SOFT-SPOKEN AND POLITE, Jagat Prakash Nadda never turns down anyone from his door, and for those who have known him “yes, of course, anytime” are familiar words. To the extent that it is said, in a lighter vein, that he never says ‘Nada’ [nothing or never] to any task. He is seen to be more accessible than his predecessor Amit Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest confidant. Nadda’s association with Modi too goes a long way back, to the 1990s, when the Gujarat leader was in-charge of Himachal Pradesh. Nadda’s name had come up for the post of party president even in 2014. But it was Shah, the party’s powerful poll strategist, who got the job. Meanwhile Nadda, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2012 from Himachal Pradesh, was made Union health minister. Shah got re-elected in January 2017 as party chief, two years before the Lok Sabha elections that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept, crushing opponents and winning 303 seats. Nadda got re-elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2018. After Shah, now the Home Minister, completed two terms as party chief, the change was a routine and an anticipated one.
Shah’s shadow is expected to loom over the party, which is steered by the Modi-Shah duo, but BJP leaders say that in a cadre-based organisation, the party president calls the shots. According to one leader, the position of party president makes the personality ‘high profile’. Nadda, at 59, four years older to Shah, has also been an organisation man, with the experience of handling party matters in several states, connecting directly with party workers, an attribute that could turn out to be one of his biggest strengths in the days to come.
According to one of Nadda’s aides, it has been a practice with his staff to maintain a sheet of paper listing all the incoming phone calls through the day. After 9 PM, he takes that list and starts returning those calls, most of which are usually from party workers. Another trait is that Nadda does intensive homework for drafting a speech and prepares three to four drafts before finalising it, be it a big or small function. An avid reader in English and Hindi—he has a command over both languages—the aide says his day starts early and ends past midnight.
Despite his mild ways, Nadda has taken an unyielding stand on issues like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and Article 370 in his speeches, targeting the opposition, particularly Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. While a name outside the Nehru-Gandhi family for party chief has been eluding the Congress, the BJP once again flaunted its ability to elect an ordinary party worker as its president. Nadda, the 11th President of the BJP in its 40 years, had begun his political life in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological mentor. Nadda spent four years as a full-time worker of the ABVP after completing his studies. Rajkumar Bhatia, his senior in the ABVP, recalls that it was during the time when he was in Delhi, as organising secretary of the ABVP for three years, that he prepared the then President of the Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) Ashish Sood, who is fighting the Delhi Assembly election from Janakpuri, to become a full-time ABVP worker.
The Delhi election will be the first electoral challenge for Nadda as President of the party, which is banking on Modi’s charisma. The next will be elections in Bihar, the state where he took his first plunge into politics, and where the BJP is now an ally of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United).
A native of the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh, he was born in Bihar, where he studied at the St Xavier’s School, Patna, and at 17 he became ABVP Secretary in Patna University. Like several student leaders then, he joined Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement against Emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi Government in 1975 and was detained for 45 days. He headed the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the BJP’s youth wing, at 31. In 1993, he was given a ticket to fight the Bilaspur seat in undivided Madhya Pradesh, which he won despite several senior party leaders, including Shanta Kumar, losing in that election. He became a minister in the Prem Kumar Dhumal government in Himachal Pradesh between 1998 and 2003 and then again in 2007. But relations between him and the former Himachal government went sour. Nadda’s career, however, took a new turn when Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, during his tenure as BJP President, brought him to Delhi in 2010, giving him a crucial role in national politics by appointing him the party’s General Secretary. Nadda’s politics in his home state remained a sore point, as his face-off with Dhumal stalled his chief ministership when the party won the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh in 2017. Dhumal insisted on a Rajput face. Nadda is a Brahmin.
He returned to national politics and was made in-charge of the crucial Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP cut across caste affiliations to consolidate a wider support base, managing to garner nearly 50 per cent of the vote share in the state, despite the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) forming an alliance to take on the saffron party. It was in Agra in Uttar Pradesh, the city where he held his first meeting after being given charge of the state, that Nadda decided to hold his first rally as party President, to speak on CAA, which has sparked off widespread protests in the country. He made a hard-hitting speech, again taking on the Congress and daring Rahul Gandhi to speak 10 lines on the Act. Earlier in the day, he had tweeted that he had met the Prime Minister to seek his blessings and “with his valued guidance, I will aim
to take the party and its ideology to every household”.
When the second Modi Government was formed this summer, Nadda was kept out of it, triggering speculation that he was tipped for the top party post. In the first Modi Government, it was in Nadda’s tenure as health minister that the Government launched the ambitious Ayushman Bharat Scheme, seeking to cover over 100 million poor families with Rs 5 lakh coverage for secondary and tertiary hospitalisation. In June last year, Nadda was appointed as ‘Working President’, the first such post in the party’s history, with Shah continuing in the saddle as President. It was a matter of time before Nadda, experienced, patient and persevering, would be given full charge as party chief. On January 20th, he was announced as the new party President, with full organisational responsibility, an arrangement perceived to be best suited given the equations at the top in the party. Images of Modi flanked by Shah and Nadda say it all, perhaps.