New Delhi: The main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), revamped its second-tier leadership, bringing in more women and younger members and adding a dash of movie glamour as it seeks to stem its political decline.
The party said that the new leadership was more balanced in terms of experience and regional representation.
Analysts said that these changes showed that the BJP—after losing two consecutive general elections and a spate of assembly polls in the last six years—is turning to populism.
Nitin Gadkari, who took over as party president in December as part of a “generational change” in leadership, has largely retained the BJP parliamentary board, its top-most decision-making body. But leadership tiers below that level have changed dramatically.
The new national executive has 121 members, of which 40 are women. It has 11 vice-presidents, 10 general secretaries, 15 secretaries and a treasurer.
Actor-turned-politician Hema Malini is on the list of vice-presidents, along with senior party leaders Shanta Kumar, Kalraj Mishra, Vinay Katiyar, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Karuna Shukla, Najma Heptullah, Bijoya Chakravarty, Purushottam Rupala and Kiran Ghai.
Lok Sabha member Varun Gandhi, who was embroiled in a controversy over his alleged hate speeches against minorities in the run up to last year’s general election, is one of BJP’s new secretaries. He is joined by television actor Smriti Irani and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is also a popular television personality.
Muralidhar Rao, a nominee of the BJP’s rightist parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has been brought in as a secretary, while the V. Satish and Saudan Singh have been appointed joint general secretaries.
The BJP list was released after Gadkari held a meeting with the RSS top brass in Nagpur on Monday evening.
The number of spokespersons has been raised from three to seven, including the party’s Muslim face Shahnawaz Hussain, RSS ideologue Tarun Vijay, Dalit leader Ramnath Kovind, and former national women’s commission member and activist Nirmala Seetharaman. The team will be led by former Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who has been elevated to the position of general secretary.
Actors Kiron Kher, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha are among the new national executive members.
Graphic: Paras Jain / Mint
Piyush Goyal, a chartered accountant, is the new party treasurer, replacing Ramdas Agarwal, who was named in a row over the disappearance of election money from the party office last year.
“It is a balanced team with a harmony between the young and old,” said Prasad, the new general secretary.
“The team composition has taken care of regional faces, experienced faces and young faces with vigour and enthusiasm. We walk the talk. The team has ensured the 33% reservation for women in (the) party organization,” he added.
But Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad and a BJP-watcher, called the new team “fluffy”, created by taking cues from BJP’s rival, the Congress.
“It is a reflection of the fact that both (the) RSS and (the) BJP have reconciled to the fact (that) populism and crowd-pulling faces are the only way ahead,” he said. “It is a step ahead for the ‘Congressification’ of (the) BJP, a party which tried to be different but finally gave up.”