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Why Soft-Spoken J.P. Nadda made his way to the top post of BJP, in spite of his record.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah endorse Nadda primarily because he has no strong personality in the public sphere.

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The rise of Narendra Modi in the Bharatiya Janata Party and not many outside the Himachal Pradesh state knew who J.P. was. And it was Nadda. In Modi’s first term as prime minister, his tenure as Union health minister can hardly be called “eventful.

The only prominent announcement coming out of his ministry was the Ayushman Bharat Yojana, a federal insurance policy for the poor overseen by his ministry. Nevertheless, as the prime minister hogged all the limelight for the much-touted scheme itself, Nadda was pushed out of the spotlight of public opinion.

In June 2019, when the demure, soft-spoken and media-shy Nadda took over the reins of the BJP as “working president” shortly after the newly appointed Union home minister Amit Shah relinquished active control as the actual president–as part of the policy of’ one guy, one post’ of the saffron party–Sangh insiders felt that the so-called regime change was of little significance.

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Nadda is not at all considered a Shah match. With Shah’s aggressive, action-packed stint of nearly six years as its precedent, most political observers feel Nadda’s current reputation as the Modi-Shah duo’s most trusted lieutenant, more than any other qualitative aspect, earned him the coveted position that would have suited a host of BJP heavyweights at a different time and age.

A transformed BJP On Monday, Jagat Prakash Nadda finally got rid of this odd “working” prefix and was unopposedly elected as the BJP’s official full-time president. He joined the line-up of top leaders of sangh parivar, such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kushabhau Thakre and others.

Yet in the days ahead Nadda is likely to stay in the shadows of the Modi-Shah duo. He addressed BJP workers throughout the country quite frequently as working president, inaugurated multiple events, worked behind the scenes to expand and organize the party, and braved electoral reversals in Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Haryana. But, with Shah’s dominant presence around him, he still managed to evade scrutiny.

In fact, the transformation of the BJP under the leadership of Modi and Shah as a well-oiled, highly centralized machinery has somewhat robbed the party president’s position of its earlier clout and grandeur.

Under the leadership of the duo, the saffron party has consistently preferred to reward men and women with their own individual clout or presence with a low profile, conformist members, and sideline. For example, instead of the more famous and feisty Saurabh Patel, Vijay Rupani was chosen to lead the Gujarat Government. Indeed the trend started in 2014 with the elevation of lesser-known state leaders such as Raghubar Das, Devendra Fadnavis or Manohar Lal Khattar to the roles of chief ministers in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana.

At the same time, the party’s state-level stalwarts such as Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia or Raman Singh no longer feature prominent leaders in the BJP’s list, even as veteran stalwarts such as Rajnath Singh or Nitin Gadkari–both former party presidents–remain within their respective ministries.

So much has been the dominance of Modi-Shah in both party and government that this has never been so blurred in the thin line between the two.

 

Within this political framework, Nadda fits the representation concept of the BJP, however tokenistic one might argue that is, very well. The party turned the politically progressive appointments of Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, as India’s president and OBC leader Venkaiah Naidu as the country’s vice president, along with Modi’s own backward-class identity, into a key electoral advantage.

Nadda, a Brahmin leader, as BJP’s president is the new element in the same representational matrix–an assurance to his core voter base that the party hasn’t fully moved away from its conventional characteristics of the upper caste. Nadda’s journey through the party In his first speech as president, Nadda spoke about how the BJP is the only party where a Himachal Pradesh commoner like him could rise to the top through the ranks. Anyone familiar with the workings of BJP, however, should realize there is a qualitative difference between his appointment and that of his predecessors.

The reserved Nadda was clever enough to turn his vulnerability into a blessing given the current state of affairs within the party. In fact, he has risen through the ranks in the BJP due to his extraordinary consistency in remaining out of public opinion. Nadda, now 59, was born in Bihar and studied there until college. He associated himself at Patna University with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh students ‘ wing.

