The Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday, 17 August, announced a major overhaul of its highest body – the Parliamentary Board. These are some of the major changes:
The new members inducted into the board include former Karnataka CM BS Yediyurappa, former Union Minister Satyanarayan Jatiya, former Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal, Telangana leader and president of BJP's OBC Morcha K Laxman, former incharge of BJP OBC Morcha Sudha Yadav, and National Minorities Commission Chairman Iqbal Singh Lalpura.
The rejig had been overdue for some time now as there were a number of vacancies due to the demise of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, M Venkaiah Naidu being elevated as vice president, and Thawarchand Gehlot being made governor. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and BJP president JP Nadda have gone beyond filling vacant positions by actually dropping two leaders.
Why the Rejig Bears a Clear Stamp of Modi and Shah
The rejig of the Parliamentary Board unambiguously bears the stamp of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
This is particularly evident in the sidelining of Nitin Gadkari and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, both of whom entered the Parliamentary Board before the Modi-Shah duo became dominant in the BJP.
The removal of Gadkari and Chouhan seems to be a way of sidelining leaders who have some stature independent of the party's top two. The non-inclusion of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath needs to be seen in the same sense.
Social representation seems to have been a priority with the new appointees, including Sarbananda Sonowal (a tribal), Satyanarayan Jatiya (Dalit), and two OBC leaders (Sudha Yadav and K Laxman). Iqbal Singh Lalpura is the first Sikh to be part of the Parliamentary Board. Till now, no Sikh, Muslim, or Christian had been part of the BJP's Parliamentary Board.
BS Yediyurappa seems to have been accommodated as a compensation for giving up the CM's chair in Karnataka. This seems to be a clear attempt to keep the Lingayat leader in good humour in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Karnataka next year.
Sonowal, too, seems to have been rewarded for giving up the CM's chair in Assam for Himanta Biswa Sarma. His inclusion also indicates the BJP's focus on giving representation to the Northeast.
Why Was Gadkari Removed?
The biggest news from the Parliamentary Board rejig is the removal of Nitin Gadkari. It is particularly surprising as Gadkari is a former president of the BJP. Traditionally, former party presidents have been ex-officio part of the Parliamentary Board.
The first break in this tradition happened when Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi were removed from the Parliamentary Board and placed in the Margdarshak Mandal. In retrospect, that move also seems to have been a little subjective. Murli Manohar Joshi was retired from the Parliamentary Board at the age of 80, despite being a former party president. But Yediyurappa has been brought in at the age of 79.
Nitin Gadkari has been removed when he's just 65. Another former party president, 71-year-old Rajnath Singh, still remains in the board even though he had actually removed Modi from the Parliamentary Board when he was party president for the first time (2006-09).
It would appear that Gadkari has been punished for taking independent positions and cultivating an independent image.
Gadkari has an independent image for three reasons.
He is seen as a favourite of the RSS leadership in Nagpur. A Brahmin from Nagpur, he became party president in 2009 entirely due to the RSS' backing.
Handling key infrastructure ministries, he is perceived as being one of the better performing ministers and one who functions with some degree of autonomy from the PMO, unlike many others.
He has cultivated the image of being a moderate and avoided making communal statements. However, he is known to make statements that seem critical of his own party. Recently, he made a remark that "politics has become about staying in power." Even earlier, he had joked in a Marathi interview that "BJP made all kinds of promises because they didn't expect to win such a big majority."
Should Shivraj Singh Chouhan Be Worried?
Shivraj Singh Chouhan was included in the Parliamentary Board along with Modi in 2013. In the 2011-12 period, Chouhan was often promoted as a counterweight to Modi. During a BJP meet in 2012, LK Advani had heaped praise on the work Shivraj Chouhan was doing. It was seen as an attempt to downplay Modi's importance.
Chouhan is presently the only BJP CM to have been in power since before Modi became the PM. All the others have been the CM with Modi and Shah's blessings. His base in MP is independent of Modi and Shah.
His equation with them has been tricky. Viewed as a moderate earlier, he has gone out of his way to appear much more pro-Hindutva in his current tenure in order to gain legitimacy in the 'new BJP.'
Modi and Shah, on their part, haven't quite managed to mentor a leader who could replace Chouhan in MP.
Even fellow MP leader Satyanarayan Jatiya is more a replacement for Thawarchand Gehlot than Chouhan in the Parliamentary Board.
Modi and Shah's experiments with other similar CMs have also not been entirely successful. Basavaraj Bommai, who replaced Yediyurappa, is being opposed by sections within the BJP.
Then, in Rajasthan, there have been attempts to project Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as a possible CM face but former CM Vasundhara Raje still calls the shots in the state BJP unit.
Why Didn't Yogi Make the Cut?
Yogi Adityanath is by far the most popular leader in the BJP after Modi and Shah. Some would say he is actually the second most popular after Modi.
However, he wasn't included in the Parliamentary Board, though this decision is along expected lines. Including Yogi ahead of other CMs would have been a clear signal, whether deliberate or not, that he is in line to be the BJP's next national face.
Interestingly, Yogi's rival in Thakur politics of UP – Rajnath Singh – remains in the Parliamentary Board.
Now, there are no CMs in the Parliamentary Board. This is a break from 2013. At that time, the BJP had included Modi and Chouhan in the board to send the sign that BJP favours a federal ethos and believes that much of its strength lies in the states.
With Chouhan's removal and Yogi's non-inclusion, the BJP leadership has moved towards even greater centralisation.