It was a roaring crowd, intermittent chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and festivity as the BJP chose its 11th President — JP Nadda. As Prime Minister Modi came to address the crowd at 6A, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, the greetings for Nadda were sprinkled with caution. “Madhyamon se samarthan milne ki ummeed nahin aur hamein madad se jeene ki aadat bhi nahin hain (the mediums are not going to support us and we have never been dependent on them)”, was a blunt dig at ‘medium’ and a caution to Nadda that the road ahead is not full of roses.
As the 59-year-old who started his political career with the ABVP takes charge of the sprawling top floor of the BJP headquarters, which is entirely dedicated to the BJP president, there are many challenges ahead of him.
1. Crucial Delhi and Bihar elections:
The immediate challenge at hand for Nadda as the BJP president will be the Delhi election that is scheduled for February 8 and the BJP does not seem to be poised well, according to multiple poll trackers. While the BJP officially maintains it will cross the 50 marks in the 70-member Delhi Assembly, trackers show it is struggling to reach double digits. With a slew of losses from Punjab to Jharkhand, the BJP needs a win desperately to cling to its “aparajeya” image which has taken a beating in the past one year. As BJP president, he cannot escape responsibility as he was involved in each decision as the BJP’s working president. And no one wants to start his or her tenure with a loss.
The Bihar election has been on track ever since the BJP, after facing a few defeats, rushed to accept that the election later this year will be fought under the “leadership” of Nitish Kumar. The BJP also gave a couple of seats to ally JD-U in the Delhi polls to keep it in good humour. Not to miss, PM Modi stressing on Nadda’s Bihar connection on Monday, during his speech. These are all to retain the state where the JD-U’s popularity seems to be waning.
2. Managing Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) anger:
While predominantly it’s the task of the Home Ministry led by his former boss Amit Shah, an array of opposition parties joining the anti-CAA bandwagon and throwing their weight behind the protests which often became law and order issues, has the BJP thinking. As the BJP’s new boss, who has an “affable” image, according to Modi, it will be one of his first assignments to assuage the anger without compromising the stated party position that the “CAA won’t be rolled back, even by an inch”.
The BJP kicked-off a statewide pro-NRC rally in Uttar Pradesh which was addressed by Shah in Lucknow on Tuesday. The finale at Agra will be addressed by the BJP’s new President Nadda, on January 23, signalling that Nadda is in charge now. Starting January 18, the BJP is holding as many as six big rallies across Uttar Pradesh. The BJP state unit has given adequate feedback that India’s most populous state has a massive “silent majority” which supports the amended Citizenship Act. But beyond Uttar Pradesh, Nadda needs to reach out to a majority of the populace who are opposed to the CAA.
While efforts were made from within the BJP to make it look like a protest organised by the minorities, that is far from the truth. Many states across the northeast, including BJP-ruled Assam and Tripura, are continuously witnessing protests which are not minority-led. After Himanta Biswa Sarma’s comment that “There can be no proof of religious persecution”, AASU took sharp digs at the BJP claiming they stand vindicated. This complex situation needs a nuanced political reach-out more than a law and order crackdown. Nadda as the new BJP chief, who is known to be more approachable, will have this enormous task of finding a way for a nuanced political reach-out without compromising on the party’s stand.
3. Fixing faction-ridden Bengal unit:
There are two well-known facts — the West Bengal election in 2021 is very crucial for the BJP and its organisation there is faction-ridden. To bring the two contradictions in harmonious symphony will be a major challenge for the Patna University graduate BJP boss.
Sources say the acrimony between the Mukul Roy and Dilip Ghosh factions was in full display during the organisational elections in Bengal, just ahead of the election of the BJP’s national president. The Central leadership leaned towards Ghosh due to his “non-corrupt” image, insist BJP sources, but not without facing constant problems from the “Mukul Roy lobby”, a BJP leader told IANS.
Both Ghosh and Roy were in Delhi on Monday for Nadda’s election. But Ghosh left for Kolkata soon after while Roy had a flight on Tuesday evening. While it may seem normal, many believe it was to avoid a pro-CAA rally at Tufanganj in Cooch Bihar district on Tuesday afternoon which was attended by Ghosh.
No wonder, the BJP has made considerable inroads inside Bengal and caught Mamata Banerjee off-guard, but with such covert acrimony which is otherwise enveloped in pleasantries at social dos, the BJP cannot hope to win Bengal in 2021. As the new BJP boss, he has a little above one year to fix this problem.
4. Bringing back allies to NDA fold:
Bringing back allies seems to be a mid-term goal but a challenge nevertheless for Nadda. Many BJP allies have left the ship in the past few years. From time-tested friends like the Shiv Sena to smaller parties like the AJSU in Jharkhand — they are no longer part of the NDA. Most of them accuse the BJP leadership of “arrogance”, something the BJP laughs off.
Sena, Akalis, JD-U — all have expressed discomfiture at the BJP’s “big brotherly attitude”. Even Chirag Paswan in a sugar-coated manner demanded “better coordination” between the NDA partners last November. He had demanded: “There should be better coordination among allies and an NDA convener should be appointed.”
Sources say that when the Jharkhand election was at the doorstep, AJSU chief Sudesh Mahto demanded a one-on-one meeting with Amit Shah to finalise seat sharing. Instead, he was asked to meet Nadda, then BJP working President. An upset Mahto took a flight back and unilaterally released his party’s list to assert that the AJSU will fight alone. Eventually, the BJP lost the election.
As recently as Monday, the Shiromani Akali Dal refused to fight elections with the BJP in Delhi owing to its stand on the CAA. Though its another matter that the same party voted for the Bill when it came up in Parliament. The JJP, its ally in Haryana, too has reportedly refused to fight the Delhi polls with the BJP.
Nadda, who is known to be mild-mannered and often wears a smile, has to work extra hard to shed the BJP’s bully image and re-forge a rainbow alliance that is crucial for the BJP-led NDA to start winning state elections.
“Be it as a young party ‘karyakarta’, MLA, Minister in Himachal Pradesh or organisational duties at the Centre, MP and Union Minister, JP Nadda Ji has added value to any responsibility he has held,” Modi tweeted on Monday, praising the BJP’s new boss. But none of his previous assignments held as much a challenge as this job does.
There is a sprawling room at the fifth floor, at the BJP headquarter where from BJP’s national president works. The glass wall gives an unparalleled view of the greenery of Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyay Park situated just next to the party office. But with his hands full, Nadda won’t have the luxury to soak in that view lazily. He has his work cut out for him.