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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Secret of Modi’s success? Innovations in party-building strategies, says this new book

If there had been any doubts, none survived 2019. The stunning victory of the BJP led by Narendra Modi in 2014 was not a flash in the pan, and the renewed mandate was even stronger than before.

The ‘Modi phenomenon’ that has been unfolding since 2001 has inspired numerous studies and books aiming to explain it. His ideology of Hindutva coupled with a stress on economic development and efficient governance has been a factor many commentators have picked as the key to his unprecedented popularity. Others have also highlighted his personal traits — charisma, hard work, oratory and more — as the ingredients of it.

A new book, ‘The Architect of the New BJP: How Narendra Modi Transformed the Party’ by veteran journalist Ajay Singh, advances a new hypothesis.

It says that Modi, right from the time he shifted from the RSS to the BJP in the late 1980s, has focused on the consolidation of the party’s support base and this is the precise reason why the BJP has been able to maintain its traction with people and also expand its footprint in regions where it did not have presence. In this process, he has also deployed some unusual strategies, building upon the traditional ‘Sangathanist’ model of the erstwhile Jana Sangh — the precursor of the BJP and also innovating techniques of party-building.

American political scientist Myron Weiner was the first to point out the significance of ‘party- building’ in contemporary politics with his classic work, ‘Party Building in a New Nation: The Indian National Congress’ (1967). His argument — and it applies equally well to the case of Modi and the BJP — was that not enough attention has been paid to the art and craft of building a party, as most analysts assume that it must be some organic process that takes place on its own.

Singh, currently serving as the Press Secretary to the President of India, also points towards that blind spot in the journalistic as well as academic analyses of the Modi phenomenon. While the ideology and the charismatic leadership have surely played a part in this phenomenon, they may not be of as much critical importance as Modi’s party-building innovations.

Modi has worked silently on this line, away from the limelight in the early years and hence few know about it. Singh narrates — and analyses — several episodes of this lesser-known side of Modi and his mission, beginning with the relief work in the aftermath of the Machchhu dam break disaster in Gujarat in 1979.

As renowned South Asia expert Walter Andersen writes in his foreword to this book, “Ajay Singh has written an important book that analyses Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impressive organisational skills used to build the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as India’s predominant political party and, in the process, advancing his own career path to the position of prime minister.”

Andersen, the co-author of the oft-quoted study of the RSS, ‘The Brotherhood in Saffron’, notes the results of the state elections held earlier this year and writes, “The BJP’s electoral performance in these states seems to affirm Ajay Singh’s key propositions regarding Modi’s ability to successfully use the party organisation as the interface between the people and what they want on the one side and the government/bureaucracy on the other. Much of the book is an analysis of why Singh thinks this system is likely to survive even when Modi fades from the political scene.”

Andersen, a former head of South Asia Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, US, believes such a work requires more than textual scholarship. A deep insight into the organisation requires years and years of conversations with its key actors. Singh is ideally positioned for this task, as he has reported on major developments in the BJP over the past three decades for a host of leading newspapers, TV news networks and digital platforms.

Yet, it is not a “reporter’s diary”, as it is informed of the theoretical analysis from a wide range of sources as seen especially in the concluding chapter that presents a grand overview of the party’s genesis, its progress through the turbulent middle phase, followed by the much- analyzed last couple of decades.

Stretching that line of analysis further, the author also looks at the possible future of the BJP. “As of now, the BJP has successfully filled the vacuum caused by the exit of the Congress as a national party. Unlike the Congress, which degraded its vast organisational network and rendered it effete, Modi ensures that the organisation is not a political expedient for the government. He has created a unique harmony between the government and the organisation, 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 own icons of the time,” Singh concludes.

‘The Architect of the New BJP’, arriving with advance praise from Prof Arvind Panagariya, Prof S.P. Kothari and others, is not just another book on Modi: it is that rare work which will appeal to journalists and academics alike – not to mention the well-informed citizen. It is slated to become indispensable reading for party apparatchiks of all political organisations.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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