30/09/2020

The BJP’s new president, J.P. Nadda, will have more of responsibility and less of power

J.P. Naddas election as president is unlikely to cause any discontinuity or transformation in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but it is noteworthy for other reasons. There is no other political party in India which has many of its former presidents around: L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Amit Shah and M. Venkaiah Naidu. Unlike most other parties in India which are controlled by families that pass on the baton from one generation to the next, the BJP has continuously elected fresh faces as its leaders. Mr. Nadda, 59, is the 11th president of the party in its 40 years of existence. This openness, demonstrated through repeated instances of average workers rising to high positions, has been a critical strength of the BJP and the party has been vocal about it. The internal dynamism and potential mobility of its workers have aided the partys dramatic growth. But none of this masks the rigid ideological apparatus that drives and controls the party. In fact, it is the passionate cohesion of Hindutva under the overarching command structure of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh that has made such a flexible approach to personalities possible for the BJP.
But personalities do matter in the BJP: the current scheme of things is tightly controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Shah. Indeed, Mr. Naddas rise has a lot to do with his unassuming and low-profile persona that poses no threat to the leadership role of the duo. Born and raised in Bihar, he cut his teeth in politics through the RSS student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, and the Jayaprakash Narayan movement as a student activist. His career blossomed in his ancestral State of Himachal Pradesh where he was a minister. Drafted to the national stage as a general secretary in 2010 by Mr. Gadkari, Mr. Nadda breezed into the inner circles of Mr. Shah and Mr. Modi. He played a supporting role in Mr. Shahs Uttar Pradesh strategy that remains the cornerstone of the BJPs national sway and was elevated as working president in June 2019. He could symbolically claim influence among his Brahmin brethren, but he has no other political sphere under his command. All these benign attributes helped him up the ladder but his role at the perch might be shaky. The BJP will remain firmly under the command of the Shah-Modi duo, regardless of the president, as it used be during the A.B. Vajpayee-L.K. Advani era. Mr. Nadda will have the task of rolling out their plans, and nothing more. But he might also be called upon to be the fall guy in failures. The BJPs setbacks in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand are on his record as working president, though his decision-making role was limited. Elections in Delhi and Bihar this year will test his ability to play second fiddle and deliver at the same time.