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Sheikh Chilli is a well-known character in South Asian mythology. He abounds in vision, dreams, and knows how to inspire people with his talk. He is brimming with futuristic ideas, but has no idea how to realise them: The most famous Sheikh Chilli story is how he decided to cut a branch off a tree when he needed firewood, except that he was sitting on the branch while cutting it.
Several in the BJP are reminded of Sheikh Chilli while evaluating the team that the party’s new president, Nitin Gadkari, announced earlier this week. Some inclusions are inexplicable, omissions even more so. Promotions and demotions don’t seem to indicate any larger strategy the new president may have in mind for the party.
First, the party amended its constitution to have a 120-member national executive, up from 80 earlier: This is fine, as the president thought he would benefit from wider consultation. But, see the list of members in the executive, including a mysterious category called "others" (for which there is no provision in the party constitution). The resultant national executive has 190-plus members. It can only be an insecure president who has to subvert the constitution, presumably to have an executive packed with his supporters.
Now, the team itself. Of the 190-plus members, more than 25 are from Maharashtra. Actor Vinod Khanna’s wife Kavita is an "other". But the party’s former foreign and finance minister Yashwant Sinha has not even been found worthy of being an "other". He’s been dropped altogether. So has been another NDA Cabinet minister, Jagmohan.
Those from Maharashtra are neither thinkers, nor professionals, nor, in any way, expanding the intellectual frontiers of the BJP. They are politicians mostly from the municipal and local body levels. So, no doubt the BJP expects to sweep the local body elections in Maharashtra — but to build a national executive on the back of that talent?
It is clear that Gadkari wanted to end factionalism in the party and thought that he would be able to do so by making the national executive a rainbow coalition. So he has appointed Vasundhara Raje as the general secretary. But he has also appointed Bainsla, her greatest detractor and the biggest pain in her neck in Rajasthan during her tenure as the chief minister, as an "other". Bainsla represents the Gujjars in Rajasthan — the caste in counterpoise to the largely Congress-leaning Meenas. Why insult the Gujjars by giving Bainsla an ornamental representation in the executive?
If the national executive is the vehicle for policy decisions by the party, it makes sense that members from the state where elections are due should have been chosen in larger numbers and with care. The Bhumihars in Bihar (which goes to the polls in a few months) are the biggest supporters of the JDU-BJP-led government there, and are seriously disenchanted with Nitish Kumar. The BJP could have snapped them up if it had taken a little care. But, there isn’t a single Bhumihar from Bihar in the national executive. Instead, Kiran Ghai, a Punjabi from Bihar, who has been a nominated member of the legislative council, has been elevated as an office-bearer. In Bihar politics, what is she expected to bring to the table?
At least two members from Uttar Pradesh (where the party is all but finished) — Ram Bux Verma and Ravi Kant Garg — left the party when they were denied nominations. Verma was a Rajya Sabha member and the party could not give him another term because it didn’t have the numbers to renominate him. He quit the party and returned later. He’s a member of the executive. Garg represented Mathura and left the party not once but twice after he was denied a re-nomination. He, too, is in the executive. What sort of message does this send?
Assam has sent 14 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Rajan Gohain is an MP who has served three terms. He, however, is not an office-bearer. Instead, Tapir Gao from Arunachal Pradesh, which sends two MPs to the Lok Sabha, is a secretary. Moreover, Gao represents the scheduled tribe quota. So, the voice of the North-East region is heard through these two and Bijoya Chakravarty, who has been appointed vice president.
The Parliamentary Board — the highest forum of the party — has 12 members, of which one is reserved for a scheduled caste and the organising secretary’s post is filled by an RSS representative. So, that leaves the president with 10 members whom he has the freedom of choice to appoint. Of these, seven are Brahmins. What happened to the BJP’s big other backward class project of social inclusion ?
No doubt, Nitin Gadkari has a plan for the BJP. It is not clear what it is.