J P Nadda's rise parallels BJP's growing political challenges

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Last Updated: Fri, Jan 24th, 2020, 17:53:05hrs
J P Nadda's rise parallels BJP's growing political challenges
The BJP, more than six months after claiming a convincing victory in the Lok Sabha elections, has a new leader at the helm. JP Nadda has taken over the reigns as Amit Shah has stepped down. The 59-year old was handpicked by Narendra Modi after serving as part of the council of minister during Modi’s first term.

Arguably the party’s most effective leader, Amit Shah spearheaded the BJP’s large electoral vehicle in the last election delivering a clear mandate. As someone who is closely aligned to Modi as he is, their partnership was effective in the months that followed during controversial decisions on Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Bill fallout, which is on-going. What’s the role that Nadda will play going forward from an electoral politics standpoint? The Hindu editorial offers this –

The BJP will remain firmly under the command of the Shah-Modi duo, regardless of the president. Mr. Nadda will have the task of rolling out their plans, and nothing more. The BJP’s 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”.

A familiar path to the top

In more ways than one, Nadda isn’t a well-known personality, certainly not when compared to Modi or Shah; and this might be deliberate in terms of him being chosen and elected easily. The Modi-Shah partnership has loyally served the party well through the ups and downs of the past few years, since it came to power in 2014.

Nadda is from a long line of party loyalists who have risen through the ranks to become BJP president; others being stalwarts like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Nadda’s path which has been conventional, hasn’t resulted in him being a household name. Born in Bihar, he studied at St. Xaviers School in Patna and got his bachelor’s degree in Arts from Patna University.

Nadda followed a familiar ideological path to electoral politics. At Patna University, he was affiliated with the students’ wing of the RSS. In 1977, he was elected as secretary of the students’ union. Given the party’s sometimes rocky relationship with the RSS, this will be one of Nadda’s challenges to tackle as the Hindustan Times editorial stated –

How much space will Mr Shah, the architect of many of the party’s electoral victories, give the new president when it comes to planning election campaigns? Equally important will be Mr Nadda’s ability to manage the relationship with the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak?Sangh, and its various affiliates, all the while ensuring the party retains its autonomy (and voice)”.

At Himachal Pradesh University as a law student and leader of the students’ union, he defeated the CPI(M) backed Students Federation of India (SFI) for the first time in 1984.

His entrance into electoral politics began in 1993. He contested and won a seat in the assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, repeating his wins in 1998 and 2007. He became part of the BJP government in Himachal Pradesh and served as Health and Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs, Forest, Environment, Science and Technology and Parliamentary Affairs in the Himachal Pradesh government.

His stint in New Delhi began in 2010, when then BJP president Nitin Gadkari made him general secretary of the party. In 2012, he was elected as a Rajya Sabha MP. He played a key role in the party’s electoral successes in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 and 2019. As the BJP came to power in 2014, he replaced Harsh Vardhan as the cabinet minister for health and family welfare and help that post until last year, when he was appointed as the working president of the party. Given Nadda’s experience at the state and national level, Delhi-

based journalist, Radhika Ramaseshan, in a column for the Deccan Herald, wrote on how much freedom he will have at the helm –

The general secretaries, who constitute the most important tier in the organisational hierarchy after the president, presently have two of Shah’s cherry-picked men, notably Bhupender Yadav and Anil Jain. A new president would entail changes in the organisation. While quite a few state presidents have been re-nominated—notably Dilip Ghosh in West Bengal—it’s Nadda’s central team that will be of interest if only to see if he gets the latitude to pick his own persons”.

AIIMS scandal as Health Minister

His tenure as Minister for health and family welfare was marred by scandal. Reports suggested that Nadda attempted to cover up a Rs. 3700 crore CBI investigation into engineering tenders at AIIMS. Between May and June of 2014, when Nadda was an MP, wrote letters to then Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan urging all inquiries related to the scam to stop.

When he was appointed Health Minister, he recused himself from the investigation once reports became public. An August 2015 parliamentary committee report criticised the Health Ministry for failing to tackle corruption at AIIMS. In 2017, The Health Ministry, in an affidavit to the Delhi High Court, stated that an IAS officer from Himachal Pradesh who was accused in the scam, was innocent.

Road ahead has electoral and political challenges

This year, Delhi and Bihar go to the polls. Most recently, these state elections haven’t gone the way of the BJP, resulting in resounding defeats. Nadda’s predecessor was most effective in delivering a national mandate by making sure state BJP units in many states were in line with the national message; which mostly revolved around Modi and a core Hindutva message. The recent outcry over the government’s policy on the Citizenship Bill will also test Nadda and his team as the Indian Express editorial outlines –

JP Nadda becomes BJP president amid protests against the CAA which have seen students and the young, Muslims and women, take the lead in campuses and cities. Yet, Nadda’s party will not be able to take its eye off the push-back. As he takes charge as BJP president, he will be watched for the impression he makes on the polity and the party in what are testing times for both”.

More columns by Varun Sukumar