The media worked out the names of most of the 19 new ministers appointed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- a day before the official announcement on Tuesday -- based on deductive reasoning.
Scribes standing outside the residence of BJP president Amit Shah logically surmised that those ministers who gathered at Shah’s residence on Monday, had come to express their gratitude to the leader. In some cases, inductees told reporters about the call they had got about their inclusion in the council of ministers.
This apparently innocuous spectacle carries wide connotations and ramifications for the power structure in the ruling party. By asking all to-be-sworn-in ministers to meet the BJP chief before taking over assignments in the government, the prime minister has very subtly re-emphasised the pre-eminence of the BJP organisation over the government.
The entire exercise conveyed a clear message that there existed only two centres of power – the prime minister in the government and the BJP president in the party’s organisational structure – with clear demarcation of their work. Contrast this with the functioning of the NDA-1 government led by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani duo, and you will understand the difference.
In 1998, when Vajpayee took over as the prime minister, Advani was holding dual charge as the Union home minister and BJP president. He relinquished his charge as BJP president to one of the most outstanding organisational men in the party in his time, Kushabhau Thakre – who worked as the general secretary (organisation) before taking over.
Thakre, who was known for building the party from the scratch in Madhya Pradesh, soon found himself grossly marginalised and hugely overshadowed by the Vajpayee-Advani combine in the government.
Though Thakre was one of the most respected RSS pracharaks loaned out to the BJP, his successors were mostly political featherweights, chosen only to be figureheads. Bangaru Laxman, who succeeded Thakre, is a case in point.
Laxman was essentially chosen as he belonged to a scheduled caste. In view of the BSP’s emergence as a formidable force, Laxman was fielded as Hindutva’s Dalit face, only to be unceremoniously thrown out following his involvement in a corruption case. The tenure of Laxman’s successor, Jana Krishnamurthi, was quite insipid, though the NDA regime was at the peak of its power.
Krishnamurthi was thrown out as well because of his lacklustre performance, and M Venkaiah Naidu succeeded him, owing to his proximity to Advani. Naidu was assisted by another powerful leader, Pramod Mahajan, as his general secretary.
Since Naidu and Mahajan were brought into the party by giving up their cabinet positions, they were expected to revitalise the organisation. But they could not preclude the emergence of multi-power centres within the government, the party and the Sangh Parivar. As a result, the BJP lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections; which saw the exit of Naidu as the BJP president, and the reinstatement of Advani.
This brief story of the selection of BJP presidents bears significance in view of the fact that almost all of them lived under the shadow of multiple power centres, and were quite tentative in exercising their control over the party. Other than Vajpayee and Advani, all other BJP presidents played only marginal roles in deciding over issues related to the organisational structure.
The cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday marked a radical deviation from the past. While Amit Shah was given unquestioned pre-eminence within the organisation, the reshuffle also gave a clear message that there does not exist any other power centre, except for the prime minister.
The spectacle at Shah’s residence on Monday was a clear repudiation of the impression that individuals like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh could emerge as parallel power centres.
At the same time, it effectively neutralized the impression that the RSS headquarters at Jhandewalan could also play a role in influencing the decisions within the BJP and the government with the rumoured, RSS-backed induction of Subramanian Swamy and Yogi Adityanath not coming through.
That does not mean that Narendra Modi, Amit Shah or the BJP have declared complete independence from the Sangh Parivar. Far from it, Modi seems to have clearly demarcated the lines of duty and responsibility within the government and the party in order to nip any confusion in the bud.
The reason behind Modi being extra-cautious on this front is not far to seek. Modi served as BJP general secretary in the NDA-1 regime and was witness to the deleterious impact of marginalisation of the party, entailed in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP lost to the UPA. He does not want to repeat that mistake in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.