To leap better: Reflections for 2019
BJP’s undisputed success across India has been anchored by the party’s historic commitment to serving the nation and a firm belief in recovering amidst adversity
BJP's National Council, which met in Gandhinagar in Gujarat in early May, soon after its victory in the 1998 general elections, spoke of the victory as a historic moment in the life of the party and the nation with a 'historic transfer of power at the Centre to India's first truly non-Congress government'. But this milestone, the National Council resolution noted, "was by no means the end of our journey. Our slogan should be: 'Vijay to sahi, vishram nahin', [victorious we are, but rest we shall not]." The moment of victory was an occasion for greater striving.
In his presidential address at the National Council, Kushabhau Thakre, then national president of BJP, spoke, among other things, "on the importance of keeping the Party in good shape". Kushabhau's observations were pointed, and demonstrated his deep understanding of organisational issues; after all, he had worked his way up the organisation as a karyakarta right since the Jana Sangh days. He was among those who had, through relentless organisational work, laid the foundations of the party in Madhya Bharat – as Madhya Pradesh used to be known then. Kushabhau observed that, while the party had at last formed a government at the Centre, it too had to "run well simultaneously…Only if this vehicle is kept well-fuelled, well-oiled and always in the best possible state of maintenance, can we hope to move faster and with confidence along the difficult path ahead… Therefore, it is necessary that we remind ourselves that the party organisation is equally important at a time when our party is in power at the Centre…" To "each and every BJP Karyakarta", his advise was to "toil ceaseless and devotedly" and to "resolve not to become complacent and never lose sight of our goal".
As one looks back at BJP in the last five years, especially from July 2014 onward, one sees that slogan of the past and Kushabhau's exhortation continuing to inspire and define the party's action. Even after its massive victory in 2014, BJP did not lapse into a state of complacency, satisfied with the thought that it had finally formed a full majority government in Delhi for the first time since its formation.
Both the party and its government at the Centre have worked in coordination. The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – to actualise its promise of transforming and empowering India from the grassroots upward – and the party led by Amit Shah, by expanding its base, reaching out to its grassroots constituents, enlisting thousands of volunteers across the country in the form of energetic and self-effacing Vistaraks (those entrusted with expanding the party's footprints and reach), strengthening the organisation at the booth and launching a series of result and goal-oriented activities with political and ideological dimensions that would keep the organisation focused and in Kushabhau's words, "well-fuelled and well-oiled".
Shah, as many have often heard, insisted that the party had to evolve and adapt itself to newer and modern techniques of working while retaining its original and fundamental culture of working. Karya Paddhati (method of work) had to be modernised, while Karya Sanskriti (culture/attitude of work) must be that which had inspired the party's workers in the early days and kept them going through this long political struggle, is what Shah has often argued.
The BJP, thus, in the last four odd years, has emerged as a formidably organised pan-India party, with a presence in practically every corner and turn. A party with a centralised spine and rudder, both physical and ideological, and yet decentralised in its action, with each unit right from the booth upward, being exhorted to organise, innovate, initiate, inculcate among people not only the party's programmes and ideology-oriented efforts, but also act as a bridge between the message of transformation that its government, driven by its Prime Minister, was working out and the people, the voter, the marginalised citizen who had reposed their faith through a mandate.
In fact, in his first presidential address at the BJP National Council meet on August 9, 2014, which met in Delhi to ratify his election as president of BJP, Amit Shah, interestingly reminded a packed auditorium of Kushabhau Thakre's same address at Gandhinagar of 1998, in which he had clearly set the goal and role of the party. Kushabhau had then said, "Our main effort should be two-pronged: first, provide the Government with direction and perspective; and, second, serve as a bridge connecting the Government with the masses. For both these tasks, we must have a constant feel of the pulse of people. We have to expand our organisation both vertically and horizontally, because only then can we reach out to the largest number of people. This, in turn, will enable us to feel the pulse of the people and thus help us provide the Government with the right direction in policy formulation." Shah, by harping on that address, had clearly indicated the direction in which he wished to lead the party. Shah's first address, in effect, determined the BJP's trajectory for the next few years.
The effect and result of Shah's doggedly following the Kushabhau line has indeed seen the party expand "both vertically and horizontally". The party won state after state, forming governments or becoming part of governments in 21 states, at one point in time, and encompassing over 70 per cent of the population. It increased and expanded its base into regions that were considered difficult and rose to become the largest political entity in the world. Its historic win in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 and its unprecedented inroad into India's North-East have all been a result of this determination.
By widening and diversifying its activities, continuing its quest for an uninterrupted ideological reiteration, inspiring workers and leaders to always be on the move and in action mode through innovative and imaginative programmes and outreach activities, the party has never ceased to be in the thick of action. It has also evolved into a movement that is not only political in nature but has also displayed a deep commitment towards social transformation. This multi-expansion and re-calibration has undeniably been the result of Amit Shah's own indefatigable political initiatives and the successful execution of programmes by his team. In fact, over the last few years, leadership at various layers has been encouraged, nurtured and empowered in the party. It is a story that cannot be overlooked and yet it is a story that remains to be narrated in its entirety.
But, more importantly, instead of becoming a complacent appendage to its government, the party has emerged as one of the most imaginative and energetic vehicles and bridge for carrying forward Narendra Modi's message of transformative governance. What is striking is that the party under Shah has succeeded in becoming both a bridge between the Government and the people, a conveyor of governance initiatives and ideas as well as an emissary of the feedback and emotions of the people.
While Narendra Modi's efforts have witnessed many defining milestones being achieved, such as unprecedented financial inclusion of the marginalised section, empowering rural women by freeing them from the debilitating smoke trap, rural electrification, enhancing the spirit of entrepreneurship, connecting regions, ensuring such basics as toilets in every home and school, cleansing the economy etc, Shah's effort in expanding the party, consolidating the mandate, ensuring its presence across most of the 10 lakh booths in the country, diversifying political activity with himself leading by example, has put the BJP on a definite trajectory towards greater growth and consolidation. The difference between BJP and those parties which are personalised political entities is, as Modi described it, "BJP functions because of our strength from the polling booth onwards 'Mera booth, sabse mazboot'. Our worker is on this for 365 days.... The thinking that one or two people run BJP, they don't understand the organisations. At every level there is leadership by the workers, it has a cumulative effect", a truly decentralised leadership framework.
As 2019 dawns, BJP seems to be in a determined mode, as the ancient French sporting expression describes it, "reculer pour mieux sauter"... stepping back to leap better.
Some though, have mistaken that stepping back for a retreat!
(The author is Director, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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