Updated: Tue, 19 Jul 2022 07:02 PM IST
Arguably, the secret of Modi’s success in groundbreaking methodological innovations is remarkable flexibility. The underlying pragmatism of the RSS encourages and welcomes creative and radical departures from the playbook. Ever since his induction into the party, Modi has deployed unorthodox techniques, caring little for the old-fashioned dogmatic way of expanding the organization. Yet, he met with no censure.
Indeed, his ways were accommodated within the Sangh’s scheme of things. This lack of rigidity and openness to experimentation comes naturally to the Sangh Parivar, which sees in this approach an Indian way of dealing with reality. Most outsiders miss this open secret. That factor—flexibility—is the unacknowledged inherent reason for the BJP’s growth.
If the history of the Sangh Parivar is to be judged in the right context, it readily embraces the ideas that may not be ideologically compatible but get social traction. The Congress dominance, with the Nehru–Gandhi family at the top, is understood by Modi as a ‘civilizational disruption’ in the absence of personalities like Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1967, 1975 and 1989, people expressed their deep desire for a change which was temporarily, rather cunningly, crushed by Congress. Its imposition of the President’s rule on non-Congress state governments was indicative of its inability to come to terms with regional aspirations. Modi seems to be making no such mistakes. That he would not stand on prestige despite his image of a strong leader was evident when he withdrew the three bills on agriculture reforms in late 2021.
The moment he realized that the bills were being taken as a pretext to foment a subversive movement not only within India but also by external forces, he declared his intention to withdraw the legislative move ‘in the larger interest of the nation’. He also apologized, underlining that his intent was benevolent but he might have erred in judgement. Modi perhaps stands alone in contemporary politics for having taken decisions that entailed hardships for people.
Demonetization and the lockdown amid the pandemic are good examples. But he always owns up to his responsibility for each of them and never indulges in passing the buck. None of those difficult decisions has caused any erosion in people’s trust in Modi or the credibility of his government, because people do not find any fault with his intentions.
Right since the beginning, Modi has kept on emphasizing three critical aspects of his working style to win the trust of the masses. First: ‘I will leave no stone unturned for the benefit of the people and the nation.’ Second: ‘I will do nothing for personal gain.’ Third: ‘I may make bona fide mistakes but won’t do anything with bad intentions.’
These three messages from him seem to have hit home, not only with the ever-growing party cadre but also among the party’s support base. As a result, the BJP has achieved a scale of dominance attained by Congress immediately after Independence that continued for decades. It would be patently naive to attribute the growth of the BJP to Modi’s charisma alone.
Far from it, the legacy bequeathed from the BJS to the BJP is such that it continues to emerge stronger, while a mass-based party like the Congress and a strong and ideologically motivated cadre-based party like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have been relegated to the margins. In states where regional parties are stronger, the BJP leadership has consciously avoided coming into conflict with the regional sentiments, be it Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal or Odisha.
In Bihar, the party, though a majority partner in the alliance, conceded the chief ministership to its ally, Nitish Kumar. There is no doubt that Modi is politically astute. He carefully crafts his strategy to win elections. But that is what every politician is supposed to do. The real story of Modi’s success lies in his genius for organization building, which he had so assiduously learnt from a generation of leaders from the Sangh Parivar and applied it successfully over the decades.
At this point, the question arises as to what the BJP’s future will be under Modi and beyond him. Perhaps a decade back, the prospect of a BJP government getting a resounding mandate looked like a remote possibility. In the early ’90s, such an idea was not even worth wasting your time on. Things changed in the past two decades, and the BJP achieved the dominant position in Indian politics.
Will this dominance be transient or will it last long? It will be interesting to analyse these pertinent questions in the context of the organizational growth of the BJS/BJP. Right since its inception, the party might have appeared to be fixated on its specific ideological goals, but it had always shown openness to adapting to the exigencies of Indian politics. In its initial phase of growth, it lacked experienced political leaders, except for Syama Prasad Mukerjee. After Mukerjee’s demise, its leadership largely comprised those who were trained RSS volunteers.
Hence, they lacked the nimble-footedness of those leaders who were adept at negotiating the labyrinth of Indian politics. The party leadership initially fumbled but gradually adapted itself to the changing political circumstances. By the third parliamentary election, the BJS had acquired enough political muscle to pose a formidable challenge.
Though the party leadership was never shy of its ideological moorings, inextricably rooted in the RSS, they were allowed complete autonomy to take political decisions for the growth of the party. When Deendayal Upadhyay joined Ram Manohar Lohia in endorsing a proposal to create a federation of India and Pakistan, it was clearly in conflict with the Sangh Parivar’s initial concept of ‘Akhand Bharat’, or undivided India.
But Upadhyay was allowed to take a pragmatic view of the situation. The party’s decision to join the JP movement in 1974 was not impulsive but driven by political pragmatism. Similarly, the BJP supported V.P. Singh in his anti-corruption movement against Rajiv Gandhi despite Singh’s often unfriendly utterances. In the course of its political journey, the BJS/BJP not only gained experience in mass movements but also expanded its organizational network to get real feedback from the ground.
This helped the party leadership in getting a feel of the pulse of the people. It has developed a unique mechanism of feedback from the ground and specific directions for the cadre to carry out programmes. When Modi started campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, cadres galvanized into action as they could see that he was gaining exceptional popularity.
Modi, through his innovative methods (discussed in previous chapters), not only expanded the organization phenomenally but also made inroads into eastern and southern India by co-opting mass-based leaders into the party’s fold. The party has consciously groomed a large number of next-gen leaders, at both national and regional levels, who have also been learning expansion methods from the top leadership.
As of now, the BJP has successfully filled the vacuum caused by the exit of Congress as a national party. Unlike the Congress, which degraded its vast organizational network and rendered it effete, Modi ensures that the organization is not a political expedient for the government.
He has created a unique harmony between the government and the organization, which never existed before. This predominant political position is unlikely to be unsettled in a post-Modi phase, as he will be leaving behind a robust political structure that will keep on creating its icons of the time.
(This is an excerpt from 'The Architect of the New BJP - How Narendra Modi Transformed The Party', by Ajay Singh, the Press Secretary to President Ram Nath Kovind. Published by Penguin Random House India (PRHI), the book tells how PM Modi and his "unmatched organisational skills" paved the way for his rise in the party and transformed the BJP into "the election-winning machine it is today".)