Saturday, April 1st, 2023 09:09:35

Will Team Rajnath Deliver?

Updated: April 20, 2013 5:26 pm

This time wait for Holi seemed to be endless for a good number of BJP leaders. They all were aspirants, hoping to find a place in the new team of office bearers that were to be announced after Holi by party president Rajnath Singh. They had lobbied hard, some to retain their previous position, some to get elevation and some to get an entry. For the uninitiated in the astrology and mythology, the word “Holast” sounded to be too mysterious.

As they checked amongst each other and some with astrologers, they had an enrichment of knowledge of Indian sub-cultural traditions — that the period of eight days preceding to Holi and two days afterwards were considered inauspicious and thus a major initiative like this, selection and announcement of core commanders who would take on ruling Congress in next elections could not be announced during the period. For the outsiders, the logic for delay was simple, why spoil someone’s (those to be dropped and left out) Holi. The jubilations or disappointments were thus reserved for Sunday.

A day before the official announcement, a certain general secretary aspirant wondered how much mention his name would find in the media when it would all be obsessed with Narendra Modi’s return to the Parliamentary Board and Central Election Committee after a gap of six years. It was Rajnath Singh. Both the time Rajnath Singh as the party president and Modi as the most effective campaigner were going to rewrite fresh chapter on intra-party equations.

The script for the BJP’s Modi-fied tilt was being written for long. First it was clamour from among the close supporters, Gujarat assembly elections made that clamour far more widespread and the pressure from below, from the rank and file of the party to be heard and seen by the party leadership at three-day national executive and council meeting in first week of March. Rajnath Singh’s surprise return as Party President added some more flavour to it. If Modi was instant to tweet to express confidence in Singh’s capabilities, the latter held him with open heart and termed him as the most popular leader in the party and reserved special felicitations at national Council.

If Modi were to attend his first Central Elections Committee meeting chaired by Singh in New Delhi for finalisation of tickets for Karnataka elections, Singh would visit Ahmedabad next day to attend BJP’s Foundation Day celebrations. This time around the Gujarat chief minister is making the celebrations grand.

Modi’s return to the Parliamentary Board was significant to the extent that his growing stature, primacy of position in the BJP got an official stamp. His close confidant Amit Shah has been made general secretary and is expected to be given important trouble shooting assignments to signify that he could be a key back room strategist for the party in preparing for 2014 Parliamentary elections. Though Modi had earlier been part of these two bodies by LK Advani in 2004 and continued there when Rajnath Singh became party president last time in 2006 but was subsequently dropped in 2007 on the plea that since Parliamentary Board decided on fate on chief ministers and no other chief minister was a member in 12-member body, there was no pressing reason for Modi to be there. Then it was also said that as member of these bodies he hardly had been making to the meetings of the two committees.

It is Rajnath Singh again who has inducted him in the two top organisational committees and this time around it is indicative of Modi’s enhanced position as a leader, campaigner and strategist for next general elections. Though there are no moves yet to declare him as Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, this is certainly a step forward in that direction. The current arrangement will make Modi visible in Delhi, be part and influence the decision making for organisational preparedness and at the same time continue to be at the helm in Gujarat, something which he recently described as his USP.

Besides making Modi’s growing command as official, other significant points in Rajnath Singh team is elevation of Pilibhit MP Varun Gandhi, Murlidhar Rao and Rajeev Pratap Rudi as general secretaries, re-induction of Syed Shahnawaz Hussain as Muslim face in Central Election Committee and fiery sanyasin Uma Bharti making a comeback at the party headquarters as one of the vice-president. Old warhorse like Kalraj Mishra, Shanta Kumar, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and such others had to make an exit to let fresh blood and energy flow. In fact among the list of 10 general secretaries, which is reserved for RSS nominee (general secretary organisation), all of them with exception of two seniors, Ananth Kumar and Thawarchand Gehlot, are below 50, the youngest of them Varun Gandhi is 32-year-old.

A senior BJP leader said this was done as per the wish of the RSS, which wanted a generational shift in the party to be visible in the composition of the new team. Yashwant Sinha could make it to the new team because of obvious reasons and Jaswant Singh had never been much involved in organisational set-up, per se. As it is among the 39 office-bearers, there are 29 new faces and only three among the senior office-bearers including CP Thakur, Laxmikanta Chawla and Balbir Punj are above the age of 65.

