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With Modi Falling Short of Majority, We Won't See a New India but a New BJP

Even within the BJP, problems will mount for Modi, who remains a stentorian leader, harping on his divinity.

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Smarting under the loss of a Parliamentary majority after a decade of claustrophobic dominance veiled as patriotism, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will not find ready pathways to meet the challenges that stare it in the face.

Failure to tackle these issues promptly is likely to further cripple the party and impede the process of recovering from the setback that the BJP suffered in the Lok Sabha elections.

Part of the reason for the current state of the party organisation is that, over the decade, it has been over-centralised, and the old collegial style of functioning – the hallmark of the party from its inception – has been cast aside.

Furthermore, the organisational structure was converted into a hegemonic enterprise, controlled mainly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his two principal aides, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP President JP Nadda. Of the two aides, while Shah remains a constant consultant to Modi, the latter stayed little but an implementer of decisions taken.

Given the fact that Nadda’s tenure as party chief was over in January this year but was extended till after the elections, a new chief’s election is imminent.

The issue will get thornier over any decision – and the manner in which it is taken – that Modi would take regarding the future role of his two aides.

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Complete Overhaul of Party Structure Imminent?

The prime minister will have to urgently decide whether to resort to a switch in the jobs of Shah and Nadda, like in 2019, when the former was inducted in the council of ministers, whereas the latter vacated his seat in the cabinet and assumed the position of party president, held till then by Shah.

This question assumes greater importance given the fact that this government can no longer, after the BJP’s loss of majority, be run by the all-powerful duopoly, as between 2019 and now. It would also be unrealistic for Modi to expect his coalition partners to accept a high level of centralisation in the government.

While Shah was recognised, from 2019 onwards, as the second most important person in the government, in a coalition government led by Modi, such a power hierarchy may not be acceptable to the BJP’s partners. They would not agree to a working arrangement where virtually every decision is taken in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Tactically, it would be wiser for Modi to first stabilise his government, even if it means making concessions to the demands of his allies, and later trying to enhance his authority.

In fact, along with replacing Nadda, the BJP will also make a complete overhaul of the entire party structure because a new president will have to appoint a new team.

On this, the party will be in a quandary as there are many aspirants within its ranks, even as at least twenty union ministers who lost the elections would look for political inclusion within the organisational structure.

Ties With the RSS

But the party’s biggest test will be over mending its ties with its one-time ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). There is no denying that Nadda’s assertion in the middle of the electoral campaign that the BJP had ‘no need’ of the RSS in its activities, be it elections or other campaigns, was a huge self-goal and one of the principal reasons for the party’s tally crashing to significantly below the majority mark of 272.

Given the nature of the relationship between the top three in the BJP and Nadda’s lack of authority, the decision to make such a statement could not have been his own. In retrospect, it is clear that this statement was evidence of hubris at the highest echelons of the party and unless this trait is discarded at express speed, this government will meet its 'Waterloo' sooner than later. Even within the party, problems will begin to mount for Modi who remains a stentorian cultic leader harping on his divinity.

In the party hierarchy, there are several pracharaks (RSS whole-timers) who were deputed to the BJP. That many have succumbed to the ‘corrupting influence’ that has become a dominant feature of the BJP since 2014, and is a reflection of how the party’s work culture has degenerated. The decision of the RSS over their continuance is another matter that requires resolution.

The election verdict undeniably established that it was premature for the BJP leadership to arrogantly proclaim its autonomy from the RSS. It is a truism to say that it is perilous for anyone to start beginning to believe their own glib talk.

After becoming party president, Shah initiated the ‘missed call’ route for anyone to become a BJP member. Because little effort was required for people to become members, this made-for-media-headlines scheme gave a false sense of assurance to the party brass.

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Not a New India, but a New BJP

Without scrutinising the commitment to ideology, programmes, and participation in activities, the leadership believed its own claim of becoming the largest political party in the world, overtaking the membership strength of even the Communist Party of China.

But, as the poor presence of door-to-door campaigners in the elections established, the party cannot really do without the network of RSS swayamsevaks, which is more widespread and has greater dedication.

Enlisting the support of the RSS once again is not going to be easy given Nadda’s statement, which was not just uncalled for but also foolhardy.

Till the time the BJP mends its ties, even if this means pinning all the blame on Nadda, the government will have to live under the threat of other RSS affiliates in various sectors – trade unions, farmers’ organisations, students’ and teachers’ bodies, and several others – launching protests at least, if not protracted agitations, against government policies.

The top leadership will also have to win over numerous seniors within the party. There are several states where there is considerable dissent over party tickets being handed in the elections to an unprecedented number of people who defected to the BJP in the recent past from other parties. This resentment will also act as a bulwark in the event of Modi choosing to trigger crossovers from other political parties.

Modi will also have to sort out the visible unease in his relationship with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

Inherent insecurity, which is a trait in Modi’s personality, has led to an awkward relationship with Adityanath and he has time and time again attempted to cut Adityanath down in size.

Likewise, there are several other senior leaders in the BJP, for instance, Nitin Gadkari, with whom his ties are frosty.

As the results underscored, Modi’s inability to be an all-embracing figure within the party has been one of the factors behind its poor showing.

Unless this is resolved, not only his position but the party’s profile too, will be weakened.

But above all, Modi will have to bear in that this is the first time since he held constitutional office in October 2001, that he does not have a parliamentary majority.

The prime minister will clearly have to mellow his style of working, even rein his instinct, on three fronts: one, while dealing with the NDA coalition partners; two, in his style of working and decision-making in the government; and within his own party as well as the Sangh Parivar.

Quite clearly, the rhetoric of New India shall have to be replaced by visible signs of a New BJP.

(The writer’s latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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