The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party yesterday elevated Jagat Prakash Nadda, a veteran lawmaker and long-time associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to become its president ahead of a string of state elections.
Nadda, who rose through the ranks after cutting his teeth as a student leader in the 1970s, replaced Amit Shah, currently the home minister.
Nadda was elected unopposed, the party said.
Shah himself was among the people who proposed Nadda’s name along with senior leaders Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh.
Led by Modi and Shah, the BJP returned to power, winning in a general election in 2019 by a landslide majority, but the party has failed to keep its hold on a number of key states amid growing criticism over some of its recent moves.
Since late 2018, the BJP has lost control of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh – shrinking its national footprint, even though Modi’s popularity seems largely undiminished.
A wave of countrywide protests over a new citizenship law that has continued for more than four weeks has also caught the party on the wrong foot, adding to concerns about a flagging economy and rising inflation.
With some of India’s largest states going to the polls in the next two years, Nadda will have to balance the outsized influence of Modi and Shah alongside crafting an electoral strategy to improve the BJP’s performance.
“Electorally, the BJP is going to have a tough cycle,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at New Delhi think-tank Centre for Policy Research.
Next month, Delhi elects a new state assembly and the BJP is widely seen to be trailing behind the Aam Aadmi Party.
Many believe Shah will have the last say on all major decisions like pre-poll alliances or top organisational appointments.
While congratulating Nadda, Modi seemed to throw a challenge for the new party president, saying “the tenure of Amit Shah will be remembered forever.”
Setting the tone for Nadda’s tenure, Modi said, it’s ‘sangharsh’ (fight) and ‘sangathan’ (organisation) that make BJP what it is today.
“We’re not here for a short while, we’re here to serve Mother India for a long time,” he said.
But the comparison with Shah was unavoidable.
“The BJP has expanded in a short time, fulfilling people’s aspirations and transforming itself with time,” said Modi, crediting Shah for the achievements.
He wished Nadda with a tinge of caution. “I’m sure under the leadership of J P Nadda, the party will move forward with its core values. The BJP may face more difficulty in the future and we must be ready.”
Nadda first joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the the BJP before moving into electoral politics in the 1980s, and subsequently working alongside Modi in the early 1990s.
During Modi’s first term, Nadda served as the federal health minister.
He was then left out of Modi’s cabinet, after the prime minister returned to power, and moved back to the party full-time as its working president last June.
Since then, Modi’s government has moved quickly to fulfil a number of electoral promises, including removing special provisions on Jammu and Kashmir, gaining legal approval for building a temple in Ayodhya, and introducing the Citizenship Amendment Act.
But the moves have hardened opposition against the party, with many, including a section of Muslims, accusing Modi of pushing a Hindu-first agenda.
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