By Vijay Sanghvi
Two historic polls, of the 1971 and 2014 can be termed as the turning points of the politics in independent India as both catapulted mighty leaders to power. Indira Gandhi had shattered the combine opposition and the might of the right wing to win a massive mandate on a single slogan. Narendra Modi modernized the political apparatus by relegating controversial issues and thus became the prime minister. His opponents, divided leftist forces, and self-fashioned secularists did not see the wave of modernized and educated young Indians that catapulted him to power.
In the end, the final result of both the polls was in the emergence of a politics that depended on a single individual for all thinking, agenda, and action. Their political apparatus were reduced to secondary importance and eventually slated to fade out as their followers had no faith in their victory. Indira Gandhi was fighting the powerful combine of four regional leaders that controlled the party organizations. They had installed her in January 1966 and again in March 1967. But they had also indicated to her that she was merely the mask, and they would wield the stick of power.
It was a clear message to her that she should not brook any powerful regional leader around in the party that can pose a threat to her. She adopted the culture of nominated structure for the party, appointing and dismissing individuals to various posts at her pleasure to enable her forever to eliminate any prospective threat to her position. She swung the economy more to the left from the central point her father had given. Her political need was to keep the rightists under control and the perpetual fear of ax falling on them.
The first casualty of her new politics was the senior minister Jagjivan Ram installed as the party chief in December 1970 two days before she went in for early polls to the Lok Sabha. After her massive mandate, she kicked him out within a month to bring in D Sanjivaiya to replace him. She had set of new advisers that replaced old senior colleagues. She had reduced the party structure to shambles under the belief that the massive mandate was direct to her that eliminated the need for as structure cadre. She had fought the polls with hired workers as party organisation was under the command of the regional leaders.
Consequences of it were evident in her collapse in 1977. Inpatient and disenchanted poor voted her out in entire north and east but giving her majority in six states even after the emergency excesses.
For fourteen years in succession, her traditions were kept up in the management of the party structure. Sonia Gandhi took over in 1998 to become the longest serving president of the party but without consolidating its ranks and file. Her obsession with future of her son Rahul Gandhi or lack of political acumen deterred her from the necessary reforms. The Same set of advisers, keen on the security of their positions also could not advise her to act differently. Consequently, she ended up with not even ten per cent of the strength of the Lower House.
She could not match the aggressive campaign of Narendra Modi, who effectively pinpointed the lacks and mistakes of previous regimes under the Congress to read the changing ethos of Indian society. The Congress believed people and their aspirations were same as in 1971 when they had responded massively to call off two meals a day as a right. Indira Gandhi had brought awareness of the strength of ballot even to poor and thus introduced the factor of incumbency in making of the political mind of voters.
Narendra Modi had shed the dead weight of the past as soon as the party nominated him as the commander to lead the party at the 2014 polls. He outlined his priority of toilets before the temple within days of his nomination. The Sangh Parivar was left with no alternative bu to name him as two consecutive defeats had left the vacuum of capable leaders of the national structure. NaMo dictated his terms, his agenda and his role in evolving the election machinery that discarded the traditional machinery loaned by the Sangh. Instead, he set up the modern machinery with extensive use of modern social media and telecom communication systems. By no sharing the dais with party leaders he also conveyed the transformation of the party under his command.
He emerged as the sole leader of the party to make even the cabinet colleagues to stand up with respect on his arrival for the cabinet meetings. The home minister Raj Nath Singh was shown his stature with the admonition of his son for certain suspected activities. The information about the private meeting could not have been leaked to the media by the home minister, or his son.
The Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat also gave vent to his dissatisfaction and displeasure at the style and content of governance by Narendra Modi, who has apparently decided to follow the Gandhian philosophy rather than the Sangh agenda. He talks more of Mahatma Gandhi than the Congress Prime Ministers. His schemes announced so far indicate opening of doors of economic institutions for poor and the deprived. The Sangh opposed even his efforts to expand the industrial base by resisting his attempt to change norms and power for an acquisition of land for industrial units. There were other pinpricks as well to contain him, internal sabotage in the assembly polls in Delhi and ultimatum on the construction of the temple. But NaMo is riding high to relegate the party and its veterans to subordinate positions. He has been building a different vote base to reduce the dependence on the traditional vote bank of the BJP. It shows the close similarity with the model of Indira Gandhi. Both are merely one person rule.