Will Gadkari’s new team turn the tide?

Will Gadkari’s men be able to revive the party’s lost glory and establish it as a viable alternative to the ruling alliance?

Ritesh K Srivastava

BJP chief Nitin Gadkari did what he promised four months back, after his elevation to the party’s top job. In the new BJP team, he has tried to infuse a new spirit by the means of calling-in young blood, anticipating a favourable verdict for the party in the coming polls.

The announcement of a new team, in one way or other, also marks the completion of the process of a generational change in the party’s hierarchy, which started with LK Advani’s exit and subsequent elevation of Sushma Swaraj as the Leader of Opposition followed by a ‘young’ Gadkari’s appointment as the BJP chief.

The continued remarkable performance of the Congress-led UPA government in its first and second term, coupled with Rahul Gandhi’s emergence in the national political arena, has compelled BJP to make changes in its work culture.

So, keeping pace with changing times, Gadkari seems to have done a fine balancing act by including energetic young guns, and at the same retained old birds to make it an even blend of youth and experience.

Gadkari’s idea was to prepare an effective team that could meet the challenges facing the party, fulfil the organisational goals, work at the grass-root level, end discordant notes and to rejuvenate a ravaged BJP.

With the 52-year-old firebrand leader from Maharashtra at the helm of affairs in BJP, the ‘change’ has perhaps begun in the party, but the million dollar question remains - whether this new formula will work?

Will Gadkari’s men be able to revive the party’s lost glory and establish it as a viable alternative to the ruling alliance?

However, the path for Gadkari does not appear to be smooth as several top rung leaders, who were hopeful of getting a major role and were left out, have already started expressing their displeasures regarding the new team.

Although BJP chief has tried to give equal representations to every crucial state and proper legroom to experienced leaders, what has irked several power centres within the party is that the portfolios of several leaders were either lowered or changed as part of a new strategy.

Of these, some known faces of the BJP, including actor-turned politician Shatrughan Sinha, Shahnawaz Hussain, CP Thakur etc, claim to have huge support base in Bihar, where the assembly elections are due in October. However, the reality is that barring Shahnawaz Hussain, no one else is a recognised mass leader.

Shatrughan Sinha was the first senior BJP leader, who vented his ire publicly for being ignored, whereas CP Thakur slammed the new team alleging that it lacked "regional balance". Thakur even called for the revision of the BJP office bearers’ list by saying that his contribution to the party was not less than that of those who were preferred.

Lok Sabha MP Shahnawaz Hussain also seems to be unhappy with his appointment as one of the seven spokespersons. He was tipped to become a general secretary in Gadkari’s new team. However, he was made a party spokesperson, which means he will have to work under BJP’s chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Prasad had a lower portfolio than Hussain in the NDA government as he was a Minister of State while the latter was a Union Minister. This is what has made Hussain- BJP’s moderate face in Bihar - somewhat reluctant in working with Prasad.

However, a deeper analysis of the party’s overhauling reflects that changes were done with some thought in the wake of the impending elections in a few states including Bihar.

With Hussain as one of the spokespersons, party wants to reach maximum number of Muslim voters in Bihar as he would be among the most visible faces of the party.

Since Prasad is a recognised lawyer and is known for his oratory skills, both in English and Hindi, he is the party’s first choice when it comes to defending its policies in front of media and various other forums, which Shahnawaz cannot do with the same ease.
Exclusion of leaders like Yashwant Sinha, CP Thakur and Shatrughan Sinha further marks the silent end of factional loyalty.

Interestingly, by including Varun Gandhi as secretary and former Bajrang Dal chief Vinay Katiyar as vice-president in his team, Gadkari has indicated that it will stick to its hard Hindutva ideology.

With clear backing from the RSS, Varun is being groomed for the big battle - as a potent tool to counter Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
Although Gadkari is facing accusations of picking incompetent and less deserving leaders in his team and ignoring the experienced ones, the party has certain political compulsions like maintaining good relations with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, if the BJP aims at remaining the ruling alliance, as it did in Jharkhand.

At this stage, the BJP does not want to commit any mistakes that would give Congress an opportunity to forge an alliance with Nitish in Bihar. Moreover, by appealing to Muslims to support the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya and assuring help in building a mosque, Gadkari has tried to toe a soft line along with the hard.