New BJP chief (middle) being greeted by two stalwarts L K Advani (left) and Rajnath Singh (right)
He is only 52. That means three years below the age of a person fit for a generational change as fixed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarasanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat who, in his speeches at several forums, had indicated that the BJP leadership should be handed over to those between 55 and 65 years of age and the next party chief should be from outside Delhi.
This was the criterion under which began search for the ninth BJP President since 1980 when a new party succeeding an old one dissolved following its merger into a new political entity known as Janata Party, came into being and Atal Bihari Vajpayee became its first President. Only L K Advani enjoyed three terms as the party chief from 1986 to 1990, from 1992 to 1998 and 2004 to 2005.
Naturally, Nitin Gadkari came up to the criterion and so emerged as “a symbol of generational change” and the youngest party President. He hails from Nagpur where is situated the headquarters of the RSS. He takes charge at a time when the party is trying to restructure itself after suffering a setback in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Indications of a generational change were available over the past few months, particularly when Mohan Bhagwat took over as the new chief of the RSS. Nitin Gadkari was on December 19, 2009 appointed the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, succeeding Rajnath Singh whose term got over last month.
Gadkari’s appointment came a day after the party veteran L K Advani stepped down on December 18 as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, handing over baton to Sushma Swaraj. A special slot of chairman of the BJP Parliamentary Party was created by amending the party constitution and Advani became its first incumbent. Arun Jaitley was also re-nominated as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
He has been a public works minister in Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999 and has also been heading the party’s State unit since November 2004. After the meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Board, he told media-persons on December 19, 2009 that he was happy to shoulder the “biggest responsibility” entrusted to him. Seeking the help of all the office-bearers, he said the process of appointing a new set of office-bearers would take some time. Party sources said that it could take about two months for the new office-bearers to take charge as the organizational elections in the states were also to be held next month.
Known as the “infrastructure and development man”, Gadkari said that he never made any false commitments or promises. “There is a saying, where there is a will, there is a way. That is how I achieved success in implementing expressway projects in Maharashtra and I will use politics as an instrument for bringing about socio-economic reforms and carrying on social welfare activities,” he said in his first brief comments after assuming charge.
The general impression is: as the party workers burst crackers and danced to the beats of drums at the party headquarters, Gadkari’s appointment put the curtain down on the Atal-Advani era. However, the truth is that the continuity with the past era is still there in form of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Besides, Advani is not out of scene. He has already taken over as Chairman of BJP Parliamentary Party on the line of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
As Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council and also as the president of the party’s Maharashtra unit, Gadkari’s efforts to rebuild the organization earned him a reputation for being an “efficient and energetic” leader. He also made it a point to associate every worker with at least one social or voluntary service project in the region.
Nitin Gadkari is 13 years older to another “symbol of generational change” in another party, now leading the ruling coalition UPA. He has to face none other than the 39-year old Rahul Gandhi, also emerging as “another symbol of generational change” and the “uncrowned king” of his party’s arch rival.
Nitin Gadkari has already declared to abide by “cultural nationalism” soon after his take over. However, one hopes that being a man of grassroots and cadres, he would lead his party keeping the interests of all the citizens of the country in view and creating a trust and confidence among the minorities, particularly Muslims who constitute about 14 per cent of the total population. Only then he would be able to compete with another “symbol of generational change”. The future has to answer how he moves and faces the situation. Let us wait and watch.