Himachal Pradesh & Delhi: With crucial changes at top, BJP looks to rebuild party ground up
Smarting from back-to-back electoral defeats in December 2022 — first in the prestigious municipal corporation elections of Delhi, a first in 15 years, and the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh — BJP national president Jagat Prakash Nadda finally swung into action last Sunday. Keeping the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind, he effected organisational changes that indicate he could be seeking to be in the driver’s seat on party affairs in both the national capital as well as its British-era summer standby.
Not only was Suresh Kashyap was replaced as the president of the Himachal Pradesh BJP with Dr Rajeev Bindal, Himachal BJP general secretary (organisation) Pavan Rana and his Delhi counterpart Siddharthan swapped roles.
Bindal has been Himachal BJP chief before, though his last term had ended in controversy in 2020. Merely four months into his tenure, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was charged with corruption in the procurement of medical supplies, and had to step down.
“Woh to koi vivad hi nahin tha, woh to koi baat hi nahin thi. Teen din mein hi sab saaf ho gaya tha (That was no controversy, it was nothing. It got clarified within three days),” Bindal told The Indian Express, speaking about the unsavoury incident, in which the accused was suspected to have links with Bindal. “Had there been any trace of truth in those allegations, my seniors would not have reposed faith in me again, nor would I have got a ticket for the last Assembly elections,” he said on Monday, a day after assuming charge.
Before this, Bindal quit as health minister in the Prem Kumar Dhumal government, and then as Assembly Speaker, to take up the post of state BJP president. A five-time MLA, he lost in the 2022 Assembly polls.
Party colleagues call him energetic, while he describes himself as “65-plus”. “The energy comes when we are clear about our goals and then work wholeheartedly to achieve them,” he says.
Soon after his appointment as state BJP chief, he attended back-to-back video conferences on Sunday — one on preparations for the 100th episode of PM Modi’s Mann Ki Baat, the other for the Shimla municipal corporation elections. For Bindal, the biggest challenge will be to secure victory in all four Himachal’s Lok Sabha seats in 2024.
The immediate hurdle is the Shimla corporation polls on May 2, for which he claims outgoing state BJP president Suresh Kashyap, 52, has already done the groundwork. “Kashyapji has formulated a good strategy and we are hopeful of putting up a good show,” says Bindal.
For Kashyap, the change in role is dayitva parivartan (change of responsibility). He claims he didn’t resign from his post, merely requested that he be relieved of the responsibility. The Shimla MP stepped down as BJP state president on April 20.
In the other change, Pavan Rana has been brought back to Delhi, while Siddharthan moves to Shimla. Both are considered confidants of the BJP national president. The general secretary (organisation) is a party post unique to the BJP that links its state units with the RSS. Despite the recent defeats in their respective CVs, party insiders interpret the swapping of Rana and Siddharthan as a “forward-looking, rather than vengeful” decision.
“Change is always good. Siddharthanji was in charge of Delhi for close to a decade (2015-2023), while Pavanji was at the helm in Himachal for over a decade. While both are close to Naddaji, their functions will be different, as they are viewed as having different core strengths,” a senior party leader says.
Sources add that the decision also had the party’s “organisational health” in mind, with the BJP being forced to cede ground to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the MCD; and despite the cyclical nature of government formation in Himachal, Nadda’s home state.
Party workers know Rana as a hardworking man with strong likes and dislikes. Insiders say he is seen as “an enforcer”. During his term in Himachal, he was often accused of interference by Ramesh Chand Dhawala, the then BJP MLA of his home Assembly constituency, Jwalamukhi.
“There is a view within the party that in both Delhi and Himachal, the organisation needs to be rebuilt from bottom up. But Pavanji won’t face any teething issues as by the time he takes over, recently appointed Delhi BJP president Virendra Sachdeva will have already completed the task of rebuilding,” a leader says. Sachdeva took over from Adesh Gupta on December 11, 2022.
“In Himachal, where [Rajeev] Bindalji is believed to have an effective hold over party cadre, Siddharthanji too will fit right in, and add more strength to the organisation without any hiccups. A state unit president is like a second wheel, and works under the general secretary (organisation). Their roles are complementary,” the leader adds.
Siddharthan, who was appointed to the post in Delhi soon after the AAP came to power, oversaw the party’s affairs during the elections for MCD (2017), Lok Sabha (2019), Delhi Assembly (2020) and MCD (2022) during his tenure. He also led from the front in the party’s outreach to migrant workers as they left in droves from NCR during the Covid pandemic in 2020.
According to a senior party leader, Siddharthan, who hails from Kerala, was active as an RSS functionary in Delhi’s politics for over two decades, before being given charge of the state organisation following the BJP’s defeat in the 2015 Assembly elections. At the time, the party felt there was a disconnect with ground-level cadre, and the organisation needed an overhaul. In his years at the helm in Delhi, Siddharthan introduced innovations, from using ground surveys and feedback from local party workers in candidate selection, to regularly replacing a significant chunk of representatives, a strategy that began with the 2017 MCD elections.
In January, The Indian Express had reported the possibility that Siddharthan — who party insiders argue is “an organisational genius” — could be replaced. “For Delhi, we already have a strong leader in Sachdeva, who is rooted in the city’s politics, someone so effective that since he took charge [on March 23], he has forced the ruling AAP on the back-foot, ironically, over the issue of corruption. Meanwhile, Pavan i is expected to be the seamless interface between the Delhi unit and Naddaji on everything — from the MCD to the Delhi Assembly and the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” a leader said.
bjp, jp nadda, bjp delhi, Suresh Kashyap, rajiv bindal, Siddharthan, indian express, political pulse“For Himachal, not only is Siddharthan expected to completely rehaul the state unit, but also infuse fresh blood. Bear in mind that he saw three Delhi BJP presidents come and go — Satish Upadhyay, Manoj Tiwari and Adesh Gupta — while retaining control of his post, mainly because of his connect with cadres at the grassroots,” he concludes.