The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Wednesday rejigged its parliamentary board, the party’s highest decision-making body. After the reshuffle, these new members were inducted into the board. Here are their profiles:
Sarbananda Sonowal: Former N-E face of BJP, ex-Assam CM and prominent tribal leader, who made way for Himanta Sarma
Before Himanta Biswa Sarma, Sarbananda Sonowal was the BJP’s prime Northeast face, leading the party to its historic maiden victory in Assam in 2016. However, Sonowal’s career started not in the BJP, but in 1992 as a leader of the influential All Assam Students’ Union (which led the Assam Agitation of 1985). In 2001, he joined the Asom Gana Parishad, becoming an MLA the same year, and then an MP.
Sonowal’s ‘son-of-the-soil’ status in Assam further got cemented when he successfully challenged the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act in the Supreme Court in 2005 as inadequate, earning him the local moniker “jatiyo nayak” or national hero.
Sonowal joined the BJP in 2011, becoming the spokesperson and general secretary of the party’s Assam unit and later earning a place (Sports Ministry) in Narendra Modi’s first Cabinet in 2014. Before Sarma, it was Sonowal who was known to have political links with all the northeastern states, having served as the president of the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), the umbrella organisation of different student unions of the region.
Sonowal’s “clean” image and support among indigenous tribal groups (he hails from Sonowal Kachari tribe) made him an obvious chief ministerial candidate for the BJP, helping the party widen its support base from caste-Hindu Assamese to tribal groups in the state.
His tenure as the Chief Minister saw him hold his own as the state erupted in protests over the BJP’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act, perhaps the most widespread since the Assam Agitation, and still lead the party to another decisive victory in 2021.
However, the BJP leadership dropped him, for Sarma.
In Assam, Sonowal, 59, is remembered not just for his tenure as the BJP’s first state CM, but also for gracefully stepping aside for Sarma. In return, in July 2021, Sonowal was inducted into Narendra Modi’s Cabinet for a second time, and given the portfolios of Ports, Shipping and Waterways and AYUSH ministries.
His induction into the parliamentary board is another acknowledgment of his efforts.
Sudha Yadav: A former Haryana MP, who entered politics after husband’s death in Kargil
Among the new entrants in the BJP central parliamentary board is Sudha Yadav, 57, a former MP from Mahendragarh in Haryana and a party national secretary.
Her husband, Deputy Commandant Sukhbir Singh Yadav of the Border Security Force, died during the Kargil War. Soon after, Yadav, a lecturer and mother of two, was fielded by the BJP as its candidate against then Congress stalwart Rao Inderjit Singh from Mahendragarh in 1999.
However, Yadav lost the two subsequent Lok Sabha elections, 2004 from Mahendragarh and 2009 from Gurgaon, as the BJP’s nominee. In 2015, she was named in-charge of the BJP’s OBC Morcha. Since 2019, she has been a member of the National Commission for Backward Classes.
Yadav has often called No. 13 her “auspicious” number. In 2009, she filed her nomination papers on April 13 from Gurgaon parliamentary constituency, saying it was because the BJP-NDA government was formed on October 13, 1999, for the 13th Lok Sabha, and because Baisakhi is celebrated on April 13.
A Ph.D in Chemistry from University of Roorkee (now known as IIT, Roorkee), Yadav was a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence from 1999 to 2000, as well as a member of the Committee on Official Language, Hindi Salahakar Samiti of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Parliamentary Standing Committee on empowerment of women, and a member of the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Communications.
K Laxman: Known for organisational skills, Telangana OBC face picked ahead of state polls
The elevation of K Laxman, 66, by the BJP to its central parliamentary board is seen as a gesture towards backward class voters in poll-bound Telangana.
The BJP Telangana president between 2016 and 2020, the Hyderabad-born Laxman has served as the national president of the party’s OBC Morcha. In July 2022, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh.
It was under Laxman that the BJP started making inroads into Telangana, winning its highest tally ever of four parliamentary seats in the state (Secunderabad, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad). However, he was seen as not aggressive enough, leading to his replacement after one term as president, with Bandi Sanjay Kumar.
Before his Rajya Sabha nomination, Laxman served two terms as MLA, 1999 to 2004 as the representative from Musheerabad and 2014 to 2018 from Hyderabad.
