Narendra Modi’s importance to the BJP has finally got an official stamp. He has made a comeback in the party’s highest decision making body, Parliamentary Board and another important body in an election year, Central Election Committee. His close confidante Amit Shah has been made general Secretary and is expected to be given important trouble shooting assignments to signify that he could be a key back room strategist for the party in preparing for the 2014 Parliamentary elections.
Though Modi had earlier been part of these two bodies, inducted by LK Advani in 2004 and continued there when Rajnath Singh became party president last time in 2006. He was however, subsequently dropped using the excuse that since Parliamentary Board decided on chief ministers and no other chief minister was a Member in 12-member body, there was no pressing reason for Modi to be there. Then, it was also said that as member of these bodies he hardly had been absent from the meetings of the two committees.
Ironically, it is Rajnath Singh again who has inducted him in the two top organizational committees and this time around it is indicative of Modi’s enhanced position a leader, campaigner and strategist for the next general elections. Though there are no moves yet to declare him as Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, this is certainly a step forward in that direction. The current arrangement will make Modi visible in Delhi, be a part and influence the decision making for organizational preparedness and at the same time continue to be at the helm in Gujarat, something which he recently described as his USP.
Besides making Modi’s growing command official, other significant points in Rajnath Singh team is elevation of Pilibhit MP Varun Gandhi, Murlidhar Rao and Rajeev Pratap Rudi as general secretaries, re-induction of Syed Shahnawaz Hussain as the Muslim face in Central Election Committee and fiery sanyasin Uma Bharti making a comeback at the party headquarters as one of the Vice-Presidents. The composition of the team indicates that while Singh accommodated the wishes of all prominent players, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, the RSS and former party president Nitin Gadkari, he has shown that he wishes to make his own imprint and that he does not care for the critics.
The core fighting team of general secretaries has also a younger profile-- Varun Gandhi, Dharmendra Pradhan, Rajeev Pratap Rudi, Murlidhar Rao, Tapir Gaon, Amit Shah are in their 30s & 40s. An experienced Ananth Kumar has been retained as the senior most general secretary. The appointment of Amit Shah and Varun Gandhi is reflective of the grit of party leadership that it would not be guided by the political rivals' negative campaign against those it considers important in its own organizational set up.
Varun Gandh'si entry into the powerful league of general secretaries is a politically significant move. At the age of 32 (he turned 32 on March 13) he is youngest ever to be a general secretary of the BJP. The move is to send a message across the board, that the party is keen to project him as one of the leaders for the future. This is done with an eye on youth voters and political dynamics of Uttar Pradesh where he has a substantive support base among the party workers and sympathizers. The party expects to take on, his cousin, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
Varun has been taking on Mayawati since the time she booked him under National Security Act (NSA), only to be later quashed by the Supreme Court. In other two cases, the courts recently exonerated him of all charges. Though he had won the last parliamentary elections by a margin of close to three lakh votes, highest in the BJP but he had his share of legal trauma. Now since he has come out of it, the party expects him to sweat it out among the people.
The party leadership realizes that it needs a fresh energetic face in UP to revive its old glory. Without increasing its tally in UP, the party can’t make its dream of regaining power at the centre into a reality. The party social support base has shrunk and section of its traditional base has shifted to Congress or Samajwadi Party. The party has re-inducted OBC leader and former chief minister Kalyan Singh and also given prominence to another OBC leader Uma Bharti in the state. Varun would have a challenging task of taking them and other players along in waging a war in an arena where three rivals Congress, SP and BSP have already taken their positions.
The RSS’s influence can be seen in the appointment of Murlidhar Rao, Prabhat Jha and others. Rao had been convener of Swadeshi Jagran Manch and had been made secretary in the party during Nitin Gadkari’s tenure. He was also co-convener of Advani Yatra against corruption. Though some other leaders in the party including Advani favoured his elevation, he is considered an RSS appointee. Prabhat Jha is considered close to RSS’s joint general secretary and point person for the BJP, Suresh Soni. Since the time he relinquished charge of state party chief in Madhya Pradesh it was believed that he would be accommodated in the party national team. SS Ahluwalia former Deputy leader of the Party in Rajya Sabha and close confidante of Sushma Swaraj has also been made vice president. Ahluwalia had lost the Rajya Sabha election from Jharkhand because the BJP’s then ally JMM refused to extend its support to him.
If five women leaders Uma Bharti, Kiran Maheshwari, Smriti Irani, Laxmikanta Chawla and Bijoya Chakraborty have been made vice presidents, two other women Nirmala Sitaraman and Meenakshi Lekhi stand out as spokespersons for the party, then the two Muslim leaders Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi have been given important positions to send a message that the party is trying to expand its base among Muslims.
The newly appointed office bearers have a challenging task cut out for them, ie take on the ruling Congress. Whether Modi will be declared as their leader when they go to the polls, no body among them have a clear idea but they are sure that he will be the principal campaigner for the party.