BJP isn't Indira's Congress

Akash Barua

Political enthusiasts habitually out of their historical intuition correlate Narendra Modi's 2.0 regime with Indira Gandhi's second tenure, some indeed forecasting an equivalent electoral repercussion of 1977, for the forthcoming 2024 General Elections. Nonetheless, what Indians today are perceiving is a comprehensively distinctive anomaly. There is no apprehension about the fact that Indira Gandhi's popularity peaked much higher than any other national leader during the 1970's. Opposition leaders like Vajpayee even had gone to the extent of calling her 'Maa Durga' after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. However the ball soon rolled over with the declaration of National Emergency in 1975, the Congress lost its authority, and the Janata Party was elected to power in 1977 General Elections.

Political scientists frequently hunt for historical contexts to anticipate subsequent electoral outcomes. Many theorists today compare Modi's persona with Indira, as the two share a fairly identical electoral approach, but with different ideological inclinations. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party's or the 'Sangh Parivar's' ambitions are not just confined to electoral supremacy, as was with Indira's Congress. The former has mastered the art of electoral as well as societal dominance. To make sense of what the future of India's political culture beholds under BJP's regime, it is essential to comparatively scrutinise the contemporary to its somewhat similar past.

Indira Gandhi largely banked on the state machinery to occupy power, her command over the Congress party led to its split in 1969, when the Congress (Indira) faction de-facto became the inheritor of the grand old party. The new party relied on the political charisma of Indira, it wouldn't be wrong to say that Indira was the party. The old Congress was not just an electoral party, but a symbol of national movement, its organisation was well rooted to the grassroots level politics. When Indira seized over the party, it was no more a democratic organisation, but had become an electoral instrument, functioning just to legitimise Indira's authority. The elected representatives of the organisation were replaced by party officials, nominated by the new 'high command'.

A comparable tendency was discerned, when Narendra Modi became the face for the BJP in the 2014 General Elections. The 'Gujarat model' along with the 'brand Modi' was advertised throughout the country to dislodge the UPA 2 establishment. Superficially it seemed that Modi's authoritative charisma was the prime rationale for BJP's ascent to power. However it was definitely not so. Narendra Modi was adhered by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the mother organisation of the BJP, as well as the decision making body of the party, led by Rajnath Singh during that period. It would be a mistake to claim, unlike with Indira's Congress, that Modi was the party. Modi's weltanschauung had the endorsement of an extensive clan of institutions that had already contrived its habitation throughout the country, much before taking over the 'state'.

The RSS seemed to have learned from the blunders of Indira Gandhi. The party at no time became weaker even after Modi's surge to power, in fact it has grown stronger. It has successfully co-opted all the Machiavellian electoral tactics. Modi's charismatic oratory has exhilarated the party, and empowered it to venture into uncharted territories of the north eastern and southern parts of the country. BJP though relies on the stature of Modi for electoral triumph, its objectives are largely guided by proficient electoral handlers, and its parent body, that makes sure that the party persists with their core values. Such an unobstructed electoral machinery can generate severe consequences in a third world democracy, where democratic institutions aren't substantial enough to counteract the power equations. Though it seems regional parties wield some form of influence electorally, at the structural level, the 'Parivar' seems impregnable.

The intentions of Indira's Congress and the BJP's are hugely contrasting. Indira's Congress though had the electoral pre-eminence over the state apparatus, it lacked the ideological engagement, unlike the latter. The party's electoral ascendancy was the by-product of Indira's statesmanship and fragmented ineffectual opposition, that hadn't had the taste of state power yet. The ideals of the party advocated the already accustomed values of the freedom movement; socialism, plurality, etc. Its clout was limited to electoral performance and over the state machinery, while the sphere of civil society was mostly autonomous, welcoming varied public opinions. Indira's legitimacy came from state power, which had the monopoly over all its institutional arms. Electorally it was either pro or anti-Indira.

However, BJP's expansionism is not just limited to electoral supremacy, but it also aspires for cultural hegemony, through its parent organisation. The ideals of Hindutva not only communalise politics but also the civil society. Since the ideals are appropriated from Hindu values, the political modus operandi is circumstantial, based on the otherisation of communities. The inspiration emanates from Savarkar's clarion call to 'Hinduise all politics'. Such a model of politics to command the principles of the Republic as well as the Civil Society is a western thought process, ironically, quite contrary to the Hindu philosophy which promotes pluralism as its essential core. Attempts to emulate the already discarded European value can have grievous consequences upon a vast pluralistic society.

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Vol. 53, No. 40, Apr 4 - 10, 2021