The country’s main opposition BJP has finally taken a big generational leap by appointing Nitin Gadkari - a fire-brand leader from Maharashtra- as its new boss.
The appointment of Gadkari as the new head of the saffron brigade and elevation of Sushma Swaraj as the new Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha also completes the long-awaited leadership changes in the BJP, which looked imminent in the wake of recent electoral debacles.
By making Gadkari as its new face and by providing a graceful exit to its senior-most leader LK Advani, the saffron brigade has set high hopes that it would help in arresting the continuous decline of BJP at the national level.
Gadkari’s rise through the ranks to the top post has been steady and well-deserved. He joined the student’s wing of the BJP in 1976 and was chosen to head the Maharashtra unit in 2004. With his elevation to the post of the BJP president, he has also become the youngest leader, at 52 years, to have eve
r adorned the highest chair.
There is hardly any doubt that Gadkari has been rewarded for his clean image, hard work and his proximity with the BJP’s parent organisation- the RSS. However, with his elevation, he also assumes a great responsibility of uniting the party and ending the discords brewing in the various state units of the BJP.
By presenting Gadkari as the modern and young face of the party, the BJP leadership has tried to counter allegations that it’s the party of old birds.
BJP’s ‘Mr Clean’ has the unconditional backing of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and is equally popular amongst the senior leaders. This can work in his favour, but his real test will lie in his ability to strike a balance with his own idols and influential leaders like Gopinath Munde, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh and Ananth Kumar.
Although in his acceptance speech, Gadkari promised to work for the poor, while working for uplift of the saffron party, he will have to accommodate the interests of minorities and marginalised groups also in a bid to widen the party’s appeal.
Gadkari, who loves to play with a straight bat, faces a daunting task of rebuilding peoples’ faith in the party which governed the country between 1998 and 2004 riding high on the success of its Hindutva movement.
His adherence to the nationalist ideology and his takes on controversial poll planks of BJP like Article 370, Ram temple etc will certainly make-or-break the party’s credentials as the second most viable option after the Congress.
Besides, Gadkari's Nagpur origins and his reputation as a faction-leader could pose a tough challenge before him in building consensus over various issues of conflict.
Apart from preparing a second and third tier of young leaders, Gadkari will also be required to bring a paradigm shift in BJP’s grass-root functioning and repairing its already severed reputation.
He has been at loggerheads with Gopinath Munde, another BJP heavyweight in Maharashtra. The new party president had in the past shown courage to defy his superiors and political heavyweights like Pramod Mahajan and Shiv Sena chief in the best interests of the state.
His tug-of-war with Munde, who is a powerful OBC leader, has been blamed for the BJP’s decline in Maharashtra. An upper caste Brahmin, Gadkari lacks mass appeal and has also a strong support base across Maharashtra unlike his rivals.
He entered the political scene indirectly through the Legislative Council, so it is often contested whether he will be accepted as the party’s national leader. .
But time and again he has proved his killer’s instinct, so it would spring no surprise if he confronts his ambitious colleagues an iron fist, who are still clamouring to be the new poster boy of the party.
The dashing leader, who believes in accomplishments, is also a successful businessman and perhaps the richest of all BJP top bosses. According to reports, Gadkari owns vast tracts of orange orchards in Nagpur. He also owns a power plant, which churns out huge money for him every month. Gadkari claims spending a large chunk of his earnings on welfare of people and in charity works…..clearly all these activities help him in establishing close contacts with people and serve his political ambitions also.
As of now, the saffron brigade seems to have played a calculated gamble by appointing Gadkari and Swaraj on the key positions paving way for Advani to concentrate more on his new role of a mentor and formulate BJP’s strategies and policies for the future.
According to political analysts, the BJP may be down at the moment, but it is still optimistic that the change of guard will restore its lost glory. However, only time will tell whether Gadkari a go-getter and a performer, proves to be a lucky mascot for the BJP or just fades into oblivions like his predecessors Jana Krishnamurti, Bangaru Laxman, V Naidu or even Rajnath Singh.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)