Even as the Women's Reservation Bill struggles to stay the course, the Nitin Gadkari-led Bharatiya Janata Party has demonstrated exemplary support to the cause of female empowerment by allocating close to a third of its party posts to women. This is a message as much to the Bill's biggest and loudest champion — the Congress party — as to the obstructionist Yadav troika of Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad, and Sharad Yadav. Although the Congress was the first to decide in principle that women should get a critical share of party posts, Congresswomen continue to be a largely invisible lot. In allocating generous space to women at various levels in the party hierarchy, the BJP has shown that gender justice need not become hostage to legislative battles. Team Gadkari also scores in bringing a blend of experience and youth to the table. Old hands expectedly dominate the party's parliamentary board while a fair sprinkling of young people, drawn from diverse social backgrounds, have made it to the lower echelons of power.
When Mr. Gadkari beat competition from a range of heavyweight insiders to become the BJP chief, not many thought him capable of finding his way in the factional minefield that the BJP has become in recent years. The new incumbent was inexperienced in realpolitik, and moreover, the shadow of Jhandewalan loomed large over his appointment. In the event, Mr. Gadkari has proved that he has a better grip of politics and party affairs than most of the veterans. The confidence has begun to show — especially in Parliament where Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj have emerged as formidable team leaders. It was at Mr. Jaitley's instance that the Women's Reservation Bill came to be debated before being put to vote in the Rajya Sabha. His speech in support of the Bill reflected bipartisanship of a kind sorely lacking in Indian political discourse. More importantly — without prejudice to what this newspaper thinks about the BJP's disintegrative political programme and ideology — it came across recently as a sober party capable of making its point skilfully, without resorting to drama and bad behaviour. There is also a flip side to the new thrust. Team Gadkari includes the disagreeable and intemperate Varun Gandhi, who has been rewarded with the prize post of party secretary. The accommodation of the young man from a famous lineage, whose vitriol against Muslims fetched him a prison stay during the 2009 general election, is a concession to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. As long as the BJP remains a child of the shadowy RSS, it will not be able to resist the temptation to play communal politics — which has proved to be its undoing again and again.