Bihar Win: Is BJP Chief Nadda a ‘Worthy Successor’ of Amit Shah?

Bihar victory under JP Nadda is temporary reprieve for the BJP chief. Amit Shah will continue to call the shots.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image of BJP Chief JP Nadda and Bihar map used for representational purposes.
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The Bihar election results have no doubt come as a personal relief for the low key and soft-spoken BJP president JP Nadda. Having presided over the party’s electoral defeat in Delhi after taking over as party chief in January 2020, the NDA victory in Bihar will restore his credibility, especially since his predecessor and the BJP’s key election strategist Amit Shah was unable to join the poll campaign due to health reasons.

The Bihar election was indeed a prestige battle for Nadda. After the BJP’s disastrous performance in the Delhi assembly polls on his watch, it became imperative for him to prove his mettle and show that he has what it takes to lead and win.

Not just Delhi but the BJP also lost Jharkhand and Maharashtra after Nadda was named working president.

Bihar Elections 2020: A Prestige Battle For JP Nadda

Bihar was particularly important for the BJP chief. Not only was his personal prestige at stake here but he also has a special relationship with the state. He was a student at Patna University and an active member of the JP movement in the early seventies.

With Amit Shah out of action, Nadda virtually stationed himself in the election-going state and addressed a flurry of rallies. He also took care to play up his Bihar connect in a series of interviews to newspapers and television channels.

Considered a lightweight, Nadda will undoubtedly be feeling a tad more confident after his first electoral victory as party chief, even though it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is rightfully getting all the credit for the BJP’s increased tally in Bihar where it had so far piggybacked on Janata Dal (U) Chief Nitish Kumar’s popularity.

Will Bihar Victory Free Nadda From Amit Shah’s Looming Presence?

But the big question is whether Nadda will now be viewed by the party cadre with a greater degree of respect. More importantly, will this result free the BJP chief from Amit Shah’s dominating presence? And will he enjoy greater functional autonomy?

From all accounts, this appears highly unlikely.

The Bihar result is, at best, a temporary reprieve for Nadda. Amit Shah will continue to call the shots in organisational affairs and Nadda will remain a rubber stamp.

There is little possibility that he will suddenly begin to enjoy greater authority.

Amit Shah Will Continue To Call The Shots

The truth is that the affable BJP chief is yet to grow into his job unlike earlier presidents like Rajnath Singh and M Venkaiah Naidu.

But it is also a fact that they did not have to contend with a commanding personality like Amit Shah looking over their shoulder.

If Shah’s health had not taken a turn for the worse, necessitating a home quarantine, the former BJP president and now Union Home Minister would have been at the forefront of the Bihar campaign. Indeed, it was Shah who had kicked off the Bihar election campaign with virtual rallies in June this year.

To show that he is well and back in action, Shah travelled to West Bengal for two days last week where he addressed party workers and met various citizen groups, sounding the bugle for 2021 assembly polls.

In doing so, Shah virtually declared himself to be in charge of the West Bengal election, an announcement which should have typically been made by the party president.

So, Why Was Nadda Handpicked For His Present Job If Shah Rules The Roost?

It is an acknowledged fact in BJP circles that Nadda was handpicked for his present job because he was not expected to assert himself, and that he recognised the reality that Modi and Shah eventually call the shots in the party.

That Nadda is hemmed in by Shah was evident from the fact that he could announce his team of office bearers six months after taking over the party presidency.

Though touted as Nadda’s team, the new party chief was unable to have his way in several organisational appointments, including the party president in his home state, Himachal Pradesh. The list was essentially the handiwork of Modi and Shah.

Similarly, whenever there is trouble in the party’s state units, leaders first rush to Amit Shah for the redressal of their grievances. Nadda merely rubber stamps the final decisions.

Whether it is toppling Opposition governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Cabinet expansion in BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, and dealing with angry allies, all roads lead to Shah.

Is Nadda BJP’s ‘Fall Guy’?

There is no denying Nadda will be feeling upbeat post-Bihar, but it will be equally difficult for him to forget that he is the party’s ‘fall guy’. The Delhi election is a case in point. It was Shah who led the campaign, it was his face which was plastered all over party hoardings and he addressed the maximum number of rallies.

Yet, when the poll results were announced, the BJP’s humiliating defeat was put down as Nadda’s failure.

That Shah is unwilling to let go was made clear when Modi visited the BJP headquarters in 2019 after the declaration of the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly polls. As working president, Nadda welcomed the prime minister and started escorting him in. But Shah, who was a few steps behind, suddenly pulled Nadda back and strode forward to walk alongside Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to address his supporters at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi in October 2019 after declaration of Haryana and Maharashtra assembly polls’ results. JP Nadda photographed behind Modi-Shah. 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to address his supporters at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi in October 2019 after declaration of Haryana and Maharashtra assembly polls’ results. JP Nadda photographed behind Modi-Shah. 
(Photo: PTI)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This photo said it all.

(The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist who can be reached at @anitaakat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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