Five ways Modi-Shah have changed BJP for good

Aditya Menon
Aditya MenonApr 03, 2015 | 16:00

Five ways Modi-Shah have changed BJP for good

Even the BJP's fiercest critics would concede that the saffron party's surge has been the biggest political success story of 2014. The party's stunning victory in the Lok Sabha elections was only the beginning of the process of "Modi-fying India". This, and not Congress Mukt Bharat, is the BJP's real mission.

Consider what the party has achieved in the last seven months: it has captured power in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand; Congress has been reduced to its weakest ever position; and powerful non-BJP chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, J Jayalalithaa, Siddaramaiah and Naveen Patnaik have been pushed completely on the backfoot.


The BJP has never been this aggressive since the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. But the difference is that back then, the party was battling for its very survival, having been reduced to just two seats in the 1984 general elections. Today, it's mission is complete hegemonic dominance over India's political landscape. Just as the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation changed the BJP from a relatively quiescent political party preoccupied with cultural nationalism to a Hindutva mass movement, the Modi-Amit Shah duo is transforming the BJP in unimaginable ways. A critical part of the "Modi-fying India" mission is "Modi-fying BJP". Here are five major ways in which BJP is being "Modi-fied".  

1. End of Satrap raj

BS Yeddyurappa had resisted the BJP's central leadership

BJP president Amit Shah's war isn't just against regional chieftains like Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar. He is also trying to dismantle the satrap culture within the BJP. Ironically, Modi is himself the product of the BJP's emphasis on cultivating powerful regional leaders. But with Modi ruling the government and the party, the shoe is on the other foot. A few years ago, a leader like BS Yeddyurappa could brazen out corruption charges and openly insult the BJP central leadership, just because of his status as the BJP's only face in its only southern bastion. "I don't need anybody from Delhi to tell me how to rule a state and do politics on the ground," he is known to have told the BJP central leadership. Modi and Amit Shah's motto seems to be "No more Yeddyurappas". Compare the former Karnataka chief minister with the people who have been appointed chief minister in the states the BJP captured under the Modi-Shah duo: Manohar Lal Khattar (Haryana), Devendra Fadnavis (Maharashtra) and Raghubar Das (Jharkhand). All of them have been loyal, low profile party functionaries with very little mass following. They have been disciplined organisation people and have never tried to become larger than the party, nor will they do so. In fact, Modi even replaced one of the BJP's satraps by bringing Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar to the Centre as defence minister.


Of course, not all cases will fit in this neat framework. For instance, it would be interesting how Modi and Shah handle three very powerful regional leaders in the BJP: Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan.

2. Caste not a factor any more

Raghubar Das is Jharkhand's first non-tribal chief minister

The other thing that the three new CMs have in common is that neither of them is from a politically significant caste in their respective state. Khattar is from the Khatri community, which has a minuscule presence in Haryana where the Jat community has traditionally called the shots. Similarly, Fadnavis is a Brahmin CM in a state like Maharashtra where Marathas have been the politically dominant community for decades. Most recently, Jharkhand got its first non-tribal chief minister in Raghubar Das, who hails from the Vaishya community. Again the comparison with Yeddyurappa is indicative here. The Karnataka strongman's power stemmed from the Lingayat community which stood solidly behind him even when he was facing corruption charges. The new BJP CMs have no major political constituency in their respective states. In the BJP's rise after the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, the catalysts were OBC leaders like Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti. The BJP needed them to move beyond their core base of Brahmins and trading communities like Banias and Khatris and therefore the party leadership had to tolerate their idiosyncrasies that sometimes bordered on indiscipline. This gave these leaders a degree of impunity vis-a-vis the party's central leadership, which was mostly dominated by people from Brahmin and mercantile communities. It is perhaps no coincidence that the prominent leaders who rebelled against the BJP in different states came from backward and politically significant communities: Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Babulal Marandi and Yeddyurappa being cases in point. This is obviously something that Modi and Shah have noticed. Being from communities with little political clout, Khattar, Fadnavis or Das are unlikely to resort to adventurism of the former set of leaders. In fact one goes


If one goes by the examples of Khattar, Fadnavis and Das, the BJP's new state leadership comprises the very communities that have been the party's traditional support bases.

