By: Ashok Thankur
Senior leader J P Nadda’s election as the new BJP President was a mere formality. Having reached a consensus on Nadda as the successor to Amit Shah, the party still liked to go through the motions of adhering to the prescribed electoral process. On Monday, Nadda was installed as the new chief in the presence of senior central and state leaders at the party headquarters in New Delhi. It was at this event that Prime Minister Modi referred to the on-going protests against the citizenship law, accusing the losers of the recent parliamentary poll of launching a vicious propaganda campaign of lies and deceits to hoodwink the people. The prime minister insisted for the nth time that there was nothing sinister in the new law but critics were not interested in knowing the truth while they engaged in spreading lies and rumors to incite the gullible people. Modi argued that the BJP was not wrong but had emerged as a favourite of the people. It was out of sheer frustration that the Opposition was vitiating the political ecosystem, using falsehood as a weapon against the government. The PM’s remarks overshadowed the inauguration of Nadda’s innings as the BJP chief. He takes over the reins of the party at a time when its electoral fortunes are on the decline. After registering massive victories at the Centre and in the States beginning with Modi’s Lok Sabha triumph in 2014, the BJP in the later half of 2018 and since has faced a number of reverses. The Modi-Shah jugalbandi had far surpassed the electoral successes of the Vajpayee-Advani team in their heyday.
However, in recent months the party has had to face rebuffs in Maharashtra where its long-term ally, the Shiv Sena, deserted it to join hands with the NCP-Congress and formed the government under the Sena Chief, Uddhav Thackeray. In the same round of Assembly elections, in Haryana the BJP failed to win a clear majority and had to rope in the Haryana Janhit Party for government-formation. Earlier in 2018 it had failed to retain power in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In short, the electoral cycle had turned against the party in recent times. Indeed, Nadda may have to reckon with a loss in Delhi where the street-smart Arvind Kejriwal seems to be ahead in the on-going campaign for electing a new Assembly on February 8. Kejriwal’s strength may well be the free water, power, bus rides, etc, but the truth is that the BJP has failed to groom a credible local leader to take up the challenge of the Freebie-Kejriwal. A bigger challenge that confronts Nadda immediately concerns the on-going protests against the new citizenship law. If, as the PM insists, there is nothing threatening in the Citizenship Amendment Act, it is for the party to counter the false propaganda unleashed by the Opposition painting a scary scenario about CAA and what may come in its train. A mass contact program to educate the people about CAA and the National Population Register, the decadal exercise last undertaken by the UPA in 2011, ought to receive priority.
Nadda enjoys the confidence of both Modi and Shah and, therefore, is not expected to face any problem shepherding the ruling party out of the current downturn in its fortunes. Crucial State elections lie ahead, particularly in Bihar and Bengal. Given his long association with the Sangh Parivar, first as a student activist with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and later as a minister in his home State, Himachal Pradesh, and later at the Centre, the new BJP chief is an experienced had who could be relied upon to steer the party well. His task as the head of the ruling party would require him to answer for the acts of omission and commission of the Modi Government as also those of the party governments in the States. The current economic slowdown and a rising food inflation are concerns on which the party may be called upon to respond. Though both Modi and Shah have committed to cooperate, but Nadda as the party chief will be judged on his own intrinsic strength as an organizational man. He has his task cut out for him － and not a moment to waste to begin countering the vicious anti-CAA propaganda. INAV