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Posted at: Sep 20, 2017, 12:45 AM; last updated: Sep 20, 2017, 1:19 AM (IST)

Is Shah’s black hole strategy working?

Vibha Sharma
Modi and Shah guard their space and their plans to avoid giving any leverage to opponents. Their focus is on winning the next election.

Impact of control tactics

  • The information control strategy is working well for Modi and Shah as:
  • There is no doubt in anyone's mind who or where the power centre is;
  • “Planting of stories” by rivals has stopped;
  • Factionalism may not have ended completely but it is not visible, at least on surface.
Is Shah’s black hole  strategy working?

Vibha Sharma

At the UC Berkley, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi shared an interesting nugget which BJP media managers perhaps missed in their hurry to tear him apart on the “dynasty” issue. It was the loaded jibe that followed a backhanded compliment on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “communication skills”. 

“What I sense is that he (Modi) doesn’t converse with the people he works with. Even Members of Parliament of the BJP come to me and tell me that PM ‘sunte nahi hain’ (he does not listen to us),” Gandhi said out loud what the BJP MPs may have shared with friends, privately.

The saffron party today is a fiercely controlled space, with a limited access to information. It is focused only on winning the next election in the country, whether of a panchayat or a Parliament seat.

It is not as if the invincible Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo functions without a support system, but very few in the Lutyens' Delhi can claim to be part of that system. The fact is that the majority in the party functions on a need-to-know basis, with a regimented top rung following the established party line and the second-rung functioning within its assigned silos and limited mandates.  That's the way it is and no one is complaining — at least, not openly.

Perhaps, the “BJP MPs” Gandhi referred to are those who have nothing to gain, or lose, in what is left of their careers. But when top leaders revel in how “leakage of information” either to the media or the Opposition is “impossible” in this regime, there is reason to believe  that the making of the BJP into a black hole is complete. Incidentally, a black hole is a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or even light can escape. 

The black hole strategy

When Modi took over as the chairman of the election campaign committee in 2013 amid resistance by veteran LK Advani, he apparently mandated that the media should be used as a medium of “prachar” (publicity) of the party's good work and intentions. But what is not “prachar” is “news”, mostly “leaked” or “planted” by rivals in a political party and Modi had many when he first stepped into the Lutyens' zone. 

Information control and a larger-than-life persona was his way of safeguarding himself against natural internal politics, factionalism and jealousies expected in a political outfit, even more evident in the out-of-power entity that the BJP was then with several power centers, groups and sub-groups. Shah followed the strategy when he took over as party President.

Modi and Shah fiercely guarded their space and their plans to avoid giving any leverage to opponents both within the party and outside. 

And the strategy appears to be working well. Shah and Modi have the blessings of the all-powerful RSS and together they have turned the cadre into their biggest strength and asset, creating leaders from hitherto unknown entities. 

Armed with these very assets and Modi’s “clean, strong image”, Shah is aiming to win 2019, despite the very visible contrary perceptions created by growing joblessness, economic slowdown and farmers’ distress in the country. On question whether the black hole strategy works well for a “democratic party” or its “subdued leadership”, the argument given is that the sole purpose of a political party is to win elections — which the BJP is winning.

A blessing or bane?

It is no exaggeration that a majority of those manning the organisation today are the ones who do not even have the authority to confirm basic information, let alone divulge on moves such as Cabinet reshuffles. No wonder that “inside tracks” in media on the reshuffle eventually turn out to be mere speculations.

That Modi and Shah are wary and disdainful of media has been proven time and again over the past three years. But whether restriction of information within the set-up is also good for it in the long run, only time will tell.

Cause of concern

Meanwhile, it should be a cause of concern for the new order when a DUSU election result, projected as “failure of the hyperbole of nationalism” in the liberal youth, becomes the cause of celebration among detractors;

When middle-level leaders are scared of their names being associated with issues, unless Shah has planned it that way. “Jigra nahin raha ab kisi mein” (no one has the guts anymore) is what old-timers say; 

When they say events like appointment of a woman Defence Minister (breaking of the glass ceiling as it was called) was a way to digressing attention from real issues concerning demonetisation, economy and farmers;

When old-timers reminisce about days when BJP general secretaries were men and women of stature, repute and talent to suggest that those holding the position today are not; talk about their individuality, leadership qualities and command on issues to draw comparisons with the “claustrophobic” situation of today's lot, confined to silos with limited mandates; remember the “accessible and approachable” former BJP presidents, who may not have divulged information unless they wanted it to be made public but they also would not have tried to dismiss a journalist's query with a wave of the hand.

RSS’ warning

But as party leaders deliver set lines on merits of demonetisation and the government's pro-farmer, pro-poor outreach, there is reason to believe that a worried RSS is sending warning signals about negative perceptions at the ground. The ideological fountainhead is said to have cautioned its political arm about similarities it is sensing with the “India shining” situation of 2004 that robbed the NDA's first Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of a rerun.

The “Opposition may be weak”, but the Sangh fears that public perceptions over jobs, economic slowdown, fuel prices, demonetisation and the GST may be the stumbling blocks in the the BJP's walk towards 2019. 

No surprising, therefore, their spokespersons and top ministers tore apart Gandhi for raising the issues in his lecture at the UC Berkeley eventually zeroed in on one talking point — his reference to the “dynasty”.

vibharajiv@gmail.com

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