Narendra Modi, the incumbent prime minister of India, has emerged as the most popular leader of post-independent India, whose popularity across the country seems to surpass former prime ministers, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi, who had served the country in the latter half of the 20th century.
But little is known about Mr Modi apart from his stint as the chief minister of Gujarat and his ideology, which is that of the BJP and its beacon the RSS. The RSS and its volunteers—derisively referred to by their critics as knickerwallahs for they wear stiff oversized belted khaki knickers over white shirts, tucked, for their morning, however, are revered for their ‘methodical and clinical’ national and social service. Prime Minister Modi was once a pracharak of RSS. The volunteers address India as Maa Bharti: Mother India, supreme over the individual. To serve the country is the call of every soul born across the country, subservience to Hindu nationalism should triumph over individual aspirations.
THE ARCHITECT OF THE NEW BJP: How Narendra Modi Transformed the Party is a biography that reveals prime minister Narendra Modi’s persona and personality from an ideological and organisational perspective.
Written by Ajay Singh, journalist and political analyst, who had worked for the print and broadcast media, the book traces the beginnings of Narendra Modi from his humble beginnings in the RSS to the pinnacle of political power in 2014 and in 2019, the two successive General Elections in which he led the BJP to the full majority in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House, of the Indian parliament to form a government without relying on its coalition partners.
QUINTESSENCE OF THE BOOK:
The quintessential strength of the book is the author’s experiences of encountering Narendra Modi and tracking him as he progressed from the general secretary (organisation) of the BJP—the time when Modi was literally exiled from his home state, Gujarat, and posted in Delhi in order to stave off a factional war within the party, a time when ‘Modi would have been in low spirits after being shunted out, but he took this change in his stride and was focused on the task ahead’—to the positions of chief minister of Gujarat and prime minister of India.
The book charts the rise of Narendra Modi in parliamentary democracy but also highlights how he emerged as the archetypal figure within the BJP and in the country akin to a leader in the US’s presidential democracy.
The author had been tracking, consciously or unconsciously, discreetly or discretely, Narendra Modi. The book is based on interviews and interactions with the prime minister, recorded history and political analysis through the prism of the politico-electoral landscape of India. He writes, ‘What I heard from police officers of UP in 1991 gave me a fair impression of Modi as a highly organized and efficient leader. Though I had not met him, I knew about his traits through sources. It so happened that I moved to Delhi in 1995, when I quit as special correspondent of the Telegraph in Lucknow and joined the Pioneer in the national capital. In my first assignment there as a reporter covering the BJP beat, I ran into Modi at the party’s national executive meeting at the Parliament Annexe. During an afternoon session, I saw him walking towards the main hall, virtually accosted him in the typical reporter style and introduced myself.’
The book charts how Narendra Modi took the onerous task of building up the BJP’s base in the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, where he encountered the ‘social fault lines along caste identities’ and regional satraps. Here Modi ‘goaded the state leadership to prepare a composite strategy with short-term objectives and long-term goals’, developing infrastructure for the party including computers at the party offices where ‘a record of the party’s programmes and cadre strength’ were and successfully stitched up alliances – when coalition governments were uncommon either at the national level or in the state of the India. After his ‘mission in the northern states completed, Modi assumed charge as the general secretary (organization) of the BJP at the national level and took up more responsibilities. Maintaining delicate among the BJP, RSS, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, he ‘continued to expand the organization by holding training sessions and roping in the youth’. Eventually, how he replaced Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Adavni, ‘the most influential duo of the BJP’.
WHAT IS SANGHATHANIST MODEL?
The strength of the BJP is the Sanghathanist model aided by the RSS, its swayamsevaks, full-time workers loaned to BJP. Narendra Modi was a RSS’s swayamsevak, later a pracharak, who was later loaned to the BJP. In this aspect, BJP is a cadre-based party unlike the Congress, mass-based party, but the masses are unpredictable, waverable. The book delineates what is the ‘Sanghathanist’ model—building a party’s organizational structure on the foundation of an army of committed cadre, disciplined and dedicated workers who are rooted in an ideology: Hindu nationalism, Hindu agenda, Hindu identity, Hindutva (propounded by V. D. Savarkar of Hindu Mahasabha), Hindu renaissance by acquainting with its glorious past) which aims at subsuming caste cleavage and coalescing Hindu society into one identity for the first time and nation-building by the consolidation of Hindu society. To do this is by acknowledging proudly the great edifice of Indian culture and civilisation, which was erased in the second millennium by the Muslim and British rule, a minority religious community ruling over the majoritarian Hindus in the Indian subcontinent.
