Forty years ago, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani founded the Bharatiya Janata Party. Today it is led by the duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who have won two general elections with full majority. Under Modi-Shah, BJP has seen centralisation of power and a rise in the influence of RSS over the party. On Monday, Modi appealed BJP workers to help those in need, reaffirm the importance of social distancing and make India Covid-19-free.
ThePrint asks: How is Modi’s BJP different from the one founded by Advani-Vajpayee 40 years ago?
BJP still ideologically close to its roots. But there has never been a formal link between RSS and BJP
Syed Shahnawaz Hussain
BJP leader and former union minister
The Bharatiya Janata Party of today is still ideologically close to its roots from 40 years ago. However, it has grown significantly on the national scale and currently has around 18 crore members. What started as a small organisation has now become a mighty tree.
Narendra Modi has successfully taken forward the dream that BJP’s founders — L.K. Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee — had for the country. He has also taken forward the dreams of Bharatiya Jana Sangh leaders Deen Dayal Upadhyay and S.P. Mookerjee. Earlier, party leaders had the trust of the party members, but Modi has helped the party gain the trust of the entire nation.
On the question of RSS’ involvement during the course of the party’s growth, I can assure you that there was never a formal link between the two. Though there have been many BJP members with an RSS background, the RSS is a separate organisation engaged more in social work than hard politics. It does not interfere in the BJP’s day-to-day functioning.
Ideology is perhaps the only place where the RSS and BJP overlaps. For example, RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat once said in his three-day lecture that “India” refers to the 1.3 billion people who are a part of the Hindu society. Modi has echoed this line with his election slogan “sabka saath sabka vishwas”.
Modi-Shah same as Vajpayee-Advani, will do anything to gain power
Contributing editor, ThePrint
The BJP of Modi-Shah is built on the foundations of the party created ground up by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. It is tempting to count how different the party looks between that era and now, but the similarities are greater than the differences.
Starting with the party’s founding in 1980 (with Vajpayee as its first president), they experimented with periods of moderation and hardline Hindutva to expand their base and gain political power. It was a mass agitation, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that finally took them across the river.
Modi is the master of mass politics; his winning campaign for power in 2014 was no less than the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in terms of scale. But it was a campaign where he was moderating his hardline Hindutva image by using development or vikas. Modi alternates between Hindutva and development to keep core voters happy and yet gain on-core non-Hindutva voters through the Modi personality cult.
Vajpayee had the moderate mukhauta, and Advani was the hardliner. In the case of Modi-Shah, Modi takes the governance mantle whereas Shah is the Hindutva icon.
The BJP of Vajpayee-Advani was sure of its ideological purpose but willing to make tactical short-term compromises for power. The duo of Modi-Shah isn’t very different from that. They will do anything to gain power, and then use it to further the party’s ideological agenda.
BJP under Modi is flexible, opened doors for rebel leaders from other parties
CEO, Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra and author, Know About RSS
BJP has evolved into one of the most formidable electoral machines in recent times under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has won two consecutive terms with full majority at the Centre and except a couple of southern states, it has expanded its footprint pan-India.
Under Modi, the BJP has expanded to new states such as West Bengal, Assam and states of northeast India. The party has also regained the political space in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It has consolidated its position in the Hindi heartland.
Modi’s BJP is different from the party led by his predecessors as it has displayed greater ideological flexibility and pragmatism. It has opened doors for leaders from other parties and is ready to stitch alliances with ‘rebels’ if it helps them form a government in that particular state.
One of the key factors which differentiates BJP under Modi from the BJP under Advani-Vajpayee is the extensive use of technology and social media as a political tool. The BJP is far ahead of its political rivals in this aspect and this has happened because of Modi’s inclination to use the most updated technology and he has been able to instill this instinct in the party leaders and cadres belonging to all levels of political hierarchy.
Vajpayee’s democratic spirit and Advani’s leadership making skills absent from BJP of Modi-Shah
Journalist and political commentator
The foundation of the power, which the Narendra Modi’s BJP wields today was laid by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. The Vajpayee-Advani duo ran the party in a democratic fashion whereas today, Modi runs a two-man show, along with the Home Minister Amit Shah. There are three major differences between the BJP under Vajpayee-Advani and the one under Modi-Shah. Firstly, Vajpayee’s democratic spirit extended to the way he treated both political allies when the BJP came to power in 1998 as the head of the NDA, as well as the opponents in Parliament.
Secondly, Advani assiduously created a second generation of leaders that included Modi, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Manohar Parrikar, M Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh, many of whom went on to either join the Union cabinet or serve as the chief ministers. Today, the chief ministers selected by the Modi-Shah duo are ciphers, barring Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath and Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan who has made a comeback. Most other chief ministers are the Prime Minister’s envoys in their respective states rather than leaders in the way Kalyan Singh or Vasundhara Raje were. Similarly, the current crop of cabinet ministers — except for Shah — have very few powers, and are often not included even in key decisions of the Centre.
And lastly, the BJP and its leaders made an enormous effort to interact with the media in its formative years and that continued till the advent of Modi.
Now, the one-way communication that happens in the Modi government also characterises the BJP under Narendra Modi.
Of course, the party has never been as strong as it is today, allowing Modi to wield the sort of power that the party’s founders could only have dreamt of. But temperamentally, too — something he demonstrated even when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, ensuring that he was not sacked after the riots in 2002 — he has an authoritarian streak that Vajpayee and Advani did not have.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint