J P Nadda is a man to watch in the BJP, predicts Aditi Phadnis.
IMAGE: Jagat Prakash Nadda, left, after he was appointed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s working president, with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, centre, and BJP President/Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo
Jagat Prakash Nadda has been appointed working president of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the BJP’s Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, unit is ecstatic that their boy has made good.
The general impression is that even when he becomes a full-fledged president six months hence (that, apparently is the deal, for the BJP constitution has no provision for a working president), he will work under the overall supervision of éminence grise, Amit Anilchandra Shah.
In any case, the BJP faces few electoral challenges for the next 18 months: Once the Maharashtra, Haryana and Delhi assembly elections are behind us. So it is argued that Shah’s absence will not really be felt and Nadda can’t do much harm.
The BJP has had four presidents in the years the party has been in government. There was Kushabhau Thakre, who was a representative of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh heading the party when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister. Thakre was an RSS pracharak and it is unlikely that the BJP will have any such individual heading the party in the foreseeable future.
M Venkaiah Naidu was also BJP president during Vajpayee’s prime ministership. There was the disgraced Bangaru Laxman who represented the BJP’s experiment with social engineering (a Dalit, he was sacked caught taking a bribe and had to step down) and the irascible Jana Krishnamurthy.
All the presidents had their own style of running the BJP. Of all, Nadda will probably be closest to Venkaiah Naidu when it comes to choosing a role model. He is probably not as astute as Naidu, but he has the same expansive style.
This in turn comes from a long, long innings in the BJP as a worker and organisational man. Look around you. You don’t see too many at that level and of that generation.
Leaders high up in the government like Piyush Goyal and Bhupender Yadav have no experience of running the BJP as an organisation.
Among his contemporaries, there is no one who has the organisational experience of Nadda: Nearly 40 years. He began life as a student activist in Himachal University in the early 1980s and won the students union election for the first time for the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
That election was a tie and he had to share the presidentship with his rival so he served only half his term. He went on to become the ABVP’s all India organising secretary and then became president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha.
At that time, the other big BJP leader from the BJP’s Himachal Pradesh unit, P K Dhumal, was not on the scene. He was in Delhi in the Lok Sabha and Nadda was the colossus in the assembly, second only to the legend of the BJP in Himachal, Shanta Kumar.
The turning point was the 1998 assembly election in Himachal Pradesh. Narendra Damodardas Modi had taken over as BJP general secretary. The BJP had just 8 seats in the outgoing assembly. After the election, the party won 31.
In the outgoing assembly, Nadda had been the leader of the Opposition. He expected to be made chief minister. But it was Dhumal who became CM. Modi may have had a role in that appointment. Anyway, Nadda swallowed his disappointment and became health minister in the Dhumal-led government.
His affability and hail-fellow-well-met mien was summarised in what his colleagues used to say about him: Apparently when he met workers he would say kaam ke alaava koi kaam batao‘ (order me to do some work other than work).
When the BJP went out of power in Himachal, Nadda became a deputy to Nitin Gadkari who was then the party president. Gadkari got him to the Rajya Sabha and promoted him.
Eventually — and few people remember this — he became secretary to the BJP’s highest body, the parliamentary board that has just eight members. He has served in that capacity more than seven years.
Because of his all-India appointments, Nadda knows the BJP organisation intimately. He is no longer a threat to anyone. He may not be able to draw crowds by his oratory, but workers know him well and he knows the chemistry of being a worker.
Becoming the BJP’s national president makes him overqualified to become chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. But who knows, that goal should be attainable one day.
J P Nadda is a man to watch in the BJP.