New Delhi: It is not until after their decision is formally announced that people get to know about the Modi-Shah strategy. The decision by the two to appoint two-time MP from Rajasthan's Kota, Om Birla, is another in a string of high-stakes political appointments about which not many in the party can claim to have prior knowledge.
With support from all the NDA members, the Congress, Trinamool, BJD and DMK, Birla was elected, unopposed, as the speaker of the 17th Lok Sabha on Wednesday. The two time MP from Kota presided over his first session on day 3 of the budget session.
Introducing the speaker, PM Modi said, "It is a matter of great pride for the House and we all congratulate Om Birla Ji on being unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Many MPs know Birla Ji well. He has served in the state of Rajasthan as well."
Modi spoke about how in Birla's time his constituency Kota became the Kashi of education. Modi aslo talked about how Birla dedicated himself without break or pause to public life. In natural calamities like Gujarat earthquake and Kedarnath flash floods, Modi said, Birla had come to the rescue of people without any assistance from the state.
"I remember working with Om Birla Ji for a long time. He represents Kota, a place that is mini-India, land associated with education and learning. He has been in public life for years. He began as a student leader and has been serving society since then without a break," said PM Modi.
All parties including the opposition praised the speaker. However, anticipating the ordinance route government is about to take on several bills, several opposition leaders asked Birla to exercise caution whenever a minster from the centre tries to push for a bill that hasn't been properly scrutinised or sent to a standing committee.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who was appointed the leader of Congress on Tuesday, was the first to voice this concern.
Chowdhury said, "We believe in discussion, dissent and decision and we expect our right to be reserved. In parliamentary discussions, we must avoid ordinance route, because it is against democratic norms." AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and representatives of several other parties like BJD and BSP also echoed these concerns.
Maintaining absolute secrecy on important political appointments till the last minute continues to define the BJP's top leadership. Birla's name came as a surprise just as Ram Nath Kovind’s name as NDA nominee did for the chair of the President. Or, take the appointments of chief ministers in states like a non-Maratha in Maharashtra, a non-Jat in Haryana and a firebrand yogi in Uttar Pradesh.
People in the know in Rajasthan give several reasons to explain BJP's choice for the speaker. First, it is claimed that Birla, whose family has traditionally been involved in managing cooperative societies, shares over two decades of close working relationship with both BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi before they came to power in Gujarat.
Secondly, Birla is also said to be close to the 'working president' JP Nadda. When Nadda was the chief of BJP's youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) in early 90s, Birla is said to have been his colleague as an office bearer in the national unit and later led the state unit of BJYM himself.
Thirdly, Birla, known for his strong 'booth management' skills, served the party in several constituencies in the country, giving his colleagues lessons on how to maintain grip over their constituencies starting from booth level. It is this reason perhaps that he has not once, in his political career, said to have lost an election.
Finally, Birla, who started his career in active politics in 2003 by defeating Congress' Shanti Dhariwal in the Kota South Assembly seat has, in his 15 years of public life, maintained a clean image. Although some anonymous malicious social media campaign was initiated against him in recent Parliamentary polls, none of it stuck and Birla went on to win Kota by over 2.8 lakh votes.
Similar secrecy was maintained in the appointment of Ram Nath Kovind as the President. It was only later that many speculated that his discipline within the party, willingness to sacrifice personal ambition for party's interests and his Koeri caste — the third most influential Dalit caste in Uttar Pradesh — worked in his favour.
But the Modi-Shah trademark secrecy isn't maintained only over political appointments. Very few can claim to be in the know on the decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes or about BJP's decision to pull out of the alliance in J&K. Or, to take a recent example, not until it was formally announced did people get to know about the previous government's policy of introducing 10 per cent quota for Economically Backward Sections (EWS).