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BJP readies to elect new party president

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-06-2014 Gyan Varma

New Delhi: Fresh battlelines are being drawn as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) readies to elect a new party president after the incumbent Rajnath Singh opted to join the government as home minister.

Unlike before, the opposition is less overt even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unequivocally indicated that the next president will have to align the party with the objectives of the government for mutual political gain.

The previous challenge, to nominate Modi as Prime Minister, was won by overcoming resistance from within the BJP, especially those loyal to L.K. Advani, the party’s seniormost leader.

At the moment, the choice before the 12-member parliamentary board of BJP, which will select the candidate, is between three candidates—Gujarat in-charge Om Prakash Mathur, and general secretaries J.P. Nadda and Amit Shah.

While both Mathur and Shah are known to be close to Modi and have worked with him closely for more than a decade in Gujarat, Nadda is the only contender who enjoys a rapport with nearly all senior leaders, including Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and Singh. The current BJP president made Nadda general secretary after he took charge.

“Members of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are not keen to allow both the Prime Minister and the BJP president to be from the same state. A section of the top BJP leaders want the new BJP president to take everyone together,” said a BJP leader close to the RSS. He declined to be identified.

Both Shah and Mathur have a long association with Modi as they have worked in Gujarat. When Shah was a minister in Modi’s council, Mathur was in charge of Gujarat since 2002. Mathur, a full-time RSS worker, has helped Modi contest assembly elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. The 62-year-old RSS member was also present with Modi when he filed his nomination in Vadodara.

“The ideal situation will be that there is no tension between party and government. The new BJP president must have a comfortable relationship with the Prime Minister,” said Parakala Prabhakar, a Hyderabad-based political analyst. “There will always be some people who will be unhappy with a decision, but the larger picture is that the mandate is for Modi and the government must get enough leeway from the party.”

A large section of RSS members are in favour of fresh faces, especially young leaders who can function without causing friction with senior leaders in the government and avoid creating an alternative power centre.

“The criteria of choosing the BJP president are not to fill a vacancy or win elections. The criteria are to form a team and run the party. Long association with the party, previous experiences, quality of taking everyone along are some of the criteria needed. Somebody who can connect with the youth is also important,” said Seshadri Chari, a member of the BJP and former editor of Organiser, a publication of the RSS.

While initially the choice was only between Nadda and Shah, Mathur’s candidature emerged after he was summoned from Rajasthan to meet Singh and RSS joint general secretary Suresh Soni.

If Nadda can be credited for the BJP’s performance in assembly elections in Punjab and Chhattisgarh and managing the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal alliance in the former state, Shah has equally impressive credentials after managing the party’s record win of 71 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh.

“Om Prakash Mathur has been asked by the BJP and the RSS to remain in the national capital for three-four days. It will take at least 10-12 days of consultation before a final announcement is made. The elaborate election procedure of the BJP to announce the date of election for president may not happen, and the decision will only be taken by the parliamentary board,” said a BJP leader involved in the discussions. He too declined to be named.

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