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Om Birla, BJP’s surprise pick for Speaker, is also a message down the line


Rajasthan leader Om Birla is Bharatiya Janata Party’s surprise pick for the post of the Lok Sabha Speaker, a development that yet again signals the continuing generational change within India’s ruling party.

Birla is just a second term MP and the BJP leadership ignored many veterans to choose the 56-year-old MP of Kota in Rajasthan. Birla won his first parliamentary election in 2014 and got re-elected from the desert state that the BJP swept despite losing the last year’s assembly election.

Om Birla is a three-term member of Rajasthan assembly and has worked closely with former chief minister Vasundhara Raje. He was a parliamentary secretary to the government of Rajasthan between 2004 and 2008.

Considered close to Home Minister Amit Shah, Om Birla was also the national vice president of BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janta Yuva Morcha, that he had once headed in Rajasthan for six years. Birla has earned for himself the reputation of a social worker who helped differently-abled persons and helpless women.

He led a relief team of more than 100 voluntary workers including doctors to help the victims of the Gujarat earthquake in January 2001. He was also imprisoned during movement to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The BJP polled 58.47% votes in Rajasthan, second highest after Himachal Pradesh, and the overwhelming support reflected in the union council of ministers, which has 3 members from the desert state. While Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is a cabinet minister; Arjun Ram Meghwal and Kailash Choudhary are ministers of state in the union government. Birla is the fourth leader from the state to get a ‘position of prominence’, a senior BJP leader said.

“The generational change that happened in the BJP is also reflected in Birla’s appointment,” the leader said. Birla’s predecessor Sumitra Mahajan was 76 and she did not contest the election this time. Many other veterans such as Sushma Swaraj, Maneka Gandhi and Suresh Prabhu did not a ministerial position when PM Modi put his new team together.

“Many leaders unknown to Delhi’s power corridor got the ministerial position,” a second leader said. “There is a message in it.”

The BJP on Monday appointed 58-year-old Rajya Sabha member JP Nadda – among the GenX leaders of the party – as its working president. He will be formally appointed as party chief after organisational elections are complete in January.