It was to Rajnath Singh’s credit that he played a great balancing role amid pressures from various quarters, all prominent and influential. The composition of the team reflects that while Singh accommodated wishes of all prominent players, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, the RSS and former party president Nitin Gadkari, he has his own imprints. Though some believe that it was a good opportunity for Singh to establish his total command in the party, particularly he is there for the second term, by bringing in his own persons in the national team of the party, however, in face of limited talent pool and taking the party along in an election year, he chose to go by building a broad consensus.

By appointing Amit Shah and Varun Gandhi, he showed his resolve that he could not be deterred or be guided by the negativism of the critics but would do what he thought was in the best interests of the party. Varun Gandhi’s entry in the powerful league of general secretaries is considered to be a politically significant move. At the age of 32 (he turned 32 on March 13), he is the youngest ever to be made a general secretary of the BJP. The move is to send a message across that party is keen to project him as one of the leaders for the future. This is done with an eye on youth voters and political dynamics of Uttar Pradesh where he has substantive support base among the party workers and sympathisers. The party expects him to take on cousin and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Varun has been taking on Mayawati since he was booked by her under the National Security Act (NSA), only to be later quashed by the Supreme Court. In other two cases, the courts recently exonerated him of all the charges. Though he had won last parliamentary elections by a margin of close to three lakh votes, highest in the BJP, he had his share of legal trauma. Now since he has come out of it, the party expects him to sweat it out among the people, giving a full throttle in UP and other areas as assigned.

The party leadership realises that it needs a fresh energetic face in UP to revive its old glory. Without increasing its tally in UP, the party can’t make its dream of regaining power at the Centre. The party social support base has shrunk and section of its traditional base has shifted to Congress or Samajwadi Party. The party has re-inducted OBC leader and former chief minister Kalyan Singh and also given prominence to another OBC leader Uma Bharti in the state. With Rajnath Singh, a son of soil Thakur and the undeclared prime ministerial candidate, Modi an OBC and Varun as young organisers, a section of state BJP leaders are hopeful of party’s prospects in next elections.

The RSS’s influence can be seen in the appointment of Murlidhar Rao, Prabhat Jha and others. Rao had been convener of Swadeshi Jagran Manch and had been made secretary in the party during Nitin Gadkari’s tenure. He was also co-convener of Advani Yatra against corruption. Though some other leaders in the party including Advani favoured his elevation, he is considered an RSS appointee. Prabhat Jha is considered close to RSS’s joint general secretary and point person for the BJP, Suresh Soni. Since the time he relinquished charge of state party chief in Madhya Pradesh it was believed that he would be accommodated in the party national team. Dharmendra Pradhan was able to overcome initial reluctance of the RSS to retain him as general secretary. Arun Jaitley too had a liking for him. He will now happily retain his position.

If SS Ahluwalia’s, former Deputy leader of the party in Rajya Sabha, induction is seen to have been under influence of Sushma Swaraj then Anurag Thakur could retain his position as Yuva Morcha president because Arun Jaitley pushed hard for him. Even though there is no woman general secretary, five women leaders including Uma Bharti, Kiran Maheshwari, Smriti Irani, Laxmikanta Chawla and Bijoya Chakraborty have been made vice-presidents and seven have been secretaries, two other women Nirmala Sitaraman and Meenakshi Lekhi stand out as spokespersons for the party, then the two Muslim leaders- Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi have been given important positions to send a message that the party was trying to expand its base among women and Muslims. A dalit from UP, Vijay Sonkar Shastri, has been included in the list of spokesperson.

The party has also tried to send a message that it was keen to strengthen or expand its support base among OBCs, tribal Christians and in South India. The inclusion of two OBCs from Bihar could be a BJP’s counter to JD(U) leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar politics. Singh inducted Renu Kushwaha from Kushwaha community and Rameswar Prasada Chaurasia from Chaurasia community. That is also to balance the upper castes, CP Thakur and Rajiv Pratap Rudi’s presence in the team from the state. A Christian Luies Marandi from Jharkhand has been inducted as secretary, from Tamil Nadu Nadar community has been given representation through induction of Tamil Isai, so is Krishna Das from Nair community of Kerala.

It’s still jubilation time for the new set of office bearers. They are yet to get to the work. This being the election year and have a difficult task cut out for them, defeat Congress, else face the gloom. Chances are even in the war. The prospects in the first battle challenge in Karnataka, which goes to the polls on May 5, are dim.

By Deepak Kumar Rath

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