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How Modi Has Changed BJP's Game to Win Big

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: NDTV.com
Date: October 21, 2014
URL: http://www.ndtv.com/elections/article/election-news/how-modi-has-changed-bjp-s-game-to-win-big-609751?curl=1413883039

Some 25 years ago, an academic who had closely followed the ups and downs of Hindu nationalism described the political orientation of the RSS and its fraternal organisations as a coral reef approach. He was emphasising the huge dose of gradualism that marked the RSS attempts to influence Hindu society. Since the Sangh, he claimed, was committed to expanding its influence inch by inch, it was unmoved by temporary blips that included adverse or favourable election results and changes of government.
As an observation that was located at a time when social change in India was slow and even invisible, the coral reef theory was prescient. Even VD Savarkar who popularised political Hindutva as an alternative to Gandhism, was sharply critical of the RSS for its unending patience and lack of urgency. In particular Savarkar berated the RSS' over-emphasis on sangathan (organisation) and its relative neglect of ideas.
The centrality of sangathan among individuals who have come to politics with an RSS orientation remains. Yet, since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement transformed it from a fringe opposition to the Congress to what L.K. Advani rightly called an "alternative pole" of politics, the BJP has been playing for higher stakes-much higher than their nominal organisational network warranted.  
With Narendra Modi at the helm, this over-reach has entered into the DNA of the organisation. After Modi was named the prime ministerial candidate in September 2013, the political orientation of the BJP underwent another radical shift. If the Ayodhya movement established a Hindu vote-bank in northern and western India, the Modi campaign of 2013-14 sought to blend a Hindu orientation with economic aspiration. More than any other politician, Modi detected the new political potential of a social constituency that had been created out of India's hesitant economic liberalisation. He understood that the so-called demographic dividend could also witness a decisive rupture from the social and political traditions of the past. Since the BJP was a few steps away from fully grasping the shifts, a presidential-style campaign became a special purpose vehicle.
The spectacular performance of the BJP in last week's elections to the Maharashtra and Haryana assemblies can be better understood in this light. With Amit Shah at the helm and a highly-motivated election machine in operation, the BJP has sought to blend the twin advantages that accrue from the sangathan and wave approaches.
 What is significant is that the BJP didn't shy away from aiming very high. In Maharashtra, it hadn't contested nearly half the Assembly constituencies since 1991, and in Haryana its social influence was limited to a few urban clusters. That it won 123 of the 288 seats in Maharashtra may seem an under-achievement to those are pathologically hostile to both Modi and Shah. However, considering that the Shiv Sena was at best willing to concede only 119 seats for the BJP to contest, the final result was a dramatic surge-almost as dramatic as its great leap forward in Uttar Pradesh in 1991.
 As for Haryana, where the BJP lacked both organisational and social depth, its outright victory is comparable (on a smaller scale) to NT Rama Rao's spectacular debut in Andhra Pradesh in 1982.
In both places the conventional BJP approach has been turned on its head. Rather than electoral success following sustained organisational groundwork, in both states (and more so in Haryana) a victory in elections has preceded the creation of an organisational base. This may explain why the BJP had to take help from a large number of defectors from other parties to field credible candidates.
It was the timetable that forced the BJP's hand in both Maharashtra and Haryana. There is at least a year or more available for Bihar (where it already has an established network) and West Bengal (which has been relatively untouched by a BJP presence). Consequently, the next few Assembly elections may witness a more rounded blend of sangathan and hawa.
The mix may change from state to state but, overall, the political culture of the BJP has changed unalterably. Those who persist in caricaturing the BJP in pre-Modi imagery haven't got the hang of their foe.

(Swapan Dasgupta is a Delhi-based political commentator with avowedly right-wing inclinations)
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