He gained prominence in the JP anti-corruption movement and was elected to the 1977 polls as the president of the students ‘ union. Having decided to move his base to his home state, he went on to lead the Himachal Pradesh University student union as a law student, after first defeating the Indian Communist Party (Marxist)-backed Students Federation (SFI) in 1984. He held leadership positions in ABVP and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha until 1993 when he first contested as a 33-year-old and won a seat at the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections.

In 1998 and 2007, he repeated his victories in the Bilaspur constituency and held ministries in the state in two BJP Governments. He gradually emerged as the chief minister’s prime rival, Prem Kumar Dhumal; however, Nadda resigned as a minister in 2010 over differences with the chief minister.

His national innings started when the then president of the BJP, Nitin Gadkari, first took him to New Delhi as the party’s national secretary-general and then elected him as Rajya Sabha MP in 2012. He’s then worked his way up to the good books of Modi-Shah. It is said that in the parliamentary elections of 2014 and 2019 he played an important role in the major electoral victories of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

His growth has been astonishing at the organizational level; however, the same can not be said of his ministerial stints. In 2014, he succeeded Harsh Vardhan as cabinet minister for health and family welfare and continued until 2019 in that capacity. Prime Minister Modi with L.K. Rajnath Singh, Advani and J.P. Nadda, on Monday, at BJP headquarters. Photo: Kamal Kishore / PTI A stained record Though his tenure was largely mediocre, it was not blemish-free.

Throughout his tenure as Union Health Minister, Nadda was accused of covering up several corruption scams worth Rs 7,000 crore at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The most notable controversy was when media reports claimed that Nadda was trying to hush up the investigation into a Rs 3,700 crore corruption scam at AIIMS related to engineering tenders.

Opposition parties, especially the Aam Aadmi Party, accused him of protecting the accused, Vineet Chaudhary, the then deputy director of AIIMS, who had worked closely with Nadda as a Himachal Pradesh Cadre IAS officer. Nadda reportedly had written several letters to his predecessor in the Ministry of Health between May 2013 and June 2014 to drop cases against Chaudhary.

He also wanted the removal of Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi, who had blown the whistle on at least 200 corruption cases during his deputation at AIIMS since 2012 as the then chief vigilance officer of AIIMS. By then, Chaturvedi had earned a reputation for being brutally honest–something the health ministry has repeatedly acknowledged in its assessment reports.

Yet, shortly after Modi came to power, he was relieved in August 2014 from his role as CVO, AIIMS, though he continued to be at AIIMS. Later, when Nadda replaced Harsh Vardhan, he reportedly tried not only to cover up the case against Chaudhary but also several other such corruption scandals revealed by Chaturvedi–one of them being a scam linked to the procurement of medical paraphernalia in which the then director of AIIMS, M.C. The primary accused was Mishra.

When Nadda became Minister of Health in November 2014, he tried to reassess Chaturvedi’s evaluation report, which described his success as “exceptional.” The Central Administrative Tribunal, questioned by Chaturvedi, prohibited Nadda from doing anything of this kind. A year later the parliamentary standing committee blamed Nadda’s ministry for failing to take any action on corruption scandals at AIIMS.

However, by December 2015, the Ministry of Health took away the work assigned to Chaturvedi without mentioning any specific reason, even though he received a full salary. Meanwhile, all investigations he had exposed to corruption cases were also canned.

Nadda’s elevation as president of the BJP party suggests that Modi and Shah are willing to ignore such a tainted track record in a leader as long as he proves to be a committed foot soldier in their expansion scheme. The new Chairman of the BJP party ticks those boxes well. Rajan Pandey, an election analyst who’s visited Himachal Pradesh extensively, had an interesting anecdote to tell.

“Dhumal’s son and Nadda’s rival Anurag Thakur have been lobbying with the Center for a long time to obtain an AIIMS facility in his seat in Hamirpur. But Nadda quickly got the government of Modi to open the facility at Bilaspur, his former constituency of assemblies. That made the gap between the two leaders deepen. Many thought it might have an impact on the prospects of the BJP in the state.

But Nadda not only openly supported Thakur’s candidacy in the Lok Sabha polls but also campaigned extensively for him. He also got those MLAs to campaign for Thakur who are seen on his side, “Pandey said. Eventually, Nadda’s understated organizational skills helped him to land the

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