Nadda, Modi go back 20 years, his loyalty won Amit Shah over

Liz Mathew
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PM Modi felicitates JP Nadda. (Twitter/@BJP4India)

IN 1998, ahead of the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP had sent Narendra Modi as general secretary in charge of the state. The BJP’s leader of opposition in the state Assembly then was Jagat Prakash Nadda. Working closely together, Modi and Nadda boosted the BJP’s tally in the state from nine to 31 in the elections.

The bond they forged at the time lasts, and was evident as the 59-year-old formally took over as national president of the BJP on Monday. With Nadda succeeding BJP’s most successful president ever, Amit Shah, Prime Minister Modi said he was sure the party would scale newer heights during Nadda’s presidency.

According to BJP insiders, the former RSS pracharak was not Shah’s first choice. What swung matters was not just that Modi backed Nadda but also the 59-year-old’s image as “a mild-mannered person” and “a loyalist” to the top bosses.

Having worked closely with former BJP president Nitin Gadkari earlier, Nadda demonstrated his allegiance to Shah over the past few years, as first general secretary and later as working president, executing the Home Minister’s plans. Nadda was handpicked for the job in June, after Shah joined the Modi Cabinet, and has since remained in the shadows, never crossing the line.


No surprises in choice

The expected and undisputed elevation of J P Nadda as BJP president shows that the path set by Modi and Shah for the party will continue. While Nadda’s association with Modi goes back 20 years, the low-key Nadda has proved his fealty to Shah over the past few years as general secretary and acting president. As in-charge of several Assembly elections, he has also proved an able organisation man.

While Shah is a disciplinarian and an aggressive go-getter, Nadda is more approachable, and never rude or confrontational. But he is also known to be tough if he wants something done. Party leaders point out that he has delivered in whatever role he has been assigned by the BJP.

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In 2017, Nadda lost out to Jairam Thakur for the chief minister’s post in Himachal Pradesh after the BJP wrested back power from Congress in the hill state. In June 2019, he was appointed as the working president of the BJP. (Express photo: Renuka Puri)

Apart from the towering presence of Modi and Shah, what might limit Nadda’s growth as party president is that he belongs to Himachal Pradesh, a state quite low in political sweepstakes. As a Brahmin though, he provides a counterweight in the BJP’s caste dynamics at the top.

Insiders say that now that he formally has the reins in his hands, it would be interesting to see how Nadda performs as a third power centre in the BJP in the coming days, “even if he is not as strong or effective as Modi and Shah”.

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Those who say the script may not run exactly as predicted point to Nadda’s spirited fight to become Himachal chief minister in 2017, after the BJP won the Assembly elections. Having long laboured under BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal, Nadda thought the post was finally his before the BJP picked Jairam Thakur and Nadda was sent by Shah to Uttar Pradesh as campaign in-charge. The BJP’s spectacular win in the Assembly polls that followed, with 62 of 80 seats, solidified Nadda’s position at the centre.

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J P Nadda with national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya at a rally in Kolkata on Monday. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

Earlier, he worked closely with RSS leader and joint general secretary Saudan Singh to snatch victory out of what appeared a defeat in Chhattisgarh in 2013. Seen as playing a constructive role in the BJP’s victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was rewarded by Modi with the Health and Family Affairs portfolio.

Nadda joined the ABVP as a student at Patna University, and was witness to the protests that began there and led up to the Emergency and overthrow of the Indira Gandhi government. Later, Nadda rose through the ABVP ranks in Himachal while studying law, becoming its national general secretary between 1985 and 1989.

Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP Working President JP Nadda during a cleanliness drive inside AIIMS hospital, in New Delhi, Saturday, Sept.14, 2019. BJP launched a 'seva saptah' (week of service) on Saturday to celebrate Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday on September 17. (PTI)

As organisation secretary of the ABVP in Delhi, Nadda groomed student leaders at Delhi University and even JNU through the Free Thinkers’ Group.

He later joined the BJYM, and was made its national president (1991-93), taking over from Rajnath Singh. Gradually, he moved to the BJP.

In 1993, he won an MLA election in Himachal and was made the BJP’s legislative party leader the following year. In 1998, he was appointed the state health minister, and handled the environment portfolio, before quitting and becoming party general secretary three years later. Nadda went on to serve as general secretary under three BJP presidents — Gadkari and Rajnath, apart from Shah.