The book cites the prediction of J. A. Curran, Jr’s Militant Hinduism in Indian Politics: A Study of the RSS, 1951: ‘The RSS is by far the best organized and most ably led anti-Congress movement’.
By charting the organizational acumen, ideological influences and comprehension of Indian society stemming from his wandering years, the book reveals how Narendra Modi transformed himself from being an organizer to an administrator. He is an avid learner: ‘With his rich understanding of the Indian masses during his wandering years in quest of spirituality and as a whole-timer of the RSS, Modi discovered that a leader would gain popularity and people’s trust if he became a symbol of their aspirations.’
During his stint as the BJP’s general secretary, ‘he held a series of training sessions in the state to mobilize the cadre with a purpose. His emphasis on training for cadre was so intense and focused that he soon acquired the nickname of ‘headmaster’ among the state party veterans.’ Modi’s innovative ways to prepare the party cadre for the election were driven by the singular message of ‘fighting to win’ alongside introducing new units in the party.
Without a family legacy in polity and without a wave of electoral sympathy, the book informs Modi’s rise, not only because of Hindutva and economic development (often called Moditva). but his sheer dedication. Overcoming the defeatist mindset of party workers, developing rapport with leading seers and religious institutions, finding an opportunity in an unpalatable condition, spartan lifestyle, interacting and learning about the problems at first hand, staying focussed when ruffled by others, syncing the objectives of the party and government, he rose to the top post in politics at the same time making the BJP as the dominant party of the country in the second decade of 21st century.
The book mentions the Gujarat Model and delineates the aspects of that model, which had propelled Modi as the talking point across the country. As the chief minister of Gujarat, he had made 5 lakh state employees, referred as karmayogis, take a pledge to work for the welfare of people with complete devotion. This also awakened the government employees apparently from moribund indolence and Gujarat into a state of rejuvenation, reducing the gap between the government and the governed, the ruler and the ruled, and focussing on development rather than petty quarrels within the party. Modi had laid out a strategy to bring the government’s plans in sync with the people’s aspirations by combining administrative and organizing skills by building ‘a cadre of workers across the state from various social strata, training camps across the state’ and won three successive assembly elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. He laid to rest the belief that ‘good governance is bad politics’, which among other achievements laid the ground for his political journey to the national capital.
As the chief minister of Gujarat, he fast-tracked the Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam project to curtail the water deficiency. Gujarat was a water-deficit state, but he took the court’s permission to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam by 15 metres, which enabled the state to fill twenty-one rivers and many other water bodies using excess rainwater from the Narmada dam.
DON’T DIVIDE THE VILLAGE:
Narendra Modi also determinedly strove to implement the Gandhian concept of ‘don’t divide the village’ in the panachayat elections to pre-empt social fissures and caste cleavage. ‘For Modi, there was another source of inspiration, too,’ writes the author to whom Modi had told:
“I was a small boy when I heard a noted Gandhian and aide of Vinoba Bhave, Dr Dwaraka Das Joshi, when he visited my native place, Vadnagar, during the Bhoodan campaign. The thrust of his campaign was: ‘Don’t divide the vilaage’.” This was the implementation of samras – governance through consensus in Gujarat at the grassoots.
‘Since the remit of this book is solely concerned with the organizational skills that Modi deployed to align with the government’s agenda the party’s avowed political and social goals, the Godhra and post-Godhra turbulence in the state will not get a detailed study,’ the author makes it clear in the book. ‘Meanwhile, the spiral of violence had created political uncertainty for a short period. After five relatively uneventful months in Gandhinagar, Modi was suddenly an international newsmaker: some saw in him the true icon of Hindutva, a Hindu hridaysamrat, stronger than Advani and Bal Thackeray, while others started comparing him to Hitler. One could only like him or loathe him; there was no middle way, and no ignoring him.’ To deflect the image of villain, however, Modi ‘started afresh, with an exclusive focus on changing the image of Gujarat’. The author mentions, ‘Perhaps he found in this focus as an antidote to the campaign built by a section of the intelligentsia that depicted him as the villain responsible for the communal violence. Modi chose not to respond to the agendas set by the media, opposition and a section of disgruntled leaders within the BJP, and drew his own grand plans for the state. He launched a slew of initiatives under the name of ‘Beti Bachao’ (save the girl child), to correct the skewed sex ratio and attend to the issue of growing malnutrition among children.’
