Taking over from Amit Shah, who assumed his office as a Union minister earlier this month, former health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda now holds the reins to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its party president.
Nadda will hold the post as working president for a tenure of six months, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced during the party’s parliamentary board meeting on Monday. PM Narendra Modi attended the meeting that Shah chaired.
“BJP won several elections under the leadership of Amit Shah. But since the PM appointed him as the home minister, Amit Shah himself said the responsibility of the party president should be given to someone else. The BJP parliamentary board has selected JP Nadda as working president,” Singh told reporters.
This is the first time the party has appointed a working president.
Nadda’s absence from Modi’s list of council of 57 ministers triggered speculation of ‘bigger plans’ in store for the leader, who has always been at the forefront of BJP’s rise, and yet, somehow managed to maintain a low profile. His new role as the working president of the saffron party was first announced in May, after rumours that Shah would be given a portfolio in the Modi 2.0 cabinet surfaced.
The new Minister of Internal Affairs, Shah, conferred the party’s responsibilities to the 59-year-old Rajya Sabha MP on Monday. He felicitated his successor at the party headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Nadda will hold the position till January 2020, before the process to elect the new BJP chief can take place. Shah, whose tenure ends in December 2019, is unlikely to reprise his role in the party, which follows one inflexible rule: One position, one person.
Tasks and challenges at hand
Having consolidated BJP’s position as the party that won the largest parliamentary majority via public mandate for the second time in a row, the Modi-Shah duo felt comfortable enough to relinquish its iron grip on party affairs and look to core issues of governance.
But they will continue to work closely with Nadda, whom Shah handpicked, for the time being, especially with several assembly elections in sight.
Nadda will oversee the election campaign strategies in the upcoming polls to elect state legislative representatives in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Haryana in September. Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi will also go to the polls early next year.
Now, he faces a massive challenge in South India, where the BJP intends to extend its footprint and vote share in the assembly polls and by the next general elections. Whether Nadda will be able to win back public trust from the regional powers remains to be seen.
A quintessential organisational man
Nadda first started working with the Jai Prakash Narayan-inspired student’s movement in Bihar, before Road Transport and MSME minister Nitin Gadkari brought him to the national team in 2010.
After graduating from St Xavier’s School in Patna, Nadda went on to get his BA degree from Patna College, followed by a law degree from Himachal Pradesh University (HPU). He began his political journey with the ABVP (RSS student-wing) in Bihar at a time his father served as vice-chancellor of Ranchi University.
Nadda was elected as the secretary of the Patna University in the 1977 student’s elections. Under his leadership in 1984, the ABVP defeated the Students Federation of India in the HPU for the first time. From the student union’s president, he soon rose to become the national general secretary of the ABVP in 1986 till 1989.
Appointed as BJP Yuva Morcha chief in 1991, Nadda was actually in line for the party’s top post after it came to power in 2014. Singh, who was the party president, vacated his spot to join the Modi Cabinet, but it was Shah, with a stellar performance in Uttar Pradesh under his belt, who was chosen to replace Singh, while Nadda was given a position in the Union Cabinet.
Reward for BJP’s performance in HP and UP
Nadda’s appointment as health minister in 2014, however, did not go down well with Himachal rivals and leader Prem Kumar Dhumal and his son Anurag Thakur, who sought a place in the Modi Cabinet. [Thakur was finally elevated to the Cabinet this year.]
Nadda won the Bilaspur seat in 1993 and became the leader of Opposition in the HP assembly, at a time most prominent BJP leaders used to lose in the northern state.
He won again in 1998, lost the seat in 2003 but recovered his place in then CM Dhumal’s Cabinet in 2007. After a couple of years, he fell out with Dhumal and returned to work with the party, which is when Gadkari made him general secretary of BJP in 2010.
In 2017, Nadda along with Modi and Shah orchestrated Dhumal’s career assassination; the party high command forced him to contest from Sujanpur despite projecting him as a chief ministerial candidate. Nadda was a front-runner after Dhumal’s loss, but political dynamics at the time demanded a Rajput face in the race. So, instead of losing hope, Nadda hitched his wagon to political confidante Jairam Thakur, who emerged victorious in the HP assembly elections.
In the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, he was made responsible for taking on the SP-BSP gathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, where BJP bagged 64 out of the 80 parliamentary seats and more than 50% votes, repeating their stellar 2014 performance in the state.
‘Never annoys anyone’
Nadda is known for being a master strategist with astute organisational and communication skills both amongst the party ranks and outside. Not known to be very ambitious, he reportedly remained unnerved at being passed up for the BJP chief post in 2014, and whenever life dealt him a curveball, he refused to get knocked down, making the best of it.
Press reports have awfully less to say about him, except that his brand of politicking is pithy and ruthless enough to escape the radar.
During his tenure as health minister in HP, he did get embroiled in legal trouble after medical purchases resulted in three vigilance FIRs against three successive directors of health services under him. But the allegations never amounted to much. Former student leader and CPI(M) MLA Rakesh Singh also told The Print that Nadda had helped fix the HPU elections of ’84, although he later acknowledged the man’s key role in shaping the ABVP cadres.
Inside the party too, he has proven how quintessential he is to its expansion, without exceeding his brief, ruffling too many feathers or making vocal demands for an elevated role. His loyalty to the last three BJP presidents—Shah, Singh, and Gadkari—is beknownst to all.
The fact that he has always kept his head down and followed orders in the organisation’s ranks is perhaps why he has been selected for the role as working president of the BJP this time.
After his appointment, Nadda said he will work to strengthen the party as its worker and thanked Modi and Shah for reposing faith in him. In a series of tweets, he sought the PM’s guidance, adding that it has always been inspirational for him and that, under Modi’s leadership, the party has got huge support from people of the country.
Hailing from a convent-educated background with an extensive career in student politics, JP Nadda’s time has finally arrived. He has risen through the ranks in Himachal Pradesh, served in the first Modi Cabinet, to finally become BJP’s working president. Nadda is also the parliamentary board secretary of the BJP—the highest decision-making body of the party—and also a member of the central election committee that takes final decisions for both Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.