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Posted at: Sep 22, 2019, 6:55 AM; last updated: Sep 22, 2019, 6:55 AM (IST)

BJP and the masters’ voice

Saba Naqvi
MOCKINGBIRD
Saba Naqvi
At the grassroots, the party’s membership may have gone up, but at the top, there is absolute domination
BJP and the masters’ voice
Lack of support from the top two leaders has meant that Nitin Gadkari’s revised Motor Vehicles Act has not been implemented in toto even in some of the BJP-ruled states. PTI

Saba Naqvi

On August 29, the working president of the BJP, JP Nadda, informed the press that his party had created a new record by adding seven crore members in just over 40 days. That took the membership to 18 crore or 180 million, more than the population of most countries. That is a stupendous figure, though the BJP is yet to verify all the registrations (many done online). In the age of Howdy, Modi and choreographed events, there’s a shopping bonanza too on the BJP official website: beyond ideology, it sells NaMo merchandise: T-shirts at Rs 199, sweatshirts at Rs 499, cups, pins, a NaMo half-jacket for Rs 499 and what it calls a newly launched ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ line.

This is a BJP that markets itself and has pots of money to do so. Add to the party members the estimate that the RSS is one of the largest cadre organisations in the world (it does not release membership figures), and we can agree that the BJP and the RSS have shock and awe arithmetical dominance. That too at a time when most political parties are in crisis, some self-made, but also exacerbated by being made to go for broke. Almost 95 per cent of funds collected by the electoral bonds scheme launched in 2017-2018 (amounts under Rs 20,000) went to the BJP. In 2017-18, corporates contributed 12 times more money to the coffers of the BJP than to those of the other six national parties combined. In all, the BJP received 93 per cent of all donations above Rs 20,000 made to the six national political parties by business groups and individuals in 2017-18.

The way money is moving suggests we are a one-party state. In that wealthy party itself, the nature of leadership and control has transformed. The BJP is now an election machine revolving around one leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who apparently has his successor in place, Home Minister Amit Shah, the proven election manager par excellence. No one else really counts.

However, it was not always so. When the BJP first came to power in the late 1990s, it was a party with multiple power centres, lots of competing talent, a penchant to talk fearlessly and declare that it did not come from a high command culture. Now the high command of the BJP is more formidable than any that the Congress has seen. Beyond the big two, all other power centres have been cut to size, including the once autonomous former chief ministers such as Raman Singh and Shivraj Chouhan. Those familiar with the party knew that the 2019 election saw the grass being cut under the feet of these three-term chief ministers who could not get party tickets for candidates of their choice. 

The latest takedown has been of Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari over the revised Motor Vehicles Act that raises fines and penalties. Had Amit Shah pushed the law, every BJP-ruled state would have implemented it. If the PM had been involved, each CM would have displayed great enthusiasm for the Act. Had either of the Big Two wanted to help Gadkari, every state would have fallen in line. 

However, we can well deduce they did not intend to help. The writing was on the wall when Gujarat became the first to refuse to implement the law. Ever since, Gadkari has been left to fend for himself as the BJP states, including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, have not implemented the Act (Haryana has). As the government itself gave a go-ahead to the Motor Vehicles Act and the states never complained when consulted, we must ask if Gadkari was given a long rope to hang himself. Will he continue to be the most outspoken minister in Cabinet meetings? Well, it would be a pity if he does not. 

With the passing away of Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, the talent pool has shrunk and Gadkari has been one of the better performing ministers in a regime that has a talent deficit. Gadkari’s troubles possibly arise from his name doing the rounds in early 2019 as the alternative to Modi in the event of the NDA needing a consensus coalition candidate. At some point over the past year, he also stated in interviews that the BJP can’t be dominated by one or two individuals. And now he has been given an instructive lesson in yes it can. 

So absolute is the domination of the Big Two that even if India had a presidential form of government, there would be no challengers from the BJP to run against Modi in primaries (as is currently happening in the US). In our tryst with electoral democracy, we have also known authoritarianism under Indira Gandhi. But it was resisted by members of the old Congress that split down the years into several offshoot parties. Indira had powerful adversaries from inside the party that she would later get rid of or subjugate. However, in the long run, her actions also broke the spine of the party. 

The BJP today is a fortress where soldiers express loyalty to the great leader. They submit and obey. There’s no room for debate, dissent and difference. There’s total hegemony inside the party.  

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