A day after the BJP held an important meeting to prep for the next general election, the party's strategy for 2024 is taking shape.
JP Nadda, the 61-year-old president of the party, whose three-year term expires in January, will get an extension, say sources. JP Nadda runs the party with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who, along with the PM, is clear that there should be no leadership change that could distract the BJP from winning an unprecedented third term.
JP Nadda gets along with both Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, but most importantly, does not mind the public optics of always deferring to Shah when it comes to party affairs. At the BJP's Mission 2024 meet held yesterday with party workers and BJP ministers, Amit Shah occupied the foreground and held forth on the supremacy of the BJP's organisation, saying it enables the party to remain in office. JP Nadda happily played second fiddle even as BL Santosh, the powerful link between the BJP and the RSS, made a presentation which focused on 144 seats that the party lost with a narrow margin in the last general election.
Earlier this week, Amit Shah made a much-publicised trip to Mumbai to work on the nuts and bolts of the election for Mumbai's municipal corporation, with new ally Eknath Shinde. The BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) election is due in the next few months; for the last 37 years, the rich corporation has been held by the Shiv Sena; now, it tests the power and popularity of Uddhav Thackeray, who was evicted from office by Eknath Shinde's collusion with the BJP. Amit Shah's pit stop in Mumbai reinforces that he is an electoral totem to BJP workers and he exhorted them to teach a lesson to Uddhav Thackeray in the emotive run-up to the BMC election.
Key to the big fight of 2024 is the BJP's determination to win the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections which must take place before November this year. Amit Shah has a team of four who function as the BJP's crisis managers: Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma; Bhupendra Yadav, Union Environment Minister; Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Education Minister; and recent entrant Sunil Bansal, who has been deputed from the RSS to the BJP as an important General Secretary with charge of the crucial Opposition-governed states of West Bengal, Telangana and Odisha.
So the Big 4 are all men in their 50s who have sharp elbows and are veteran players of Operation Lotus (the BJP's practice of toppling elected governments) and are trusted by Amit Shah to deliver while operating in low-profile mode. Himanta Biswa Sarma despite his Congress pedigree is now trusted by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to deliver political results which include chartering planes and providing resorts to sequester rebel MLAs at short notice. Himanta Biswa Sarma recently had a starring role in bringing down Uddhav Thaceray's Maharashtra government. When he switched parties in 2015, he promised to deliver the North East to the BJP and he has kept his word by "managing" BJP governments in six of the seven North East states. So closely is he associated with the dreaded Operation Lotus phenomenon that his sighting in Jharkhand, which is seeped in political uncertainty, unsettled the ruling coalition there as it waits to hear whether Hemant Soren will have to quit as Chief Minister for assigning a mining lease to himself.
Bhupendra Yadav, a lawyer, has been in Amit Shah's circle of trust for a while and is a central figure in poaching leaders from Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI). Bhupendra Yadav was tasked with getting Amit Shah's son Jay elected as BCCI secretary in 2019. Months ago, he worked with Sunil Bansal on the all-important state of Uttar Pradesh for Lok Sabha and assembly campaigns including Yogi Adityanath's re-election, but he exited the state in August on account of constant friction with Adityanath. So it is Bhupendra Yadav who will spearhead the UP effort, ensuring a thorough review of every constituency in UP, its voter profile and who has been assigned as booth-in-charge.
Dharmendra Pradhan is a future BJP President and would have been given the post if it were not for JP Nadda's extension, which is likely to be formally announced soon. Dharmendra Pradhan's father was a minister in the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and has a degree in Anthropology. A soft-spoken man, he is often used to deliver bad news to leaders who are being laid off by the PM and Amit Shah. It was Dharmendra Pradhan who, in 2021, conveyed to BS Yediyurappa that he would have to quit as Karnataka Chief Minister. Dharmendra Pradhan uses his network of relationships cultivated over decades in the Sangh and the BJP to deliver for Amit Shah.
With these leaders in charge, the BJP has also managed a generational transition in the organisation, replacing old-timers with a new team to run operations for 2024.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.