Upgrading the Software
The rise of a new BJP is the big, quiet, political change now taking place
The Cabinet rejig is the next most awaited political event in New Delhi. And yet, it doesn’t seem to excite much. This is largely because the outcome of any change here is fairly predictable in a stable government. Except that it would be wrong to surmise this to be an absence of change.
Conventional political logic always puts the spotlight on the Cabinet, its composition, who’s in, who’s out. And the validity of that exercise is by no means irrelevant. But surely, it’s not necessarily the most accurate indicator of the power shift in the current political context.
Let’s face it. Just being a Cabinet mantri isn’t a free ride to political authority in today’s BJP. Which is why it’s important to understand what’s really happening and where exactly the site of the shift is.
The government has worn a familiar look through the past three years and is unlikely to alter much. The real churn has actually been happening in the party, where new faces with fresh talent have been trying their hands at almost everything: from impactful event organisation, membership drives, to using big-data analytics and redefining traditional election management.
Given that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah took over with almost zero loyalty baggage, it didn’t really matter down the line who was in which camp. The political upheaval of 2014 created an unexpected levelplaying field, where anyone with political ambition and talent was in with a chance.
Interestingly, the Congress was the party more familiar with such periodic churn — ironically, due to the nature of dynastic leadership. So, each time, a new member of the Nehru-Gandhi family prepared to take over, new opportunities showed up because old loyalties could never be fully inherited.
In fact, one witnessed this phase for that brief period between the 2009 general elections and the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, when Rahul Gandhi, riding a high, was seen backing new talent along with next-generation leaders from known political families. However, that was too little, too patronising when compared to the clean slate Modi and Shah represented in 2014.
Season1, Episode 2
Through the last three years, this open field has now taken shape into a robust political machine with new faces, new leaders and workers who represent the new BJP. And that changes a few things when one talks of any kind of rejig in 2017.
The rise of a new BJP is really the big political change. This essentially means a gradual takeover by a new class of politicians and political workers. What’s to be watched is the internal yardstick of judging and promoting this new talent. Will professed meritocracy give way to political patronage, caste loyalties and electoral mathematics?
In politics, it will always be a mix of this and that. But the challenge before the BJP leadership will be to ap- pear credible in making these choices, to ensure it still remains the best magnet for political talent. On the other hand, this is exactly the juncture where the Opposition will hope for the BJP to make a false move or two that could stoke disgruntlement.
While winning elections provides a wonderful momentum that can cloak all disenchantment in its tide, it also continues to raise expectations among performers at all levels. Either way, it’s clear that a new BJP is rocketing up the ranks and that, in turn, puts to rest two basic arguments about the BJP, which its own leaders argued until recently.
First, that the BJP has a talent deficit. While anyone can still make this argument by way of profile comparisons with the Congress, it can no longer be sustained politically. The talent within the BJP is now a proven entity, asking for more opportunity on the basis of how they have performed in taking the party forward in the last three years. Rather, the BJP has to alter its political line to now project a party bursting with young talent waiting in the wings.
Second, that a new ‘outsider’ leadership is fixing a moribund BJP. The party is now transformed with new faces inducted at every level. Shah has reshaped the unit in his imagination, building a strong campaign effort around the Modi image and his governance model.
Change of Cast
Bottom-up, this is very much a new BJP, which actually views Shah at its chief patron, who will ensure that the sangathan (organisation) always gets its due in the government and its related universe.
In other words, a new BJP is taking charge, where a Cabinet reshuffle or an expansion is a mere milestone. The truth is that if 2014 represented a fundamental shift of the centre of gravity of Indian politics, the new BJP in 2017 is the edifice built around that new core.
Any structural change, appointment or rejig from here on will eventually, and in due course, have to mirror this shift.
Be careful now, that’s the cadre