New Delhi, Sept. 13: Behind Narendra Modi’s rise in the BJP’s national power stakes lies the story of another upward climb: that of the party cadre’s influence on the leadership question.
Ironically, Modi’s cadre-powered elevation was catalysed by a rebuff from arch-critic Nitish Kumar, whose alliance with the BJP has now sundered over this same development.
The events had unfolded breathlessly over three days in Patna in June 2010. Nitish had belatedly realised that his dinner invite to Modi along with other BJP leaders, who were in Patna for a party conclave, might hurt his pro-minority credentials. He made it clear to the media a day before the dinner that he didn’t want Modi to attend it.
Eventually, the other BJP leaders too declined Nitish’s invite in “solidarity” with Modi, but only after the Bihar cadres and legislators threatened a revolt if they supped with the Bihar chief minister without his Gujarat counterpart.
The next day, Modi was cheered and lionised at a workers’ rally in Patna, a routine meeting that morphed into something larger as the cadre ensured a huge turnout and etched the battle lines in Bihar as a “Nitish versus Modi” one.
After a spell of power games in Delhi, where some leaders were keen to build their own ambitions on the back of Nitish’s opposition to Modi, the BJP brass eventually chose to back the Gujarat chief minister and drop the ally.
Since then, the cadre has begun to increasingly exercise a veto power on the party’s choice of leader. In the three years since Patna 2010, Modi has become the party rank and file’s darling.
This was evident on Tuesday when even Modi was not allowed to speak uninterruptedly at a rally because the workers only wanted their chant of “Modi PM” to resonate.
The BJP’s top echelons, however, took their time recognising the pro-Modi groundswell, and might have taken longer but for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s backing for the chief minister.
This, despite Modi targeting two Sangh fronts, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in Gujarat. A BJP source explained the Sangh reckoned that Modi was the BJP’s only hope of coming to power.
“Next year’s election is even more of a make-or-break thing for the Sangh than the BJP. Since the UPA began probing the so-called ‘saffron terror’ and tried to implicate senior Sangh officials, the Sangh has realised that a third spell in power for the Congress could sound its death knell.”
There were reasons of a more personal nature too. Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s father Madhukar Bhagwat was one of Modi’s role models, Sangh sources in Gujarat said. Madhukar was the first swayamsevak sent to work in Gujarat in 1940 to establish the Sangh there.
Modi was drawn to the Sangh as a teenager working in an Ahmedabad tea stall run by his uncle. Under Madhukar’s tutelage, he was absorbed into the Sangh and assigned to sweep and mop its office in Ahmedabad and cook meals for the swayamsevaks.
Later as chief minister, Modi built on the foundations of the old relationship by creating his own template that melded Hindutva with a quasi-capitalist economic system and ensuring the BJP dominated Gujarat.
Privately, Sangh sources often extol the Gujarat government as a “jewel in the Sangh’s crown”. Their private admiration for Modi was what tided him over criticism from the VHP and the farmers’ wing, though individual anti-Modi pracharaks did sabotage BJP candidates’ chances in the last Gujarat polls.
Given the Sangh’s insistence that an individual submerge his identity in the “cause of the nation”, Modi’s individualistic streak was an issue, too.
But on October 21 last year, Modi met Bhagwat and pledged his continued allegiance to the Sangh. When he delivered Gujarat a third time two months later, Bhagwat was convinced that without him, the BJP would lose its organisational support base and ideological distinctiveness.