJP chief at the fifth floor of the party headquarters at 6A, Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg in New Delhi, he known his work is cut out for him. The words of Modi when Nadda took charge will always be echoing in his mind.
“It is a big thing that the BJP has grown to become the world’s largest party— with its wide organisational network even while it has remained in power. We will have to face more challenges than what we faced as a political party in the opposition. From the beginning itself, party has had the tendency to expand horizontally with the vertical development of the workers.”
As Nadda believes, Modi and Amit Shah have changed the dynamics in the functioning of the party. When the workers of the party develop, the party expands.
People expect much more from the BJP than from any other party—to deliver in terms of good governance and development. Nadda knows well how to keep the momentum going in the political vision outlined by Modi. He is bound to take everyone along, galvanising the BJP to face the trying times ahead.
By Shekhar Iyer