New Delhi: The 29-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is opting for a generational change in its organizational structure as it attempts a youthful makeover. The initiative, led by party patriarch L.K. Advani, is expected to gain momentum after a meeting of the top BJP leadership later this month.
“Promotion of young leadership is the party’s long-term vision, which is reflected even in the recent appointment of state presidents,” said party chief Rajnath Singh.
BJP state presidents in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, appointed by Singh in July, are all below 50 years of age and considered young by the party’s standards.
Long-term plan: L.K. Advani, who is leading the generational change initiative, says leadership planning should take into account the Bharatiya Janata Party’s needs for the next 20 years. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Having lost two general elections, the BJP top brass is looking to induct young blood, groom a new generation of leaders and strike a chord with the electorate in a country where half the population is under 25 years of age. An estimated 100 million first-time voters were eligible to take part in the April-May general election.
Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the 15th general election, is 81, five years older than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress. Advani’s senior colleagues Jaswant Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha are 71, 75 and 71, respectively.
Party chief Singh, 58, Arun Jaitley, 56, and Sushma Swaraj, 57, are considered to be part of the younger generation of the BJP.
“Today, (the) party knows that (the presence of) youths in responsible positions is a political imperative and this would prove vital for the party’s future after two consecutive losses in the Lok Sabha polls,” said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, political analyst and a member of the BJP national executive.
The Congress scores with its youthful appeal; it has Rahul Gandhi, the 39-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Sachin Pilot, 31, Milind Deora, 32, Jitin Prasada, 35 and Jyotiraditya Scindia, 38, among its younger leaders, to name a few.
“Unlike the 2004 defeat, these (2009) Lok Sabha polls have given a clear mandate for Congress, which in turn means five years for us to implement a strategy (of generational change), which can be effective for another 20 years,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity. “After the 2004 defeat, till late 2008, the BJP was under the impression that it was coming back to power anytime, which proved to be terribly wrong.”
At the last meeting of the BJP’s national executive in June, Advani mentioned the “urgency of evolving a system to encourage young leaders”.
“The party has to urgently evolve a system of encouraging younger leaders at all levels,” Advani said. “We must identify, train, groom and empower third, fourth and fifth generation of leaders in the BJP. Our leadership planning should take into account the party’s needs for the next 20 years.”
The BJP’s top leadership is due to hold a three-day brainstorming session in Shimla, from 17 August, where the drive to groom a younger generation of leaders will be discussed. The party’s organizational elections are due to take place later this year.
“All these things would be discussed in the chintan baithak (brainstorming session),” said former party chief Venkaiah Naidu, when asked if the party was planning a drive to promote younger leadership.
Party officials said Advani would start a drive to identify and recruit young leaders into party positions at the state level during a countrywide yatra starting later this month. The drive may be inspired partly by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), considered to be the BJP’s parent organization, which resolved in 2003 that all its state chiefs by 2006 would be below 50 years of age.
“We achieved the target and today the sarsangchalak (supreme head) Mohan Bhagwat is someone below 60 years of age. Now it is time for the frontal organizations to take ahead the idea,” said a top RSS functionary, who didn’t want to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The BJP has made some headway towards the goal of inducting new blood. Of the 116 party candidates elected to the 15th Lok Sabha, 55 are newcomers and 31 below 45 years of age. One member, Ashok Argal, won the Bhind seat from Madhya Pradesh for a fifth term at the age of 40.
“There is a conscious effort (at generational change) and has been in place for a while now, and could be speeded up in the times to come,” said party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “Seniors wish to guide and groom the young leadership from all sections of society, especially from the socially deprived sections, for a greater role in the party. The composition of the present Lok Sabha members is quite reflective of this fact.”
However, party leaders said the strategy could not be compared with the promotion of young leaders in the Congress. “It would be unrealistic to compare the generational change in Congress with that of BJP. We are a cadre-based organization where commitment and delivery of results gives you a promotion, while there (in the Congress) it is all at the pure discretion of one family,” party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
Analysts said the proposed generational change in the BJP would produce few results until it changes its political priorities and agenda.
“It is not merely the age which works in favour of a party. With fresh leadership, you also need fresh and contemporary ideas,” said Kamal M. Chenoy, a professor of comparative and Indian politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The BJP initiative would prove to be a non-starter if they fail to change the way they look at issues. The voters today are pro-development and are averse to the identity-based politics of the BJP,” he added, in a reference to the BJP’s propagation of Hindutva (Hindu way).