IN 2014, Jagat Prakash Nadda’s was the name tipped for the post of BJP president before Amit Shah rose on the horizon with Narendra Modi’s backing to claim the position. Shah went on to make the saffron outfit a well-oiled and potent election machine. Over the next few years, the BJP on a winning spree, emerged as the 303-seat strong behemoth it now is.
Shah became BJP president five years ago with endorsement from the national council. He followed Rajnath Singh, who himself had taken over from Nitin Gadkari. Shah completed Singh’s three-year term and was re-elected in January 2016. That tenure ended in January 2019, but the BJP’s most powerful organisation man and poll strategist carried on in the post until the mid-year General Election.
Known as the leader who never says ‘nada’ (never) to any task, Nadda’s elevation to working president of the party earlier this week—after Shah became Home Minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet 2.0 and his contention later that he will not be able to do justice to both simultaneously—was smooth. Shah, who continues as the BJP president, however, needed an experienced second-in-command in the party, an able leader steeped in execution of strategy. An efficient wing man, 58-year-old Nadda was clearly the one for the job. Shah will now work with him to strengthen the party and prepare it for upcoming state elections later this year in Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, now under President’s rule, and in 2020 in Delhi and Bihar.
The low-key, soft-spoken Nadda was no shrinking violet. He made history of sorts in the BJP by becoming its first working president. He is used to pushing the envelope and successfully navigating through contrary situations from his childhood. His family originally hailed from Himachal Pradesh. But as a student, Nadda even represented Bihar in the All India Junior Swimming Championship in Delhi. From then on, it has been a roster of achievements. At just 17, he became ABVP secretary at Patna University. And at 31, he was elected to the head the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the BJP’s youth wing. Between 1998 and 2003, he went on to become a minister in Prem Kumar Dhumal’s government in Himachal Pradesh— where he promoted generic medicines assertively— and subsequently made a swift move to the centre of political power in New Delhi after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in mid- 2012. He then became a BJP general secretary.
As Health Minister in the first Modi Government, Nadda pioneered making medical attention to mentally ill patients— often marginalised in government priorities and ostracised violentally by society— a rights-based issue. He successfully managed to steer the issues of violence against doctors and doctors’ strike and took up malpractices and negligence by members of the medical fraternity with all states pro-actively.
However, his most recent and telling success, as in-charge of UP in the 2019 elections, was to cut across caste divisions to stitch up an umbrella support base of the poor and marginalised, to garner his party a whopping 62 of UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. Also, to thus boost the BJP’s vote share to nearly 50 per cent, despite doomsday projections by pundits for the saffron party which was competing at the hustings with the seemingly formidable SP-BSP alliance.
In the natural course of things, an elected BJP president serves for three full years. A regular election to the post happens only after 50 per cent of the states have gone through organisational polls (at mandal, district and state levels). That is a process, alongside the membership drive, expected to drag on until December. At this point, the jury is still out on whether Nadda will assume the position of a full-time party chief later. However, with a reputation for modesty and perseverance, he is perceived as best suited to work seamlessly with Shah on day- to-day functioning for the present. For the BJP, there couldn’t be a better arrangement at the top.