- May 08 2017
Prime Minister Modi has recognised and prioritised the long-term aspirations of the party.
One of the remarkable features of the BJP’s gains after May 2014 has been the focused coordination between the Narendra Modi government, the party organisation, and the broader RSS. Constant communication, consultation and priming of the party leadership before policy decisions are finalised, and a system of regular feedback, have allowed the party and the government to work in harmony and not surprise each other. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah are said to speak every day, perhaps even several times a day.
The job of politically packaging the government’s initiatives and taking these into new electoral and social constituencies has been taken up not just by the prime minister and his ministerial colleagues, but has depended substantially on the party mechanism. As a result, ministers are regularly available at party platforms to explain decisions to workers, activists, and supporters. Unlike in the Congress system, these meetings don’t take place to disburse patronage, but are more political than transactional in content. They provide inputs to governance rather than simply result in an engagement of favour seekers and favour givers.
Learning from the previous occasion when the BJP was in office (1999-2004), 11 Ashoka Road, the party’s national headquarters in New Delhi, is buzzing with activity. Back then, the bulk of the party talent pool had migrated to the government. The Ashoka Road premises were bereft of activity, save a handful of people left holding the fort. Ironically, one of them was Narendra Modi, general secretary and spokesperson for the ruling party before he was moved to Gujarat as chief minister in 2001.
This time, senior politicians who would in the normal course have been considered inevitable ministerial choices, have been kept out of the government because they are needed for party work. The names of Kailash Vijayvargiya, Bhupendra Yadav and Amit Shah himself come to mind, and these are not the only ones. Indeed, at least two senior ministers are likely to be giving up ministerial office at some stage to become faces of the BJP in assembly election campaigns in their respective home states.
This again would be very different from a Congress approach, which would wait to win an election before parachuting a Delhi-chosen chief minister. In the case of the BJP, the hunger to expand into new territories, regions, and states, and the sense of commitment to an organic party structure is that much greater. The Congress used to have that energy decades ago, but somewhere it lost its way. The consequences are obvious.
Are there any other precedents from recent political history? To an extent, the relationship between the CPI(M)-led Left Front government and the CPI(M) party organisation in Bengal comes to mind. At its peak, in about a 15-year period from attaining power in 1977 to the early 1990s, the party and government worked in tandem. The party provided solid policy inputs that furthered the CPI(M)’s growth as well as the government’s electoral success. The goal was to establish the party as a virtually unbeatable political machine. The coordination between Promode Dasgupta, secretary of the state CPI(M), and Jyoti Basu, the chief minister, was as letter-perfect as that between Modi and Shah.
Yet, there is one crucial difference — a difference that makes the current BJP example much more noteworthy. Dasgupta was born in 1910. He was four years older than Basu and his senior in the party. Basu himself, while he acquired mass recognition subsequently, was a creature of the cadre and organisation that won the 1977 election. The early CPI(M) victories in Bengal were certainly not personal endorsements of Basu, and it was logical that he and his government deferred to the party.
In 2014, Modi won the election virtually single-handedly. In opinion polls, he was consistently recorded as 15-20 per cent more popular than the BJP as a party. It had an extremely personal mandate. He could have chosen to ignore the party and its aspirations and simply focussed on running a good government for five years. Nevertheless, as someone who had spent decades as an ordinary party worker, he recognised the long-term aspirations of the BJP needed to be prioritised as well.
Therefore, Modi sought to actively empower the party — by creating a party strongman in Shah (almost 15 years Modi’s junior), and by ensuring that influential and motivated functionaries remained behind to take the BJP forward and provide both a political compass and a complement to the government. The results are there for all to see.
This commentary originally appeared in DNA India.