As the BJP makes a push south as part of its plans for 2024, Laxman fits the bill both for being a well-known leader from the region and being an OBC face.
Hailing from a family of agriculturists, Laxman was a good student, and did his Ph.D in Geology from Osmania University. He joined the ABVP in the 1980s while studying at the university, moving on to the BJP later. Laxman has also served as BJP general secretary and spokesperson for three terms.
As a senior leader, he was part of campaigns like hoisting of the national flag at Srinagar and the Save Doda Satyagraha in 1994, earning him recognition for his organisational skills and for his ability to mingle effortlessly with people from various backgrounds.
In July 2014, Laxman had sparked off a controversy when he had objected to the Telangana government making tennis player Sania Mirza the state’s brand ambassador, saying she was Pakistan’s “daughter-in-law” after her marriage with Pakistani cricket star Shoaib Malik. Laxman contended that Mirza may not live in Telangana for long periods. As his comments drew criticism and outrage, Laxman had clarified that he had not questioned Mirza’s “Indianness”.
B S Yediyurappa: Unhappy, sidelined Lingayat leader gets a seat at the high table
The BJP decision to include former Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa in the party’s highest decision-making body – the BJP parliamentary board and, hence, the central election committee – has come amidst growing resentment that the Lingayat strongman was being alienated within the BJP.
Apart from removing Yediyurappa, 79, as the CM, the BJP has been reluctant to provide his younger son B Y Vijayendra any position of significance in the party. The veteran was seen as drifting away from the BJP, taking with him Lingayats who form the main support base of the party in Karnataka.
On July 22, signalling his unhappiness over the snubs to Vijayendra, Yediyurappa had unilaterally announced that his younger son would replace him as the candidate from the Shikaripura Assembly constituency in the Shivamogga district in the 2023 elections.
Soon after the decision on Wednesday including him in the BJP parliamentary board, Yediyurappa expressed his thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president J P Nadda and Union minister Amit Shah.
Yediyurappa had earlier made his reluctance to be removed as CM in July 2021 evident. Amid corruption taint, the BJP had removed him ostensibly on the grounds of his age and health. Since then, he has made multiple efforts to get Vijayendra into the power structure, including as a member of the Legislative Council. The BJP has cited PM Narendra Modi’s opposition to dynastic politics, especially with Yediyurappa’s elder son B Y Raghavendra already a BJP Lok Sabha MP.
The Congress has been trying to capitalise on the resentment over Yediyurappa to draw closer to the Lingayat community, with gestures like Rahul Gandhi’s visit to a Lingayat Mutt on August 3 to receive the ‘Ishtalinga Deeksha’, a sort of acceptance within the community. At 17%, Lingayats constitute the highest chunk of the state population.
The gradual receding of the prominence of Yediyurappa in the Karnataka BJP was also seen as linked to the rise of national organisation secretary B L Santhosh, an arch-rival of Yediyurappa and over 25 years younger than him. Santhosh is also a member of the parliamentary board.
Karnataka BJP Nalin Kumar Kateel said the inclusion of two senior leaders from Karnataka in the central parliamentary board was “significant”. Incidentally, Kateel’s term as state party president ends on August 20, and the BJP has not announced a change of guard.
On August 4, in the first sign that the BJP wanted to keep Yediyurappa very much in the picture, Amit Shah had held a 20-minute meeting with him over the 2023 Assembly polls during a trip to Bengaluru.
Then, on August 15, in his Independence Day speech, Yediyurappa announced that the Karnataka BJP will fight the 2023 elections under a collective leadership, without any one person enjoying greater prominence than the rest.
Yediyurappa has announced that he will soon be touring the state to prepare the BJP for the polls.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai also welcomed his elevation to the central parliamentary board. “The parliamentary board is considered the highest decision-making body in the party, and inclusion in the board is a matter of great honour,” said Bommai. Seen as a stop-gap after Yediyurappa, he has been constantly fighting rumours of replacement.
“This move will give the Karnataka BJP immense strength. The victory of the BJP in the 2023 polls in the state is guaranteed,” Bommai said.
