With over 8.80 crore members, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now the world’s largest political party. Given that ours is a country where a single party (the Indian National Congress) inherited the heritage of the national movement, this is a path-breaking achievement. The journey of BJP, is therefore, a journey of the transformative character of Indian politics. It is a journey in which many have played influential parts, and yet most of them are not as celebrated today, as they deserve to be.
Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the ideological predecessor of BJP, was built by duo of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. Mookerjee once remarked:
“If I had two Deendayals, I could transform the political face of India.”
Their work laid the foundation of what was to become the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the year 1980. The party was new, and so was the ‘jodi’. The duo of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Lal Krishna Advani, presided over the BJP for the next two and a half decades.
Vajpayee famously called Advani, and the now late Pramod Mahajan- the Ram and Lakshaman, of BJP. All good things come to an end, and the BJP leadership was no different. As the sun finally set on Advani’s career, after the devastating loss in the general elections of 2009, the party met in Shimla, for what was called a ‘Chintan Baithak’. It was announced that the baton in Parliament, would now pass to the duo of Sushma Swaraj, and Arun Jaitley - who were to become the new Leaders of Opposition. They certainly lacked the mass base that Modi can today boast about, but once ‘chosen’, they tirelessly gave voice to the anti-Congress, anti-Left perspective that was (and continues to be) so badly needed in the country.
This is not to say that their tenures were perfect. Truth is that they may have been Leaders of Opposition inside the Parliament, but left a huge void on the outside - one that was filled by the Anna Andolan, and Baba Ramdev’s Bharat Swabhiman movement. I strongly believe that the movement was an important page in the history of BJP, for it was just the wake-up call the party needed. It made the party realise the importance, of transforming itself from a 'cadre-based' to 'mass-based' party, and from an 'ideology-driven' party, to an 'individual-driven' party. The failure of traditional Left in India can be attributed to the failure in having successfully transformed, along the same lines. From introducing 'membership by missed call', to the search for a truly mass leader, a lot changed. The Anna movement made politics ‘interesting’ again. It introduced a new generation to politics- a generation that BJP was eager to tap into its own party- by electing a mass leader, which Narendrabhai Modi was destined to become.
Narendra Modi - “He came, he saw, he conquered”
Modi's sudden rise in BJP was nothing short of magical. It was a carefully orchestrated 'mission' (clearly, his favourite word). Nitin Gadkari got discredited due to leaked files (charges which turned out to be false later). Soon after becoming the President (almost overnight, following Gadkari’s fall), Rajnath Singh appointed Modi as the PM candidate, and Amit Shah as the incharge of UP. For the elections, Arun Jaitley was given his favourite seat (Amritsar, to much dislike of sitting Member of Parliament Navjot Singh Sidhu), so was Rajnath himself (Lucknow). How they orchestrated this ‘mission’, will be a subject of history writing in the years, and decades to come.
The importance of being Sushma Swaraj
While all of this was happening, there was someone who 'allowed' Modi to rise. She may not have had the mass base to win as big as him, but she had enough political positioning, to deny him one, by involving him in a prolonged feud of succession. She was not only backed by allies like the Shiv Sena, and JD (U), but also had bi-partisan support. This can be gauged by evaluating how she (as the External Affairs Minister), got the Bangladesh land exchange Bill passed in the Parliament, without a single leader opposing her.
When the tide turned towards Modi, she could have revolted, but she instead placated the ones who were revolting for her. She was the first one to rush to Advani 's residence, when he shook the nation by momentarily resigning from the party he not only founded, but made it the national force that it eventually turned out to be. When Advani stayed away from Modi’s anointment as the campaign committee chief in Goa, it was Sushma Swaraj who once again persuaded Advani, who clearly acted irresponsibly. This was probably because she understood that while she may be the ‘chosen’ one, Modi was the one the cadres, wanted to ‘elect’. And so, the de-facto PM-in waiting (who until a decade back, was BJP’s answer to Sonia Gandhi) stepped aside, and made way for Modi.
Once polling for the 2014 polls got over, the ‘core’ team of BJP went to Ahmedabad, to meet Modi. The quartet, which included Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley, and Rajnath Singh- had no place for Sushma Swaraj. These are the usual consequences of power politics, and it is wrong to blame Narendra Modi for the isolation. And yet, you cannot help but empathise that Modi’s rise came at the cost of someone else’s fall. Jaitley turned out to be everything that the fictional "Frank Underwood" (House of Cards) initially wanted to be (that is, be the one who sends his man to the White House, and act as his Deputy). Rajnath Singh made himself available to Modi, when he needed someone like him the most, and this gave a fresh life to his dying political career. As for Ms. Sushma, she quietly campaigned, and earned herself the External Affairs portfolio. As External Affairs Minister, she has been eclipsed by Modi completely- to the extent that he decides the high-profile officials of her Ministry. Yet, there has been no visible sign of resentment. I do not suggest that Modi has wronged her; for this was unavoidable. As PM, his stature is higher, and deserves a central position in India’s diplomacy. The question, however is, that were the circumstances to be reversed, would Modi have given this kind of leeway to his internal competitors (of the same age). Maybe not.
Today, BJP has changed. Two men from a single state (Gujarat), have, in a short period of 3-4 years, established their unilateral, unquestionable rule over the now-country’s largest political party. In this “new” BJP, the individual, and his protégé- is (almost) everything.
Given this history, it was a proud moment, to see her become India’s voice, at the UN General Assembly. She gave it hard to Nawaz Sharif, and in a language that he understands very well. Had Atal Bihari Vajpayee been healthy today, he would have surely seen a bit of himself in her, for he too gave some of these fiery Hindi speeches, at the United Nations.
Many will argue that the Bharatiya Janata Party has evolved, and transformed for good. There is some truth in that logic, for it is certainly more successful. But even so, this journey is one memorable story- one that deserves to be told, again and again. For followers of Indian politics like me, the “old” BJP’s transformation will remain one of the most fascinating subjects of study. And so, this is to the woman, who is the last of the crop of leaders, who really believed in "Nation first, Party second, Individual last".
Well done, Ms. Swaraj. The country stands behind you. As for BJP, only Lord Ram can predict what will happen, once Modi retires. That will be yet another important page in BJP's history- one that will redefine Indian politics once again.
This article has been written by Gaurav Sansanwal and has been published with his consent.
Title image: Cobrapost