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R Jagannathan Writes We are missing the bigger BJP story

Chennai, 26 March-2014, R Jagannathan: One of the downsides of having 24×7 TV news accompanied by relentless social media commentary is that one can seldom separate the signal from the noise. Since the pressures of instant journalism call for comment on even the passing thoughts of inconsequential politicians, life for the bewildered viewer/reader gets harder still.

R Jagannathan Writes We are missing the bigger BJP story

Naresh Sharma/Firstpost
Image credit: Firstpost

This is probably the case with the recent media coverage revolving around LK Advani’s sulk, Jaswant Singh’s tearful revolt against the ‘fake’ BJP, Murli Manohar Joshi’s reported unhappiness over being shifted from Varanasi to Lucknow, and the denial of a ticket to Harin Pathak in Ahmedabad East, the entry and exit of Mangalore pub ruffian Pramod Muthalik from the BJP in five hours, etc, etc.

What all the noise hides is the fundamental changes that have been internalised by the BJP in its current run for power. Regardless of whether it wins or loses, the BJP is now becoming a new animal. Creative destruction is in progress. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost What we are actually seeing is something significant – and internal to BJP. And we are missing that in all the focus on individual personalities and bit players and the daily cacophony of soundbytes.

The big story of the last two years is not Modi’s rise and possible victory this May, but the huge power shift now underway within the BJP. The powershift did not begin with the drama over Advani’s constituency, but nearly two years ago in May 2012, well before the Gujarat assembly elections went in Modi’s favour. In May 2012, the BJP formally accepted that Modi was their rising power by removing his bete noire Sanjay Joshi from the party’s national executive.

Remember, Joshi was not only very powerful in Gujarat, but highly regarded in the RSS. His removal from the national executive was the price Modi extracted for attending the meeting, and it signalled the party’s covert acceptance that they needed Modi more than he needed them. It is also worth noting that both Advani and Sushma Swaraj were to attend a post-national executive rally in the city, but didn’t. They gave excuses and stayed away. Their isolation from the emerging power bloc around Modi began then. What’s happening today is a confirmation of their isolation.

The BJP is mutating to grow
Image credit: Firstpost

The first signal we failed to notice was in May 2012.The powershift within BJP. But there was not just one signal – Modi’s emergence as primus inter pares – but two at that time. The second one relates to the RSS. Everyone knows that Modi’s rise was helped by the RSS’s decision to back him against the others. This may sound like the RSS being the final arbiter in BJP affairs, but the reality is that the RSS needs Modi almost as much, if not more than, Modi needs RSS. This is evident from the way the RSS has gone out of its way to not only back Modi, but also ensuring that it pulls out all the stops to make him win. In the Delhi assembly elections last December, the RSS did everything possible to blunt the Aam Aadmi Party, and nearly managed to pull it off.

A Business Standard report of 24 March shows how much the RSS is trying its best to improve the BJP’s seat count all over, including by launching an IT “blitzkrieg.” It is, of course, possible to say that since Modi is a former RSS activist, this affinity is natural. But the reality is that the RSS has pulled out all the stops to back Modi because it believes if the BJP does not make it now, it won’t be possible to regain momentum.

The Sangh sees its own future dependent on the BJP’s rise to power. Moreover, the RSS leadership knows that Modi is driving not only BJP, but its own cadres: this is why an irritated RSS boss Mohan Bhagwat had to remind his swayamsevaks that it is not their job to chant “NaMo, NaMo.” The second signal we failed to see is the powershift between BJP and RSS. The BJP may be RSS’ child, but the child is now the father of the man. Modi is key to both BJP and RSS. The third change really is about the composition of the new BJP.

The ascent of Modi marks the final acceptance by the party that mandalisation is the route to power. This means some degree of marginalisation of its old upper caste elite power base. Modi’s rise has seen the re-emergence of Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh and BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, even while the Brahmin-Thakur alliances remain intact to some degree. This process will continue long after the elections. The tie-up with Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar is part of the story of Modi trying to expand the party’s voter base beyond the upper castes. It may be opportunist, but it ties in with broader strategy.

The media may do a lot of tut-tutting over the BJP opening its doors to turncoats, but this is part of its social base widening plan. Unlike the first phase of the BJP’s mandalisation, which saw the Ram Mandir as the unifying and driving force, the real base of mandalisation depends on expanding economic opportunities for OBCs – who constitute the broad base of Hindus in almost all states. This is why Modi finds resonance among many categories of OBCs. This broadening of the political base was what brought the two DMKs to power in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s, what made Mulayam Singh and Lalu Yadav such powerful forces in the 1990s and the last decade.

The rise of the OBCs in the BJP’s calculus has implications for regional parties, regardless of the outcome of this election. Even if Modi does not win, the party will have to keep mandalising to broaden its base. OBC power will drive the BJP is regions it was never strong in – like the south, for example. The very fact that the BJP actually heads a six-party alliance in Tamil Nadu tells us that huge realignments are underway. The fourth change is that the BJP is now abandoning its old collective leadership ways. It is adopting the only method that has worked in India – the individual being supreme in party matters. In the Congress, dynasty has worked. In all successful regional parties, there is only one leader or one dynasty at the top. The BJP is mutating to grow Collective leadership has never worked in any party in India.

Thus in BSP it is Mayawati, in AIADMK it is Jalayalithaa, in Shiv Sena it is Uddhav and his son, in Akali Dal it is the Badals, in SP it is the Mulayam Singh family, in Odisha it is Naveen Patnaik, in Andhra Pradesh it is Jagan Reddy in YSR Congress and Chandrababu Naidu in TDP, in Karnataka it is Deve Gowda’s family running the JD(S), in Bihar it is Nitish Kumar in JD(U), Ram Vilas Paswan in LJP, and Lalu Prasad in RJD, etc etc.

Even the Aam Aadmi Party is nothing without an Arvind Kejriwal. Till recently, the only two holdouts to this person-centric model were the BJP and the Left. The ascent of Modi in the BJP is acknowledgement that this is what works in India. We all know how much the BJP’s collective leadership achieved in the last 10 years before Modi arrived. For its part, the Left will rise again when it abandons collective leadership and opts for a towering personality as its leaders – as was the case during Jyoti Basu’s time. Personality has always trumped ideology in India. Suhas Palshikar, writing in The Indian Express, notes that the BJP and the Congress are now being fashioned by two individuals, Modi and Rahul, each with their own visions for the party. Thus he labels the new parties under them as Congress(R) and BJP(M). He also believes that Rahul and Modi are at loggerheads with their parties’ old guard, but while Modi may pull it off and make the party subservient to him, thanks to his direct equation with the public, Rahul, due to his limited charisma, may end up leaving the Congress alive, but may himself not succeed in refashioning it too much. He concludes with a question: “If history is a guide, are we going to witness, in the failure of Rahul, the survival of the Congress that all of us would love to despise?

And by the same logic, if Modi succeeds in ensuring the leader-party connect, will that bring in a power machine that we might have to dread?” Where I disagree with Palshikar is in assuming that Modi is only about an authoritarian tendency. His rise represents a broader social base for the BJP than it could have imagined earlier. This individualized model is here to stay, Modi or no Modi. In fact, if the BJP loses this election, one could well see the party split – with the stronger wing staying with Modi and preparing for the next battle. The old BJP is mutating to survive and grow. [Input source: Firstpost ]