Narendra Modi in New Delhi, a day after his swearing-in on May 26. (Reuters)
New Delhi, May 31: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will keep his weekends free for party work unless he is required for something more urgent or needs to travel.
Party sources said Modi, who has been a Sangh full-timer and a BJP organisation hand, could not be expected to decouple himself from the party and “live in the belief” that the BJP and his government were two independent entities.
The first sign of Modi’s continuing engagement with the party came today when he met BJP general secretaries at his Race Course Road residence.
He spent the evening with his core team of Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari, discussing the possible successors to Rajnath (as party president) and his erstwhile team of vice-presidents, general secretaries and spokespersons who have turned ministers.
Sources said the choice of the next BJP president could be a bellwether of the extent to which Modi would continue to control the party.
Amit Shah seems to have gained a “slight lead” over his rival, fellow general secretary J.P. Nadda, because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a BJP lobby believe he deserves a “huge reward” for swinging Uttar Pradesh the party’s way.
Sources said Shah’s presence at the helm would assure the cadre that Modi was “with them”, even if by proxy through his most trusted aide, and keep them in a state of “perennial enthusiasm”.
“Shah is the inspirational figure we need to win the next slew of elections in Maharashtra and Haryana and, possibly, in those states where the incumbent governments look shaky,” a source said.
Nadda owes his rise to former BJP president Gadkari, with whom Modi has had an iffy relationship and whose hotline to Sangh chief Mohanrao Bhagwat he seems to view with some concern.
“Therefore, Nadda is unlikely to have Modi’s 100 per cent trust,” a source said.
Tomorrow afternoon, Modi and Rajnath will visit the BJP headquarters to “mingle” with staff and officials and felicitate them. Modi has already ensured a bonus equivalent to three months’ wages for the workers.
Taking the cue from Modi, several ministers arrived at the BJP office today and distributed boxes of sweets among the employees.
At his interaction with the general secretaries, Modi delivered the homilies that other leaders used to invoke when the BJP was down and out and they believed the organisation needed tending. The centrepiece of his sermon was the BJP “karyakarta” (worker).
Sources quoted Modi as telling the general secretaries — who included new ministers Ananth Kumar, Dharmendra Pradhan and Thawarchand Gehlot — that the workers had made “immense sacrifices” in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. So, they should be properly looked after and “honoured and respected at all times”.
Modi stressed that the “highest priority” was “close coordination” between party and government because without the party, the government was “nothing”.
“The organisation’s strength is the mightiest,” a source quoted Modi as saying.
The Prime Minister added that if the party ever thought the government was veering off the rails, it should promptly bring the flaws to the government’s notice instead of “letting matters go adrift”.
Modi emphasised that the government would implement the BJP’s poll promises because “it is important to repeat the 2014 victory in 2019, for which the organisation must be in a state of preparedness”.
At least one general secretary, Varun Gandhi, was effusive about Modi’s lessons.
“Inspired by motivational message from Ho’ble PM…to serve party and nation with renewed vigour,” tweeted Varun, who had earlier hinted that his victory from Sultanpur owed less to the so-called Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh and more to his own charisma and popularity.
Sources said Modi’s compulsion to sustain a party-government connect was born out of three factors. One, his long stint in the party organisation; two, his realisation that if his grip over the party apparatus slackens, it can curtail the turf over which he rules; and three, his understanding that if the cadres’ mood, surcharged after a decade, dips even a bit it can spell trouble for the party.
A second big test of Modi’s popularity will be the elections in Maharashtra, Delhi and Haryana later this year. Defeats could hurt his ratings within and outside the BJP.
In 2004, when the BJP was voted out of power on the back of the glitzy “India Shining” campaign, many insiders had concluded that the party-government disconnect and the workers’ “invisibility” during the NDA’s tenure had contributed to the defeat.