This article has been co-authored by Suryakiran Tiwari (@politicalbaaba) and Subhash Chandra ( @schandra_100).
Arun Shourie ex Finance Minister and member of BJP recently termed the new BJP under Modi as “Congress plus cow”.
Is BJP similar to Congress?
This question has many connotations. Similar in what sense? In terms of policies (especially economic and foreign policy) or in terms of structure and behavior. In this column we focus on the latter, BJP’s growing similarity with Congress, in the way the party machinery functions and is controlled, raising eyebrows even among a section of its staunchest supporters. The follow up of this piece we will explore if indeed the BJP is UPA 3 in the making when it comes policies.
Factors Pointing to Congressization of BJP
Modi’s announcement as PM candidate of BJP in Sep. 2013 was resisted by many in the party especially old guard like Advani, Joshi etc. After a massive win in Lok Sabha, Modi cemented his position in the party and silenced his critics. After all, BJP won Lok Sabha polls because of Modi. Modi was far ahead in leadership ratings for PM post at 36% vs 14% for Rahul. A clear lead of 20% was maintained throughout the campaign. A fourth of the BJP voters in CSDS-Lokniti post poll survey said that they wouldn’t have voted for BJP if Modi was not its PM candidate. “Vote for Modi” instead of “Vote for BJP” was the slogan.
In the state elections which followed – Maharashtra, Haryana, J&K and Jharkhand – no chief ministerial candidates were announced and Modi was the face of BJP campaign. BJP won all these elections (except J&K where it finished 2nd and formed a coalition with PDP) and Modi’s stature further enhanced.
After becoming PM and induction of Rajnath Singh as Home Minister in Cabinet, Modi ensured he got his right hand man and protégé Amit Shah elected as BJP President. His elevation (a relative junior) in the party was criticized by anti-Modi groups. With this master stroke, Modi ensured full control over the party and the government. He also formed an informal group of Jaitley-Shah-Himself which is known as Trimurti in party / media circles. This group calls all shots within the party and government.
Jaitley is the fire-fighting man and we see him presenting party not only on Finance and I&B (for which he is responsible) but also Law, Terror attacks, Election results, everything under the sun. The most interesting part is how Jaitley who has never won an election himself has become a key election strategist in the party. He couldn’t strategize correctly which seat he should fight from in Lok Sabha and lost despite a massive Modi wave and is now a state elections expert. Anyways!
The recent performance of the BJP in Gujarat is an example of how a party could get into trouble if there is too much reliance on one or two people’s charisma.
Modi edged out all competition in the party with exclusion of senior leaders like Advani, Joshi, Shourie, Yashwant Sinha from plum govt. as well as party posts using the age criteria (75+). To soothe these elders a “Margdarshak Mandal” has been formed comprising of Atalji, Advani, Joshi, Modi and Rajnath to guide the party. However, as per my knowledge no meeting of this group has ever taken place. The seniors are constantly at loggerheads with Trimurti, from fixing responsibility for Bihar loss to expulsion of Kirti Azad. They have been reduced to mere figure heads with no role, responsibility and say in party matters. Modi seems to have learnt a few tricks from the life of Indira. This is exactly the way she sidelined old guard then Morarji and Syndicate. The same syndicate which helped her to install as PM. A parallel can be drawn here it was Advani who was instrumental in getting Modi CM chair of Gujarat and saved him from being fired after Godhra riots.
Modi has managed to sideline his critics and opponents in the party like Gandhis successfully managed to do so over the years. However, there have been no big exits from BJP unlike Congress. The old guard is itching to hit back and future poll reverses would provide them with opportune ammunition.
During Indira’s tenure from 1966-1984 many disgruntled leaders across states left the party or were forced to leave. Essentially who ever questioned her supremacy or was talented enough was cut to size.
BJP didn’t project any state leaders in 4 state elections held in 2014. In fact in no state was there clarity on who will become CM. BJP fought elections with Modi as the face, telling voters Modi will chose his messenger who will work in co-ordination with center. And it paid off. In Haryana, Khattar who was made CM eventually was never in contention.
However, massive losses in Delhi and Bihar where Modi was the face of BJP campaign has turned the heat on Modi-Shah jodi and exposed the limitations of this strategy (Modification) of BJP. In Bihar, Sushil Modi despite being Deputy CM was not projected as CM candidate. Bahari vs Bihari proved a major point in Bihar elections which was exploited by opponents. Similarly in Delhi, Harshvardhan was ignored ostensibly to prevent infighting amongst other CM aspirants.
Modi Likely to Spend 5% of his tenure on Election Rallies
BJP has used Modi to campaign extensively in state elections held after Lok Sabha polls. Modi held 89 rallies in 6 states that went to polls (10.7% of total seats contested by NDA). This means approx. 3 weeks (assuming 4 rallies in a day) including travel time were spend on party work.
