At the headquarters of India's two national parties - one at its historic high and another at its historic low - have only one topic to discuss. What will happen to their party if their chiefs opt out of the organisation? BJP and Congress leaderships are finding it difficult to envisage their future sans their party chiefs. There is a strong buzz that BJP president Amit Shah might join the Modi 2.0 cabinet, whereas Congress chief Rahul Gandhi is reluctant to lead the party further after two consecutive drubbings.
If Amit Shah moves to the Cabinet -- following the BJP and RSS tradition of 'one person one post' - he might have to resign from the party chief's post. His tenure was extended in September last year until January 2020. Shah got acceptance in the party cadre because of the BJP winning 71 of the 78 seats it contested in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 national elections. Under his leadership, BJP transformed itself into a poll-winning machine. Post the fantastic win of 2019, BJP is looking at newer territories to expand and consolidate. "It might be difficult for his successors to maintain the same tempo," says party insiders. These insiders told Business Today, after Arun Jaitley opted out of the cabinet, Shah is de facto number two in the system - party and the government-but situation will change if a new party chief comes in.
Names of party General Secretary Bhupender Yadav, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, former Health Minister JP Nadda are doing the rounds. Even if the party and RSS core group accept PM Modi and Amit Shah's recommendations for the next party chief, the party structure is such that it will be difficult to remote-control the organisation. And as ex-party chief, Amit Shah will be senior most after Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari. Even in the last regime of PM Modi, cabinet ministers would often seek Shah's inputs. Even chief ministers of party and allies used to come to him for advice. This made Shah the most influential person in the system. His influence may not be that overarching if he joins the cabinet. Shah used this influence in developing coordination with RSS affiliates and leadership. This is something even NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee couldn't witness.
Crucial elections are lined up in next two-three years, starting with Haryana, Maharashtra, and followed by Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The party has plans to consolidate and expand to Odisha, West Bengal, Telengana, Punjab, Delhi and Kerala. Party leaders are finding it difficult to imagine these fights without Amit Shah as party chief.
Similarly, at the Congress headquarters, the dilemma is that most leaders haven't worked with leaders outside the Gandhi family. In the last 40 years - barring the five years under PV Narasimha Rao and two years under Sitaram Kesri- the party has always been headed by someone from the Gandhi family. Their fear is the future too. Since Rahul Gandhi is pushing for someone from outside the Gandhi family to lead the organisation, Congress leaders fear that this might take the party further down.
The challenge before Gandhi as well as Shah is that they haven't groomed their next generation. Shah might take respite in the fact that there is a wider pool of leaders in RSS and BJP that will decide on his successor; Gandhi himself is a critic of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) colleagues promoting their own family members. The CWC rejected Gandhi's resignation, and allowed him to restructure the grand old party to his liking. However, at rock bottom, this is a chance for the Congress to grow beyond the Gandhi family. The new leadership needs to get rid of old guards. The retirement age should be made 75-year for holding public office.
In 1998, after Sonia Gandhi's return to Congress as its president, she was successful in roping back splinter groups formed by GK Moopanar, P Chidambaram, ND Tiwari, Satpal Maharaj, Arjun Singh and Madhav Rao Scindia. She was, however, unsuccessful in convincing Mamata Banerjee to return back to the fold. Two of the biggest splits in the party happened during her leadership - Sharad Pawar formed Nationalist Congress Party and Jagan Reddy formed YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh.
Both national parties are living in days of uncertainty. The good thing is they both are looking for things beyond their current leadership.
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