Iqbal Singh Lalpura: One of three police officers who arrested Bhindranwale, and minorities panel chief
A former IPS officer who was one of the three police personnel chosen to arrest Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, and who joined the BJP in 2012 after his retirement, Iqbal Singh Lalpura has now been picked for the highest decision-making body in the party.
He is currently the chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). While there is nothing in the Constitution or law to prevent appointing a commission member as an office-bearer in a political party, it is the first such instance. Earlier, under the UPA, former Union minister Mohammad Shafi Qureshi of the Congress was named the NCM Chairman, but he did not hold any position in the party during his tenure.
During the recent Punjab Assembly elections, Lalpura had contested on a BJP ticket from Rupnagar but lost to AAP. He demitted office as NCM chief to fight the polls, and joined back later.
An active police officer while Punjab battled terrorism, he served as SSP, Amritsar, SSP, Tarn Taran, and as Additional Inspector General, CID, Amritsar. He was a recipient of the President’s Police Medal as well as Police Medal for Meritorious Services.
During the farmers’ struggle, Lalpura, who is originally from Ropar in Punjab, impressed the BJP by making repeated visits to various parts of the state, despite facing protests in Sangrur and Barnala. His appointment as NCM chairperson was seen as a message for Punjab ahead of the Assembly polls this year.
Lalpura has also written nearly 14 books on Sikh philosophy and history, such as ‘Japji Sahib ek Vichaar’, Gurbaani ek Vichaar’, and ‘Raj Karega Khalsa’. He is a winner of the Shiromani Sikh Sahitkar award, and a Sikh scholar award.
As a national spokesperson of the BJP, he was a popular face on television debates.
Welcoming his inclusion in the top BJP body, Punjab general secretary Subhash Sharma said, “Lalpuraji is a dedicated worker of the BJP and a well-respected intellectual. We heartily welcome his inclusion. It’s a matter of pride for the Punjab BJP.”
As NCM chief, apart from leading a team to Jahangirpuri in Delhi after the communal clashes on Hanuman Jayanti earlier this year, Lalpura has mostly taken up matters pertaining to the Sikh community in the country and abroad. He had blamed the Jahangirpuri violence on a “small number of trouble makers”.
After the row over Nupur Sharma’s remarks on Prophet Mohammed during a TV debate, Lalpura held an all-faith meeting, and sent out a message to “maintain calm” and not indulge in “divisive speech”.
Satyanarayan Jatia: A Dalit, labour leader and poet, he had been biding his time for long
Satyanarayan Jatiya (77), a Dalit leader who was added into the BJP’s parliamentary board on Wednesday, started his political career as a union leader of the Bharatiya Mazoor Sangh in the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board back in 1972.
His elevation into the BJP’s highest decision-making board coincided with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s removal after eight years.
An OBC leader, apart from being a four-time CM, Chouhan’s is a surprise omission from the parliamentary board, ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. OBCs form 51% of the state’s population.
Jatiya himself had been inactive for the past two years after recovery from a severe bout of Covid.
Belonging to Neemuch district of MP, Jatiya was arrested under MISA during the Emergency. In 1997, he contested his first Assembly election and lost, but went on to win in 1980 from the Ujjain Lok Sabha seat. Till 2004, he continuously won the seat, barring 1984, when the Congress swept the general elections in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
Jatiya also served as the state president for the BJP between 1987-89. In the Atal Bihari Vajpaee government of 1999-2004, he was the Social Justice and Labour Department Minister.
His constituency Ujjain still connects Jatiya to Vajpayee, and talks of him as a learned, soft-spoken leader untouched by controversy. The other Dalit leader like him from the area, Thawar Chand Gehlot, incidentally, had served in the parliamentary board till his elevation as Karnataka Governor in 2021.
Jatiya was believed to have got the raw deal as Gehlot went on to serve as Union minister in the Narendra Modi government while he remained a mere MP. However, his tenure in the Rajya Sabha is believed to have helped him strengthen his ties with the central leadership.
In 2019, Jatiya had a rare personal moment with PM Modi during a visit to him with his granddaughter and daughter-in-law. Modi had shared pictures of him playing with Jatiya’s six-month old granddaughter.
Besides politics, Jatiya is known as a poet. A compilation of his poems was published in 1995 under the name Alakh. He also organises kavi sammelans, national-level competitions and writes satirical stories for magazines.