Little more than a year ago, Nitin Gadkari was catapulted in to the centre stage of national politics, thanks largely to behind the scène machinations of few unelected but powerful apparatchiks operating out of Nagpur. Outside of Maharashtra, where he is held in high esteem across political spectrum for his terrific stewardship of PWD ministry when he singlehandedly conceptualized and executed the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, he was a virtually unknown commodity. Manohar Parikkar, the IIT educated ex-Chief Minister of Goa known for his impeccable integrity and superlative administrative prowess and Arun Jaitley, the suave Delhi lawyer with brilliant political skills to match a sharp intellect, were seen as better bets for the post of presidency. Choice of presidential candidate was a critical one as it was seen as instrumental in reviving the flagging fortunes of the party. However due to combination of circumstances, lady luck smiled on Gadkari and he secured the top job
Gadkari, when he assumed office, was written off.He was largely seen as a sub-provincial political operator who was predicted to find the going tough in the cauldron of Delhi politics with all its palace intrigues and machinations. One year is a good enough to judge the performance and also get a fair idea of the trajectory that the party is headed to under a Gadkari led regime. An honest assessment will indicate that Gadkari has acquitted himself reasonably well. He had a very easy performance benchmark hurdle to cross –the shocking abysmal Rajnath era when BJP was often justifiably caricatured for making an earnest effort to reduce as itself as party of petty minded cow belt parochialists hiding under false bravado of exhibitionistic nationalism.
For any seasoned BJP watcher, it’s clear that Gadkari’s focus has been on following areas
Institution building – Gadkari is an accomplished entrepreneur with an experience of building and successfully running a flourishing business group in Vidarabha. He appears to be seamlessly incorporating his corporate learning and insights in to the party machinery. His focus appears to be on building systems and processes – aim for long term, steady institutional renewal rather than any overdramatic transformational initiatives. Besides driving the culture of performance through performance audits, Gadkari has also sought to build training capacity in the organization through large –scale training interventions. It’s encouraging that he is even willing to learn lessons on organizational building from any source of wisdom.
Improving quality of discourse – While Congress continues its familiar political script revolving around symbolic grandstanding cynically camouflaged in politics of social engineering, communal budgeting, caste calculus and entitlement based economics, Gadkari has been pretty refreshing in steering the course of BJP’s discourse, quality of which dramatically declined during Rajnath era. Seldom would on hear an Indian politician who can do an impromptu practitioner perspective on social entreprenurship, alternate energy, drip irrigation techniques, rural marketing, and micro-credit. Gadkari has also been largely helped by the exemplary performance of BJP parliamentary party which has so far managed to forge an interesting unity and expose UPA 2’s woeful track record of governance
Focus on governance – Gadkari has clearly realized that combining agitational and aspirational politics will be the key to address “image” deficit problem of BJP as an unthinking opposition. He also appears to realize that building and sustaining intellectual capacity in political system needs to be a specially focused effort given that too much energy expended on political issue management. Gadkari also has the enviable task of stemming the phenomenon of BJP losing its edge as a natural party for cerebral India This can be done only if party meaningful engages with sympathetic expertise available to it and finds a way fashions a career path for ‘lateral hires’(grassroot activism path/dynasty path being only career paths right now with later being the predominant one).In this direction formation of party research cell to rejuvenate existing party policy making apparatus by exposing them to contemporary ideas and thought seeding is a welcome move. Its good that the research cell is planning to work on policy convergence, enable best practices aggregation from party governed states and perform legislative research assistance to parliamentary wing. He has hosted a serious of conclaves on specific areas of governance.
Interpersonal skills – Gadkari‘s key emerging challenge will be in how he manages to successfully ‘mediate’ between three powerful and ambitious leaders in BJP who have national aspirations. So far Gadkari has used his affability and general dose of intrinsic Marathi modesty (perhaps he missed it during his son’s wedding) to reach out to party men and build bridges. He even persuaded the seasoned Jaswant Singh to return back to the party fold thus partially redeeming the unforgivable pettymindness that precipitated the action. However as we near end of 2012, Gadkari’s moment of reckoning would arrive and he would have to make some important choice on leadership model for 2014 elections. At this point 201 appears to be set for Rahul Gandhi’s ascendancy on account of anti-incumbency against UPA-2.(that’s called brilliance o Congress’s media assisted election management)
This dosent means that all is well within the party. BJP has shown no imagination or political creativity to break new grounds in east coast states. This fault line continues to be an insurmountable electoral handicap for any meaningful resurgence. UP elections are around the corner and danger of party being even further marginalized in the four corner is real- Maya juggernaut appears set to steamroll all types of media promoted pretenders and charlatans. Absence of strategic outreach to newer social groups (unlike the days of LKA-Govindacharya), inability to leverage groundswell of anger against corruption against UPA because of a politically sensible but morally dubious act of retaining a tainted CM in Karnataka have blunted the party’s political march.
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