3. Modi first, party second, self last

A BJP election poster from Jharkhand

The BJP has never spared an opportunity to attack the Congress for not declaring chief ministerial candidates in assembly elections and leaving the decision to the party's high command. Since Modi's victory earlier this year, the BJP has been doing precisely this. The party did not announce a CM candidate in any of the states that have gone to polls in the past seven months. In all the campaigns, the party's face has been Modi and Modi alone. As Delhi might go to polls in the near future, the state unit of the BJP has put up posters with Modi's picture all across the city and in the Delhi Metro. Like the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand, the slogan is "Modiji ke saath jayenge". There are subtle differences of course. In Jammu and Kashmir campaign posters, Modi sported a shining white kurta and shining white hair and beard to match giving him a venerable and avuncular look. In Delhi, he appears more casual and preppy in a pink half sleeve kurta and hair that is shorter and more grey than white. But folicular differences apart, the message is clear: there is only one brand the BJP is selling, Brand Modi. The only other face one sees prominently across the country is Amit Shah, but that is more as Modi's enforcer. Therefore Amit Shah's brand value stems from its relation with Brand Modi, he has little appeal independent of it.

4. No parallel power centres

About two years ago, no one would have thought that the so-called Delhi caucus in the BJP, would be rendered completely powerless by the two men from Gujarat. Sushma Swaraj is a much-sidelined minister for foreign affairs, Arun Jaitley, though influential in the policy matters, has virtually no say in party affairs, neither do the three former party presidents Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari.  LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have been sent into forced retirement as they have been removed even from the party's highest decision making body, the Parliamentary Board. Even within the party office bearers, Amit Shah is firm on preventing the emergence of any power centres. Party general secretary JP Nadda had become very influential after the BJP came to power. Being senior to Amit Shah (he became general secretary three years before Shah), Nadda was even one of the contenders for the party's top post. In November, Nadda was promptly kicked upstairs by being made the Union health minister.

5. Return of the Sangh

"Whatever I am today, is because of my RSS background," Laxminkant Parsekar said soon after being chosen as Parrikar's successor as Goa CM in November. Parsekar said publically what has been left unsaid during the last seven months: that the Sangh wielding power like never before. Kept at bay for years by the Atal-Advani duo the Sangh is now calling the shots: from dictating the priorities of the HRD minister to spearheading the BJP's outreach missions in states like West Bengal. Amit Shah's team also bore the RSS stamp with Ram Madhav emerging as an influential general secretary. Another new general secretary, Ram Shanker Katheria, is also from a Sangh background. Under the previous dispensation, two joint general secretaries: Saudan Singh and V Satish managed the coordination between the BJP and the Sangh. Shah appointed two more joint general secretaries, Shiv Prakash and BL Santosh, which clearly showed that the Sangh will have a much greater engagement with the party.

Former RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav has emerged as an influential BJP general secretary

The Modi-fied BJP will be a much more centralised entity with roles and expectations clearly laid out and very little scope for any adventurism by any office bearer or chief minister. It appears that the only form of indiscipline that the party will ignore are communal hate-mongering like we saw in the cases of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj and Giriraj Singh.

Under Modi and Shah, the BJP will soon come to resemble the Congress under Indira Gandhi. The difference would be that the BJP will have two power centres: Modi and Shah in Delhi and the RSS mandarins in Nagpur. There should be no hiccups, so long as the two boats continue to sail in the same direction. But as with Indira, the arrangement critically depends on the popularity of the leader. If Brand Modi loses its sheen, the BJP edifice might come tumbling down.  

Last updated: April 03, 2015 | 16:00
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