No. of rallies conducted by Modi in State Elections (Source: www.politicalbaaba.com)
14 states (excluding small North Eastern states) will go to polls before next Lok Sabha elections in the next 3 years. These states have 2,432 seats and going by the trend Modi likely to address 260 rallies spending another 65 days. This would mean he is likely to spend 3 months of his total tenure of 60 months (5%) on party work. This excludes time spent on strategy meetings / selection of candidates / discussions with Amit Shah.
This has been typical Congress jingo for years. Whenever party wins a state election standard tag line lately is party won due to “Rahul ka netritava”. Whenever it loses any elections the standard reason is “Kamjor Sangathan”. BJP has got affected by a similar flu.
Credit for state election wins in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (before 2014 Lok Sabha polls) was attributed to Modi. Even if Modi wasn’t declared a PM candidate, BJP would have won these states, it may have won a few seats less.
Credit for state election wins in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand were again attributed to Modi factor. Win in Maharashtra / Haryana was given as Congress state govt.’s were facing huge anti-incumbency being in power for 15 / 10 years respectively. In all states Modi did provide an edge though.
With the party sensing defeat in Delhi, it brought forward Kiran Bedi two weeks before elections as its CM candidate and made her the scapegoat for the defeat. In Bihar, where Modi did the highest number of rallies, loss was attributed to party’s failure in gauging the effectiveness of Maha Gathbandhan and failure was termed as “collective responsibility’.
At the height of its power, the Congress party was willing to offer tickets to anybody who had money and fitted easily into the local caste equations. This served them when the going was good but when the going got tough, many of these ‘leaders’ were found wanting as they did not have the ground experience of rebuilding the party and mounting a strong but responsible opposition. As electoral success becomes increasingly more important than ideology, the BJP is increasingly recruiting life time members of other parties. In Assam, an ambitious Congressman, Himant Biswa Sarma was recently welcomed to the BJP from the Congress party. In Jharkhand, 6 JVM(P) MLAs shifted en-masse to the BJP earlier this year. Just before the Lok Sabha election, a galaxy of Congress ‘leaders’ moved en-masse to the BJP – Satpal Maharaj, Purandeswari, Rajen Chavda, Chaudhary Birendra Singh. Many others have joined BJP later.
The big difference between the BJP and Congress has been the significant presence of RSS folks in the BJP. The training in the RSS is on a purpose larger than the self. The Congress was perhaps the same in the first 30 years when a large proportion of workers were from the Freedom movement. However, over time, the sourcing in the Congress changed from freedom fighters to power seekers which in turn led to severe dissidence and power struggles. When the party lost power, the internal decay completely destroyed the party in many States preventing it from ever returning to power in those States. With increasing recruits from parties with such cultures, the BJP is causing the same long term damage that may not be apparent today when the party is on a high.
The BJP and Congress party share almost identically positions on Corporate Funding for elections and their mindset towards RTI for political parties. The BJP has now replaced the Congress party as the favorite amongst Corporate Houses. Excessive dependence on Corporate houses for funding would invariably create conflict of interest when it comes to Policy making.
Congressization may finish BJP sooner rather than later
It wasn’t a great year 2015 for BJP having lost Delhi and Bihar elections by a big margin. Congress was also able to make inroads in Gujarat and Chhattisgarh in municipal elections. Very recently BJP received a drubbing in Maharashtra and Himachal panchayat elections. Apart from Assam, the party is not in contention in any state which goes to polls in 2016 (Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal). In 2017 it faces the most awaited UP and Gujarat polls. In 2018 it will be fighting to save its citadels in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
The central elections were won on popularity of Modi, no doubt. But Modification of BJP is dangerous for a party which claims to be a democratic party with strong grass root cadre. Indian central elections are in many ways an aggregation of mini elections in various states. While BJP did win riding on Modi popularity in Lok Sabha elections held in April-May 2014, it also did well in states because of strong local leadership of the likes of SS Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh), Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan), Manohar Parrikar (Goa), Yeddyurappa (Karnataka), Sushil Modi (Bihar) and Modi himself who was CM from Gujarat.
Modi himself was a state level leader who rose up the ranks. The inability to nurture and promote local leadership in key states especially in UP and Bihar could cost the party dearly in future. Modi may achieve supremacy but party’s fortunes would suffer. For a party like BJP which is still young and not a decent presence in many states, it needs to work towards building many “mini Modis”.
Modi could lend strategic support from center but local leaders need to be in charge of state elections as they know better the on ground position. Issue with Modification is what happens after Modi. Similar situation happened in Congress where after Indira’s death in 1984, even after 3 decades party is still struggling to regain its old glory. Promotion of state leaders has an advantage, if Modi popularity wanes, it could act as a cushion and still enable party to win a few seats due to goodwill earned by local leaders.
Modi shouldn’t fear competition within party. By building strong leaders across states he will actually be strengthening his hand rather than weakening his supremacy over the party. The soon Modi and BJP realize that Congressikaran is dangerous and take corrective actions, the better it will be for longevity of BJP. While Mr Modi may be successful in bringing about a Congress Mukt Bharat, Congressization will take a long time to leave our shores, if BJP continues to adopt this approach…
This article was originally posted at DailyO.