Modi is Fighting Not Just to Win Bihar But to Retain Full Control of the BJP

It is almost certain that he and Amit Shah will not be able to run the party with the same level of centralised control as they do now if the NDA fails to do as well as expected in Bihar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wipes his sweat while addressing an election rally in Bihar. Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wipes his sweat while addressing an election rally in Bihar. Credit: PTI

Is the BJP suffering from serious pangs of anxiety midway through the Bihar elections? This anxiety is as much about what will happen inside the party if the NDA either loses the Bihar assembly polls or a near hung verdict is produced.

Of course, publicly the party is putting up a brave front, asserting that it will win in Bihar comfortably. But there is intra party churning already visible to the discerning eye. A very senior Cabinet minister told this writer earlier this week that the BJP is in a tough fight, whatever the party may say officially. The minister also hinted that the party may have to involve and project local leaders much more as a strategy in future state elections. The clear implication was that a highly centralised campaign strategy run by party president Amit Shah was increasingly showing diminishing returns.

The senior BJP minister also admitted that the party is having to fight elections in ‘normal’ conditions now. The May 2014 “mahaul” (atmosphere) doesn’t exist anymore. There is no anti-Congress wave to ride on. It is this thought process which is likely to bring some change in the power play within the BJP after the Bihar elections.

RSS not as motivated as  2014

It appears that the RSS is also in favour of a more decentralised decision-making process within the BJP. It is said that RSS workers are not as motivated in the Bihar polls as they were last year during the general elections. District-level pracharaks in Bihar have hinted this time round that they have somewhat milder instructions from the RSS headquarters in Nagpur to “help wherever and whenever required”.

During the Lok Sabha elections, especially in North India, there were very clear instructions from the RSS leadership that it was a do or die battle. Observers say that the same level of motivation is not there among the RSS cadres this time around. The RSS is known to display various grades of motivation levels and this is done in a very subtle manner. For instance, everyone is still speculating about why RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made a statement on reservations which clearly damaged the BJP. No one believes it was an off the cuff remark. All this possibly points to a post Bihar power tussle within the Sangh Parivar.

One thing is clear as daylight. The RSS does not want Modi to project himself purely as a development messiah at the cost of the larger Hindu consolidation project which they have unleashed. The systematic revival of the “politics of beef”, which was former RSS chief Guru Golwalkar’s leitmotif for driving Hindutva nationalism, is the most obvious manifestation of that. Narendra Modi fully espouses this line of thinking but at the same time has to deal with the damage to India’s image this causes internationally – an issue Arun Jaitley spoke of after the Dadri murder. There has been no proper public condemnation from the top of either the violence or the nature of “beef politics” that is gaining ground. The police raid on Kerala House in the capital over the alleged serving of beef is also a very calculated move initiated by Hindutva organisations.

Post Bihar, there is bound to be a serious political churn within the sangh parivar and this will create new realignments within the BJP. The supremacy of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley is likely to be challenged more vigorously. There is even talk of a possible reshuffle of the cabinet at the end of the year. That, of course, will depend upon how Modi and Shah perform in the Bihar elections.

That is why a certain desperation is visible in the BJP’s campaign strategy in Bihar, where Modi and Shah are trying every trick in the book to grab a critical mass of votes. The aim is to retain their vice-like grip on the party as there is no threat of Modi being dislodged by the opposition in Parliament. After news came that the BJP had not done as well as anticipated in the first two phases, both Modi and Amit Shah have tended to become more brazen about using emotions around caste and religion to upstage the opposition. Shah has openly invoked Modi’s backward caste status. Modi himself has begun making sharp references to caste and religion to polarize votes. The PM’s cynical attempt to pit Muslims against Hindus by suggesting that Nitish Kumar would give religion-based reservations and “steal” existing quotas for OBCs and Dalits was quite shocking, to say the least.

It seems almost certain that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will not be able to run the party with the same level of centralised control as they do now if the BJP fails to do as well as expected in Bihar.

  • Chanakya

    Retaining control is unheard of in Congress, right Venu?