Why Nirmala Sitharaman’s elevation has rattled BJP leaders

opinion | Monday, September 4th, 2017
R Rajagopalan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sent a rather strong message to the BJP cadres. With Nirmala Sitharaman’s induction as Defence Minister it is being assumed that a strong political message is underlying this elevation.

Why did he spring a surprise like this? Especially, since the announcement was made after a few moments of Modi's take off to China to attend the BRICS meet.

This political message is also for neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but more for the internal audience. And especially to the BJP seniors.

Nirmala Sitharaman’s elevation has seemingly rattled the top leaders within the BJP. On Monday when offices reopened most of the telephones of Union Ministers were engaged, talking about one thing alone - how did Nirmala make it? What is her strength?

Many insiders who have known Nirmala, said that she is the draftswoman of the BJP manifesto of 2014. Prior to that Nirmala was the official spokesperson for BJP during the Gujarat polls in 2012. Now, again in an exalted position Amit Shah brought Nirmala as the Gujarat 2017 poll think tank.

Nirmala Sitharaman had also braced the difficulties in her own style, but she was helped by Arun Jaitley for most part. Even in internal party meetings Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu used be Nirmala Sitharaman’s opponents but for Arun Jaitley neutralising the opposition, Nirmala would not have been included as the Official Spokesperson of BJP in New Delhi just prior to 2014 elections.

Nirmala, at the same time, did not go against the seniors group now in the Margadarshak Mandal. She maintained a respectful distance from the seniors.

Nirmala will be the one minister who goes through almost all controversial fat files. For international negotiations like WTO and G20, she read the notes of Pranab Mukherjee Murasoli Maran, Kamal Nath and her predecessors. That gave her the real power. And today, she is in the Cabinet Committee of Security as the Defence Minister.

Now turning to the internal aspects of BJP

As the shock settles down, many BJP leaders have begun to analyse it. They asked is this move a deliberate one?  Few seniors who are privy to the mindset of Modi and Amit Shah say, yes.

Most important is that when Prime Minister Modi hinted this to a few top leaders of BJP that Defence needs a full timer, say by Wednesday last, the murmurs had begun. There was a quick meeting called by Rajnath Singh. Most of them at the meeting apprehended that their portfolios were gone. 

If you decipher the politics of the Friday meeting at Rajnath Singh’s house  where Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were present, one can understand what was going on in Modi’s mind.

If you again split and read the object and themes of the meetings  between Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu-the real story will emerge.

My understanding is that Modi’s actions for the past two months were very calculative. Without others knowing Modi was moving the coins carefully in this chess game

It can be seen from the removal of Venkaiah Naidu. Promoting him as Vice President. A strong message to BJP. Venkaiah Naidu with reluctance went to the position as Vice President.

Venkaiah Naidu and Nirmala Sitharaman were of course not in good terms and often on loggerheads. The Prime Minister knew about this, including the internal dynamism of Andhra politics. Because at the time of Naidu’s elevation, the AP government had written to the centre saying that it might disturb the building of Amaravathi, Andhra’s capital.

Few senior ministers after the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections were apprehensive about the Modi wave even in 2019 but now their importance will get marginalised.

Sushma Swaraj, after recovering from her kidney surgery had become too active.  Before the 2014 polls, in the BJP Parliamentary board meeting, the same Sushma Swaraj opposed Nirmala Sitharaman’s candidature for Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan. Arun Jaitley fought with LK Advani to bring Nirmala to the Rajya Sabha. But Sushma opposed it tooth and nail. Sushma never wanted any women to fill in or become competitive to her position.  But in 2017 had it not been for Modi, Nirmala would not be sitting in the CCS.

Here we have a senior BJP leader viewing the internal issues in a cryptic manner:

The Modi and Shah combine sent LK Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi to the Margadarshak Mandal in 2014.  After 2019 if Modi wins again, he will certainly show the same doors to Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj. Quite possibly Jaitley will still escape the wrath of Modi.

In the 2019 elections,  BJP will be with Dharmedra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Adityanath Yogi, Devendra Phadnavis  and more of the new leadership.

Narendra Modi effectively shunted out elders to the Margadarshak Mandal in 2014. Wait for two more years, at least  five more will join LK Advani and Dr Murali Manohar Joshi as 2019 members of Margadrashak Mandal members.

With Nirmala Sitharaman as Defence minister, it has suddenly changed the internal dynamism of the BJP.


R Rajagopalan is a senior correspondent in New Delhi. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of Asianet Newsable

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