The recent statement of the chief of much-maligned Right-wing Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS), Mohan Bhagwat on the massive win of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the last General Elections was true but only partially so. Bhagwat is reported to have said that the victory at the hustings for the BJP was not because of one man, as claimed by many, but because the people wanted a change. He went on to say that an individual alone could not have ensured the Party’s victory unless people were keen on a change. He went on to ask why is it that the Party was not voted to power when the same individuals and the party existed earlier, too? The Party won because the people desperately wanted a change.
This appears to be the perspective of the chief of the supposedly parent organisation of BJP on the majority obtained by the Party under the leadership of Narendra Modi. The credit given to the voters to bring the BJP in power is unexceptionable. After all, in a democracy there is no other power than “people’s power” which can throw away a dispensation and bring in a new one other. It is the people who decide on the basis of their experiences during the preceding tenure of a dispensation to either retain it or to throw it out. At the last elections, people overwhelmingly decided to terminate the 10-year rule of Manmohan Singh government and to bring in the only other available alternative in its place, and they did so rather enthusiastically – so much so that the BJP recorded a historic win and a simple majority in Parliament. This happened for the first time in 30 years, terminating the era of largely ineffective and corrupt coalition governments consequential on fractured mandates.
Nevertheless, one can go with Bhagwat’s statement but only for a little distance as his utterance seems to be loaded. It somewhat bears out the reports of an ‘internal’ feud between RSS and Modi. And, therefore, the RSS chief seemed to have attempted to run Modi down and whittle down the latter’s achievement of winning for the first time for BJP as many as 282 seats in the Lok Sabha – well above the half-way mark of 272. However, notwithstanding his predilections, Bhagwat overlooked the fact that Modi was into his third term as Gujarat chief minister when he campaigned for the Lok Sabha elections having been anointed as the party’s prime ministerial candidate – an unheard of initiative in a parliamentary democracy – and eventually achieving a convincing win. Other parties and other BJP leaders were in Gujarat too but he ensured successive wins for the BJP since 1995, first as an election strategist and then as chief minister since 2002 . The BJP in the State Assembly chose him for the chief minister’s position not once, not twice but thrice. None, not even Bhagwat, can really detract from his achievements as a strategist for winning elections for his party and then working tirelessly to give Gujarat a new paradigm for development taking it to a new level of growth and expansion as its chief minister.
True, the people wanted change. They were sick of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government –its politicking, its corruption and its policy paralysis. It ran from 2004-2009 largely on the strength of the strong economy handed down to it by the former National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Atal Behari Vajpayee. With a chest full of cash, it got into extravagant mode - sinking massive amounts in unproductive sectors that took it inevitably towards the abyss of slackening growth, high fiscal deficit, mounting inflation, absence of investments, both domestic and foreign and rise in unemployment. On top of all that, regular reports surfaced of loot and plunder of astronomical amounts by its ministers. The Prime Minister may have been honest but he was not effective in ensuring honesty among his ministers and bureaucrats. He acted as a mere figurehead, being led by the nose by the dowager of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to whom he seemed to have been inexplicably beholden. With media clamouring for blood of the corrupt and the venal the government lapsed into a “policy paralysis”, even as people were groaning under never-seen-before price rises of all basic essentials. Nothing was attempted or done to alleviate their sufferings. The people, therefore, were tired, angry and disgusted with the ineffectual government. No wonder, they wanted to see the back of it, and, that too, quickly.
While people were yearning for a break the BJP leadership helped them by ingenious policy changes to cash in on people’s wrath. In Narendra Modi they found an ideal party-man to lead the electoral campaign. Having won several elections in Gujarat, he had the knowledge and the experience to turn people’s ire and their aspirations to the party’s advantage. His background as the creator of a new Gujarat, which the prestigious “The Economist” called “India’s Guangdong” as far back as in July 2011, helped. Another master stroke of the Party was to declare him as the Party’s prime ministerial candidate. Effecting a break from the past, the Party pushed to the sidelines all the senior stalwarts. It did have to face for a while a few long faces born out of frustrations and disappointments but the RSS proved to be an efficient midwife in enabling acceptance of the drastic makeover of the Party’s leadership profile.
Soon, Modi and other leaders plunged into intensive campaigning. Traversing the length and breadth of the country Modi set a blistering pace of travel and public speaking. Discarding the communal card, he took on the opposition on two basic issues of corruption and development, promising a strong government if given adequate numbers. Regardless of distinctions of caste, creed and religion he sought votes on the slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (essentially meaning growth for all regardless of caste creed and religion), a concept that stood Modi in good stead in Gujarat and was described as a “great vision” by US secretary of State John Kerry. Two other things helped. A snide remark by Congress leader Mani Shankar Ayer about Modi’s humble origins as a tea seller prompted a hugely successful campaign in tea shops across the country with facilities of tele-conferencing, extending his reach to millions in towns and villages. Then, induction of his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, an indefatigable worker, helped in breaking the backs of the ruling parties in Maharshtra, UP and Bihar.
Obviously, the RSS chief, thus, erred in crediting only the people for voting in favour of BJP. People have always played a stellar role in elections. But, how their opinions are swung in favour of a political party depends heavily on its leadership. In the same elections the lack lustre and listless leadership of the more-than-a-century old Congress plunged its seats-share in Parliament to an all-time low of 44, depriving it even of the stature of main Opposition. Quality of leadership in electoral politics, therefore, is of the essence.