It’s sad, but true. The journey of Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu, who once dreamt of becoming the President of India, is soon set to end as a member of the BJP’s “Margdarshak Mandal”, slowly but surely.
With the denial of a second term for him as vice-president, the signal for the 73-year-old former BJP president – the first from South India -- is that it is the end of the road for him.
Though only a year older than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Naidu faced a double whammy -- as he had not been considered for the post of President of India in either 2017 or in 2022. This was despite the fact that for long Mr Naidu has been the face of the BJP in the South.
Famous for his witty and humorous wordplay, Mr Naidu was once asked about his interest in becoming the Rashtrapati. He gave a hilarious reply, saying that he was happy being “Ushapati” (the husband of Usha, who is his wife). It only showed that even in ticklish situations, Mr Naidu could come with a witty one-liner.
But the future, unfortunately, does looks bleak. The Margdarshak Mandal is an old men’s club which no one cares for, and to be a part of it is a dreary prospect for those who have seen brighter days and have been at the helm of public affairs, and the pinnacle of national politics. It is like “being sent to Siberia”. Mr Naidu is the most senior among the BJP leaders after Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.
Despite being a former BJP president at the national level and among the few leaders who had been part of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, an ambitious Venkaiah Naidu could only go this far. Before being made the vice-president, Mr Naidu had remarked that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “God’s gift to India”, setting off a flutter in political circles.
Being close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh also did not help the 73-year-old leader from Andhra Pradesh, who had been the last of the loyalists of BJP veteran L.K. Advani.
Besides Mr Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar were part of a group called the Delhi-4, or “D4”, by some in the party as they were mostly based in the national capital and virtually ran the show in the organisation due to their proximity to BJP patriarch L.K. Advani. They were the days when Mr Advani’s word was final in the organisation. Now, Jaitley, Swaraj and Ananth Kumar are no more.
Incidentally, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh were general secretaries when Mr Venkaiah Naidu was the party president from 2002 to 2004. Mr Naidu’s presidency was seen as a completion of the process of the takeover of the BJP by Mr Advani.
With the advent of the Narendra Modi era, Venkaiah Naidu had silently changed track and was made the parliamentary affairs minister in May 2014. He was also put in charge of urban bevelopment, but failed to make it to the so called “kitchen cabinet”, comprising the ministers of finance, defence, home and external affairs in the first BJP government at the Centre after securing a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha.
The Smart Cities Mission was launched with much fanfare in 2015 when Mr Naidu was heading the urban development ministry. The mission was intended to improve the quality of life of urban Indians using “smart solutions”. Though 100 cities were selected to be developed as “smart cities” by 2022, reports say that so far these cities haven’t been able to complete over 50 per cent of the planned projects.
But as parliamentary affairs minister, Mr Naidu was not found wanting as he targeted the Congress Party day in and out in line with the official policy of a “Congress-mukt” bharat. With just 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the Congress had become a pale shadow of itself as it was the lowest tally for the grand old party which ruled the country for most of the time since Independence.
Mr Naidu is going away from the helm of affairs at a time when the BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is making a renewed bid to make inroads into the South.
The signal behind the side-lining of Mr Naidu could be that his handling of the Rajya Sabha proceedings were not to the liking of the powers-that-be who might have different ideas about how to treat the Opposition. This is despite the fact that Mr Naidu’s stewardship of the Upper House was not liked by the Opposition either. The detractors of the BJP believe that Mr Naidu faced hard choices in view of the changes in the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo.
Another signal is that the RSS does not count for much in the Modi-Shah scheme of things. Each man to his own.
Jagdeep Dhankar, who is set to succeed Mr Naidu as vice-president and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, wears his loyalty on his sleeve and he has shown it while being governor of West Bengal, where he did everything possible to trouble the government headed by Mamata Banerjee, a known detractor of Mr Modi and Mr Shah. A relative newcomer to the BJP, Mr Dhankar is the product of the “new BJP” in which the leaders who are “upyogi” to the leadership are promoted. The rest can take rest....