Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu must be viewed as a true devotee — not unlike Hanuman to Lord Rama or Arjuna to Lord Krishna — who sees godly attributes (Virat Swaroop) in his leader and mentor.
There is little doubt that Naidu owes his political rise to his ability to flatter his bosses unashamedly. Before Modi became the object of his innovative metaphor — gift of god to India — in the recently concluded national executive meeting, Naidu reserved somewhat similar epithets for his bosses LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In fact, he was always generous with effusive praises for his leaders, and this was in conflict with the Rashtriya Sayamsevak Sangh's philosophy of rejecting "vyakti puja" (personality cult). But this has not deterred Naidu as he is equally at ease buttering both sides of the bread. At the Chennai executive meet, he was seen breaking into uncontrollable sobs when Advani took a dig at the RSS when that organisation maneuvered to ease him out from the BJP president's post after the Jinnah controversy in 2005. His antics gladdened the heart of those in the Sangh.
Those who are aware of Naidu's rise in the BJP will testify that he was hardly a leader of consequence in Andhra Pradesh. He didn't win an election even at the peak of the NDA wave in 1998. As a youth leader, however, he endeared himself to Advani and caught his fancy at the time of the Rath Yatra. Naidu was inducted as a powerful general secretary more because of his voluble nature and an ability to say the right thing at the right time, rather than his political heft. He served as rural development minister in the Vajpayee government before taking over as the party president.
Obviously, the circumstances in which he took over as the BJP president indicated that the Vajpayee-Advani duo wanted the reins of the party handed over to a man more supplicatory to their designs than the RSS. Kushabhau Thakerya, Bangaru Laxman and Jena Krishna Murthy, Naidu’s predecessor, showed a streak of independence at the time that rattled the Vajpayee government. Naidu was more amenable to yield to his bosses.
Just after he assumed charge, Naidu irked Vajpayee with his attempt to manipulate the situation in favour of Advani and for making the oblique suggestion that Vajpayee should pave the way for Advani, "Lah Purush" (iron man), as he called him, as Prime Minister. In one of those moments, Vajpayee openly snubbed him at a public platform in Panchvati, declaring, sarcastically, Advani as his successor in the next election (2004 Lok Sabha polls). This caused considerable consternation and Naidu mended fences with Vajpayee with great difficulty.
Immediately after this episode, Naidu, in one of the BJP’s national executive meets, declared Vajpayee as the "Tallest ever Prime Minister" but stopped short of describing him as "God's gift to India", an appellation he reserved for Modi.
It is unlikely that even Vajpayee, an admirer of Jawaharlal Nehru, was amused by Naidu’s accolades — although he remained silent. The RSS was certainly wary of promoting a cult of personality within the BJP but could not say much owing to Vajpayee's stature. Indeed, Naidu was going great guns till he met his nemesis in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, in which the BJP under his stewardship lost badly. Considering discretion is the better part of valour, Naidu soon resigned as party president citing personal reasons.
In fact, Naidu has found himself at sea in the last decade of his political journey. The gods (Vajpayee and Advani) that he adored showed their feet of clay; Vajpayee's health took a toll on his political primacy while Advani fell from grace and lost his charm.
Given his irrepressible tendency to shower praises and look at his mentors with godly attributes, Naidu's description of Modi as "God's gift to India" is nothing but a natural culmination of his politics. So long as Modi dominates the political scene, Naidu will stick to his guns even if the RSS frowns upon him. That, however, must not undermine his innate capability to change with the time. Recall Devkant Baruh, who said "Indira is India and India is Indira", and who turned against Gandhi after she lost the election in 1977. Flattery has a unique and peculiar tradition in Indian politics. And Naidu is an obedient pallbearer.