New BJP president J P Nadda began his term by reaching out to major allies within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) who had grouses with the big brother in the front on one issue or the other. Nadda went to meet the leaders of Shiromani Akali Dal, the BJP's oldest ally, after it refused to accept seats offered by the latter for the recently held Delhi elections. Similarly, he travelled to Patna to meet with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, to reconfirm the assurance that the NDA would fight the Bihar assembly elections later this year under the JD(U) leader, despite pressure from many state leaders that BJP should stop playing second fiddle in the state.
But now Nadda has a minor problem within his own flock as the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP - the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - has gone on the warpath against the central government and Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur. The ABVP is angry with the Narendra Modi government because fee hikes in central universities of the state have put a burden on the students, who come from poor background. It is also upset with Thakur on several counts.
The student outfit, which provides the youth force for the BJP during election time and grooms thousands of party leaders including Nadda himself, is angry that the HP government has also has raised fees in the state's universities and colleges, without any consultation. On the other hand, the tourist-dependent state reduced the price of liquor and extended timings for bars beyond midnight. Another grievance is that no campus has been built for the Dharamsala-based Central University of Himachal Pradesh even as the government is spending money for lavish facilities to attract tourists.
The ABVP is also upset that its former members are not considered for any positions in the government. Though CM Thakur has held talks with the ABVP, the outfit is firm that it won't relent unless its main demands for withdrawal of fee hike and change in liquor policy is conceded. Its activists have been holding demonstrations in Shimla and other urban centres of the Himalayan state from which Nadda hails. Thakur's supporters allege that a powerful party leader has given blessing for the agitation, but the ABVP insists it is not part of the BJP. It is also pointed out that the Parishad had protested against the hike in tuition and hostel fees in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) too.
The angst of ABVP has both local and national bases. Both in the JNU and Himachal Pradesh, the ABVP is competing with leftist unions like the Students' Federation of India (SFI), and has to be more aggressive to retain and expand its support base. Recently it had lost union elections in Bengal universities to SFI and other leftist organisations. The CPM and its affiliates have a strong hold on academic politics in universities and colleges in Himachal Pradesh for a long time.
The ABVP is also unhappy that the Human Resource Development ministers in two Modi governments have not given enough weightage to its grievances, despite having long-time connections with it. The current minister Ramesh Pokhriyal was earlier CM for Uttarakhand, another tourist destination. He is facing an uphill task in funding the central universities due to their growing wage and infrastructure bills. The Visva-Bharati University at Shantiniketan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore and having the Prime Minister as its Acharya, has just announced that salaries for its teachers and other staff will be delayed due to lack of funding from the central government.
As the tensions increase between ABVP and BJP-ruled governments at the centre and the state, Nadda will have to play a strong mediatory role to keep the 'parivar' together.