PROMOTER OF INTER-CASTE MARRIAGES:
Narendra Modi, who maintains fasting during Navratri festival, tackled the most sensitive issue of promoting inter-caste marriages. ‘But the most transformative idea was to encourage intercaste marriages in the state, and the scheme was named after Ambedkar’s second wife, Savita, who was a Brahmin by caste. Another scheme, to promote multiple weddings at one venue to save expenses, was launched in the name of Ambedkar’s first wife, Ramabai Ambedkar. The discourse around Ambedkar was appropriated astutely in the state’s actions that were targeted to win over the marginalized sections in an active manner.’
MAUT KE SAUDAGAR v BEGUM
Modi the published poet is an unrepentant and ruthless electoral strategist when he was attacked by his opponents. Ajay Singh refers to how Modi exhorted people to vote for ‘kamal’ (lotus, the BJP’s symbol) for the single reason of development, vikas. At the time of elections in Gujarat, when the Congress Party ‘harped on the communal divisions, and its president, Sonia Gandhi, finally dropped a bombshell when she referred to the Modi government as ‘maut ke saudagar’, the merchants of death. Her reference was the police encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a notorious criminal. Having resisted the divisive discourse so far, Modi was left with no choice but to respond. At every rally, he would ask the audience if Sohrabuddin was a terrorist or not, and people would loudly reply in the affirmative. Modi’s oratory was complemented by his linguistic skills (he is a published poet): he termed the Congress-led government in the Centre as the ‘Delhi Sultanate’ and Sonia, with all due respect, as ‘begum’, encapsulating a long history in keywords that an average voter could relate to.’
The book reveals little-known facts, unknown facets, highs and lows of Modi’s career, approbations to opprobrium, and how he overcame the challenges of becoming the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP despite opposition from leading lights within the party including the prime minister manqué L. K. Advani and how he faced mainstream media’s bias.
The diagnosis of the book is Modi’s comprehension of Indian society during his wandering years before committing himself to party politics. The author writes, ‘Modi was acutely conscious of the fact that politics is not the sole factor that affects social life in India. There are many other factors, like spiritualism, religion, region, caste, traditions and culture, that play substantially significant roles in society. Similarly, he was also aware of the layers of political consciousness that keep changing with economic strata’ Modi’s understanding of Indian society ‘seemed to have internalized about deep-seated religiosity in Indian society and why the Indian society ‘is permeated by a sense of spiritualism and religiosity, which determine the metrics of people’s lives’ and his grasp of Hindi heartland and Hindu hearts by juggling to maintain the secular fabric of the country.
HOW BJP EMERGED AS A ONE-PARTY DOMINANCE UNDER NARENDRA MODI?
In the conclusion section of the book, the author writes: ‘When political choices around the world are undergoing a tectonic shift, India, the largest democracy, after decades of political instability has finally completed a revolution as it returns to the system of one-party dominance. When the rise of the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi is seen in this larger context, it seems the strategies and challenges in party-building have not received as much attention as they should have. The commentary has focussed on the ideology, personality, social-political changes and much else, but not on what was happening inside the party machinery itself. Its growth has been seen as something natural or a corollary to the changes outside.’ This book attempts to chronicle the deliberate acts of Modi in building the BJP into what it is today, as a mass-based party and cadre-based party by having the idealistic popular support of the RSS. Thus, Modi has scripted one-party rule in the country now in addition to one-man rule within the party and the country.
The book gives insights and ideas for future biographers and directors of biopics to explore further Narendra Modi’s wandering years, staying focussed though being ruffled by others, and how he trounced the invincible leaders within his party and against his party’s rivals.