The BJP under Narendra Modi – shades of Indira Gandhi

Parties pledging their all to a single leader is not new in the Indian context. Most parties in India have strong leaders, and it is actually true that most smaller parties in India are actually fiefdoms of families. So, the Samajwadi Party is essentially led by the family members of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav is putting his family in different positions in the RJD, Ram Vilas Paswan has essentially shown now that his son is the driver of his party, the Akali Dal is the same with son and daughter-in-law occupying top posts, the Shiv Sena and the more violent MNS offshoot are also family of Bal Thackeray, and so on. The Congress of course is something that people know about.
However, for many many years, the BJP seemed different. It was a party that was proud of the fact that it is not a party where a single leader rode over everybody else, it being more a structure of the RSS+many leaders. Thus, even in the time when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the leader, he was not the unquestioned leader of the party apparatus; Advani could speak his mind and was supposed to have a bigger hold within the party, when she was alive Vijayraje Scindia never sought to put herself below anybody else; others such as Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan, all occupied their own positions. Even though they could be allied with one or the other top leader, none of them was ridden roughly over. The BJP also had a series of party presidents, but it seemed more like a post of rotation, not somebody who could stamp a mark of leadership over the party and enjoy unquestioned authority.
However, the past many months have seen a change, and even though people do not realize it, it is a drastic change. Narendra Modi, with a lot of support from the RSS, has modified the BJP in a manner that the party organization seems very different from what it was just a couple of years back. His image being projected as the development man, the proposed winner of the next elections and the potential next Prime Minister has ensured that he has taken over control of the party. Alliances are proposed and agreed upon with other parties (including such as Paswan – who could have thought that there would be so much similarity between Paswan and the BJP that they could strike an alliance), and yet it seems that many of the party’s leaders do not really have a say in this. It is pretty clear that Sushma Swaraj, once a very tall leader of the party, has made it clear that she has no role to play in the alliances that the party makes, and this was even more tragic for her, since for matters concerning the area of Bellary and the Reddy brothers, she was supposed to be the prime person, and yet she could only tweet that she has no say in this matter.
Even more interesting is what is happening to the elders of the party, especially Murli Manohar Joshi and Advani. Even when Vajpayee and Advani were the most powerful, MM Joshi would never submit to being second, and they did not try to break that feeling of his. However, in the current situation, Joshi did not want to give up his seat of Varanasi, since he felt that it was a safe seat. But it was important for the party that Modi be projected in a seat in Uttar Pradesh, since that would even further enthuse the workers as well as the voting population, and supposedly help the BJP’s prospects in eastern UP and Bihar. And so, even though MM Joshi was unwilling, he was yanked out of the seat and the seat was handed over to Modi. Advani is even more tragic. He used to consider himself as the tallest leader in the BJP, but the last year would have shown him that this is no longer so, it is now Modi everywhere.
Now, Modi may be enthusing the BJP workers and wowing the crowd, and helping the BJP get more votes, but in terms of his personality, he is very similar to Indira Gandhi. He can brook no opposition, pushes aside anybody who could be in his way, and does this pretty quickly and ruthlessly. He is pushing all over the country to try and make this an election won by a strong leader who is focused on making India better, and many people would remember that this is what Indira Gandhi used to do. And it might work – Indira Gandhi won many elections for the Congress, and even managed to make it recover from the massive negative image of having declared an emergency. And yet, that comparison can only go so far.
The time of Indira Gandhi was a time when there was a much reduced scope of information and openness. Just closing off an area would prevent any reporting from that area. This is a time when there are reporters everywhere, when there is a massive contest between different elements of media to get a new scoop. How is that relevant at this point of time ? Well, the BJP has staked everything on Modi right now. He is the development messiah, he is the one who has done development in Gujarat to a level such that the rest of the country should admire and hope for him to repeat in India and their respective areas. If this hero is now found to have any chinks of clay, then the BJP will be in deep trouble. To counter this, it could be said that a lot of efforts have already been made to find any chinks in his armour and it has all failed, and that would be true.
And yet, all these efforts are going to continue. Modi has been able to get prospective allies on his side with the projection that the 2002 riots are now forgotten, the SIT report has absolved him. But, there will be a sizable section of the voting population that will be wary of him, and it will not be so easy to overcome this feeling of being wary. The entire projection of Modi has been a fantastic and well organized PR campaign, but there is a lack of depth. Now, people are more comfortable when they see their leaders being able to answer questions, take a grilling and explain about what they are going to do to make their lives better. This is something that Modi has adamantly refused to do, and it may cost him some votes in urban areas (although this one is not so easy to measure).
By all accounts, Modi runs a tight ship in Gujarat, with no dissension tolerated. This also means that the person gets used to this kind of process, and challenges can get harder to resolve. In the case of a country such as India, the number of challenges and difficulties are such that a leader needs to be more willing to listen to multiple points of view, be able to change their stands when it is necessary to do so. Modi is not really such a type of leader. In fact, even in the BJP, there are apparently many leaders who are waiting to see that if the party does not get more than say 180 seats, in which case they will say ‘we told you so’, and then try to create pressure to bypass Modi, and then it will get difficult for Modi.

1 comment to The BJP under Narendra Modi – shades of Indira Gandhi

  • Don’t compare Narendra Modi with Indira Gandhi. She was the leader of different era when politics didn’t have the coverage of electronics and internet media. People used to come in her rally with their own desire. Today, media gives huge coverage to Narendra Modi’s rally and a number of websites promoting him online. He is also an accused of misusing his power in sidelining the top leaders of BJP.

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