first_imgNew hat: M. Venkaiah Naidu, seen above with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, represents a generational shift in the BJPFor most days, the BJP’s 11 Ashoka Road office wears a somnolent look. The trickle of visitors has grown thinner in recent years and the damp, humid rooms at the back of the,New hat: M. Venkaiah Naidu, seen above with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, represents a generational shift in the BJPFor most days, the BJP’s 11 Ashoka Road office wears a somnolent look. The trickle of visitors has grown thinner in recent years and the damp, humid rooms at the back of the building are occupied by anonymous figures who spend time gossiping or reading newspapers. On July 1, the atmosphere was transformed. There were surging crowds and the string of BJP leaders and ministers seemed endless. After a protracted and bitter struggle, 72-year-old Jana Krishnamurthy grudgingly allowed a change he had long resisted and stepped down. The new president, 53-year-old former rural development minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, represents a generational shift. He is one of the younger leaders who were handpicked by L.K. Advani during the Ram temple movement. The installation of Naidu as party president saw Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visiting the party headquarters after a long time. Immediately after, Naidu got down to business. He has announced that there will be “live contact” between the party and the Government. He is trying to address a problem that has dogged party-Government relations almost from the day the NDA Government was formed. Under Kushabhau Thakre, the party became a passive appendage of the Vajpayee Government; and under Krishnamurthy, it retreated into irrelevance, its office-bearers being people of no political standing. New hat: Arun Jaitley with mentor L.K. AdvaniThat a change of style is imminent became clear last week when the newly appointed spokesman, former law minister Arun Jaitley, endeared himself to the faithful by hitting out at the National Human Rights Commission’s interference in Gujarat politics. Jaitley’s robust defence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was in sharp contrast to the PMO’s squeamishness on the issue. The party, it was clear, would maintain an identity distinct from the Government, though not in conflict with it. The new look BJP team is certain to bear the stamp of Advani. Apart from Jaitley, it is likely to include former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh, RSS veteran and Rajya Sabha member Bal Apte and former minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. RSS appointee Sanjay Joshi will, of course, continue. With the deputy prime minister agreeing to devote more time for party work, the countdown to the general elections in 2004 has well and truly begun. Naidu told INDIA TODAY that there would be “quick changes” in the organisation and said he was looking for leaders with “ability and mobility”. This means that the BJP president’s effort will be aimed at weeding out greying, anonymous people who hold key organisational posts in Delhi and in the states. Ever since the tenure of Thakre, an old-time pracharak, organisational appointments in the BJP have been ruled by a strange doctrine of seniority that bore no relation to performance. OTHER CHANGES IN THE OFFINGHer backward caste appeal and populism could see her being projected as the BJP’s choice in Madhya Pradesh. UMA BHARATI Sports ministerHaving barely escaped being dropped from the Cabinet, he may be packed off as chief of the Karnataka unit shortly. ANANTH KUMAR Urban development ministerIf Bhairon Singh Shekhawat becomes vicepresident of India, she will be designated his successor in Rajasthan. VASUNDHA RARAJE Minister of state for small industriesNow the emphasis will be on drive and energy. Among the early casualties of this shift may be Delhi BJP chief Mange Ram Garg and Chhattisgarh state chief Lakhi Ram Agarwal. In addition, Union ministers Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje may be shifted to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, in time for next year’s assembly polls. In time, Urban Development Minister Ananth Kumar may head back to Karnataka. What is planned is a grand overhaul, much more radical than the one Vajpayee attempted but failed to execute in the Government. The BJP can now be expected to aggressively target the Congress. Till now, BJP office bearers took umbrage at any minister making a political statement. Naidu’s statement that he intends to carry “the BJP flag in one hand and the NDA agenda in the other” seems to reflect the new priorities that have been set out. Advani’s rising profile has led opposition parties to predict that the BJP is bound to veer more sharply towards right of centre politics. Advani categorically points out that “there is no question of returning to the BJP agenda”, but does make the point that no partner in the NDA should be expected to be diffident or apologetic about its identity. This, however, does not amount to any endorsement of the VHP line, he stresses. Indeed, the idea is to isolate the VHP by allowing the BJP to reclaim some of its political aggression and anti-Congress thunder. At the same time, efforts are on to steer yesterday’s Hindutva hardliners into more politically acceptable directions. A case in point is the appointment of Bajrang Dal founder and Faizabad MP Vinay Katiyar as the party chief in Uttar Pradesh. Katiyar was not chosen for his pro-temple stand but because he combined a political approach with the right caste label – he is a Kurmi.Yet the Hindutva issue is bound to be raked up when Gujarat goes to polls later in the year. This will need skilful handling on the part of the BJP. In recent years, the task of incorporating elements of Hindutva which are central to the party’s identity had taken a backseat. This was partly because BJP office bearers, including party spokespersons, simply did not connect with the cadre. To restore the links, Naidu is expected to tour the various units of the party across the country. This is not an unusual routine for the frequent flyer. He and his team have to produce a feelgood factor about the Government. Now that the Vajpayee regime has completed roughly half its term, this is not going to be an easy job.advertisementadvertisementDespite the danger of the current euphoria dying down, the new BJP team may succeed in reducing the odds stacked against the party. Yet, in the final analysis, the party can succeed if its own Government is seen to be effective. That is something which is beyond Naidu’s control.last_img