This Article is From Aug 29, 2020

Within BJP, The Lobbying Surges For Four Big Vacancies

It's proving tough to fill the shoes of Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar, all of whom passed away, and Venkaiah Naidu, who is Vice-President, of India in the highest decision-making body of the BJP - its parliamentary board.

J P Nadda, nominally the BJP's president, awaits the mandatory approval of the real party boss Amit Shah, to reconfigure the parliamentary board. But with Shah hospitalised at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), those jockeying to fill the four vacancies have been told to hold their horses by Nadda.

BJP leaders wanting promotions, including in a much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle in the Modi government, have been regulars on the Nagpur circuit - the home base of the RSS, the Sangh mothership. Jyotiraditya Scindia, newly-minted BJP Rajya Sabha member and high-profile Congress defector this week met for an hour in Nagpur with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Scindia, who pulled down the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, is hopeful of a cabinet berth and is wearing his heart on his sleeve to get it, tweeting regularly in favour of the BJP and against the Congress. Watching Scindia's ascent keenly is Himanta Biswa Sarma, whose own high-profile defection from the Congress a few years ago allowed the BJP enviable expansion in the North East. Sarma has made a public declaration that he will not contest state elections in Assam next time around (the state will vote next year). Sources say this is a not-so-gentle public nudge for a suitable response from the centre for a big role there.

Scindia's switcheroo to the BJP is also being analysed by some Congress leaders who are eyeballing a similar change themselves. "Our mission was Congress-mukt Bharat, now we are Congress-yukt BJP," a senior BJP leader snarked to me. 

At present, the BJP parliamentary board consists of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Thawar Chand Gehlot, B L Santosh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and JP Nadda. While Modi and Shah would prefer that the four new entrants be from the BJP, sources say that some cabinet deadwood could be transferred to the parliamentary board. 

The RSS has shared its views on who should be promoted. Nadda is impatient as his so-called "new team" has been inordinately delayed. Nadda became full-time BJP President president in January but remains wholly overshadowed by Shah. Even after Nadda's appointment, it was Shah who was the big boss for the Delhi elections. When the BJP toppled the Madhya Pradesh government in March, Nadda was busy with his son's wedding; again, it was Shah who called the shots.

If Shah is the only vote that counts, the other is Nagpur.

Two senior BJP ministers who are extremely keen to make to the board, which within the party is perceived as the ultimate sign of political arrival, have virtually made presentations to Bhagwat on why they deserve to be included. One said it would send out a message of inclusion if Swaraj were replaced by a woman; she shared a coffee table book on her 'achievements'. Another minister who is publicly very critical of dynastic politics emphasised his blue-chip Sangh pedigree stressing that his parents were both BJP leaders. 

Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has made it known that he should be an automatic inclusion as acknowledgement of his increasing political heft. "Chouhan (the four-time Madhya Pradesh Chief minister) is part of the board but he is the BJP's past, Yogi is the future and deserves to be there," said a senior leader supporting Adityanath to me.

The view in the BJP is that Modi and Shah are extremely circumspect in doling out rewards to both BJP leaders and turncoats. And are unlikely to share real power except with each other. Nevertheless, board membership is seen as telegraphing gravitas and strength. Like the Modi cabinet, the board will have designations but no real power.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

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