There is widespread comment on the completion of the first hundred days of the Modi government animated as these are by an overpowering curiosity as to what they portend for the rest of the government’s term. This curiosity is understandable given that the recent electoral mandate has been unprecedented in India’s post-1947 history.
BJP has, for the first time, won parliamentary majority on its own. This electoral victory was won by an ‘outsider’ whose ‘anointment’ as a potential Prime Minister was done by sidelining the party’s national leadership. His absolute power is marginally limited by considerations arising only in electoral contingencies and in the floor-management in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP remains a minority political group.
The electoral mandate was won on a platform of decisive, development-oriented and inclusive governance untrammelled by the facile socialist-nationalist ideological debate which was the hallmark of the public discourse engineered by the previous UPA government. It was also won by the energetic and result-oriented persona of the BJP’s lead candidate, Narendra Modi, with an established reputation for financial rectitude. The electorate saw his candidature as a refreshing contrast to the previous leadership which could not be crystallised into the image of a national leader, was beset by serious corruption allegations and by the paralysis of the Government and the Party; the projection of Rahul Gandhi, as the anointed successor to his ailing mother, was hobbled by his own image as an administratively inexperienced and politically inept person lacking a public touch. The received wisdom behind the campaign strategies, nearly, of all political parties was – and, is – that the electorate is apathetic to grand ideological projections but can be swayed by the credibility of the promises of good governance delivery, in essence, amounting to ‘roti, kapada aur makan’ and to peace on the streets, by and large.
This received wisdom’s downside has also been apparent in these and, also, elections in recent times. The political parties also see this as a convenient cover to continue with their own characteristic methods of consolidation of their support. The caste and religious card was played to the hilt by all political parties, including the BJP, whose UP campaign manager and now the Party President, Amit Shah, delivered stunning results for the party in the state; however, the parliamentary elections in UP were preceded by one of the most horrific communal riots in the western UP region which has acquired the dubious distinction of being one of the most communally sensitive regions in the country, situated right next to the national capital. In the process, BJP’s political consolidation was more successful than its rivals, that is, the ruling SP and the traditionally strong BSP, which have watched their traditional support base dwindling as a result. Apart from infusing cohesion in a faction-ridden party in UP, the BJP’s state campaign-in-charge also benefited hugely by the aggressive campaigning by the RSS cadres and its other affiliates – a pattern which was evident in all the other key electoral battlegrounds in the country.
Striding confidently on the political plank of clean and decisive government, the early moves of the new Prime Minister also bore the stamp of the governance style of his chief ministership. This is characterised by personal centralisation of power and reliance on strong personal loyalty network in the party and the government. There is also the willingness to take risks and, at the same time, for media projection of his persona. The centralisation of power is manifest not just in the government but also in the party whose leadership has been completely revamped; this includes the top policy-making and decision-making body of the party, that is, the Central Parliamentary Board. In this leadership overhaul, the two top leaders, Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, have been pushed sideways as members of the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’, that is, the Guidance Committee.
All of this suggests, however, that it has not been a complete leadership overhaul: the transient leaders continue to linger on and the factions around them could perk up should a chink in the new leader’s armour become visible. Already, some faultlines are emerging: from newspaper reports, it appears that the snooping devices found in the houses of some ministers were to keep tabs on them due to their perceived closeness to RSS leaders and that the rumour-mongering against the Home Minister amongst the members of the cabinet suggested that several top BJP leaders are chafing at the tight leash. In many respects and despite divergent ideological packaging, the Congress and the BJP view themselves as “national” parties with a natural right to govern consciously conducting themselves as mirror images of each other as far as the political impulses are concerned: the UPA governors have been sacked to make way for the victors; other senior government positions, held by people on contract appointments, are being vacated under government pressure; opposition state governments are especially being put under pressure through aggressive street demonstrations and in other ways. The new BJP leadership is also adopting a tough negotiating stance vis-à-vis its alliance partners banking as it does on the Modi ‘wave’.
Herein lies the nub of political kinetic action on the part of the BJP. Prime Minister is not distancing himself, explicitly, from the communally polarising tactics of the party apparently because these had yielded electoral gains during the parliamentary elections; in these tactics, the RSS and its affiliates continue to play an active part, thereby, reinforcing the BJP’s strategy of deploying these cadres for political mobilisation for the forthcoming assembly elections in Haryana, Maharashtra, J&K and, possibly, Delhi – and, by a long shot, even UP. The strategy is to, somehow, keep the Modi ‘wave’, generated during the parliamentary elections, crested high enough for the next round of electoral battle. By what tactics can the ‘wave’ be sustained long enough?
The broad summation is that the recent parliamentary upheaval was brought about by the Congress disarray and the RSS and the affiliate cadres giving the BJP a heave. The disarray in Congress due to internecine factional fights, in the absence of a robust internal party democracy, is matched by the BJP’s weak internal organizational cohesion requiring the shoulder of the better motivated affiliate cadres. As analysed in my previous blogs, the same hubris, that is, absence of internal democracy, gutted the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party which, also, pined for its own ‘wave’ to go on and on; the eventual fate of the Aam Aadmi Party put a final seal on the Anna Hazare movement which also became a victim of Ramdev’s personal ambition and of the conflicting personal agendas of the members of Hazare’s inner circle as there was no grassroots organisational girdle to rein in the deviant behaviour of members of its top leadership. The emotional connect of the empowered grassroots’ party workers with the broader electorate alone provides a party – and its leadership – with the facilitative conditions for constant, wide-ranging propagation of its work programme that is not possible for single point-driven special interest groups and ideological cadres or for episodic populist demagogy – the usual props to generate a ‘wave’!
This fatal organisational weakness of the present BJP political strategy will lead to the ‘wave’ phenomenon weakening in the foreseeable future leading to greater polarisation, the widening of the party’s internal faultlines and knock-on effect of the party’s weakened position in Rajya Sabha on its effectiveness in the Lok Sabha (currently the other way around). The tide of ‘wave’ can turn against the present Prime Minister on account of an even minor setback to the governments and/or of jaded popular interest in the stridency of the BJP’s RSS-driven political campaign. In the process, the promising prospect of healthy party system – and of a healthy democracy – as signified by the real, potent popular surge as seen in the recent years which the ‘established’ political parties, such as, the Congress and the BJP, were forced to take note of, has received a setback; the Congress Party has also done a whitewash through its internal party analysis of its dismal performance in order to carry on business as usual. We are back to square one – alas – which outcome will have a major effect on the downward spiral of systemic degradation and a diminished capacity for handling the, undoubtedly, critical challenges before the country and the region we live in.
After the spectacular success of the Salt March in 1930 when Indians began to believe that they will be free someday, Jawaharlal Nehru relates, in his Autobiography, a conversation with Mahatma Gandhi; Nehru would, variously, describe him as the Master or the Magician with the Indian people. To his musing about the future of the Congress party after independence, which was rather like an umbrella organisation for different types of political tendencies in those days, Gandhiji replied that he should not think in terms of western manipulative politics and that so long as the Congress party had members motivated by public service he was satisfied; this was the Mahatma’s message to the Party and its workers and remains valid even today for all political parties. And, he told Rajgopalachari, then Governor of Bengal, who had led a delegation of newly appointed ministers, that, with their assumption of ministerial office, the most difficult part of their lives had just begun!