Today’s Chanakya and his struggling rivals
Ideological re-vitalisation at a time of a general de-ideologisation has been one of BJP president Amit Shah's most important contributions to the party in the last few years that he has been at the helm
When he had made his entrée into a national role, one point that BJP president Amit Shah had reportedly made, early into his tenure, was the need for the party to make inroads into the southern, eastern regions and north-eastern regions. Such a strategic expansion was required, Shah had argued then, for the party to strike deeper roots and widen its base. It was such a deepening and widening which, he had pointed out, would help the party to organisationally stabilise and besides acquire a pan-Indian appeal to ensure that it becomes the only party with a grassroots base.
The response to this position of his varied from the quizzical to the dismissive, but just about a year into his tenure, Shah has proved that arithmetic right and stands vindicated. It is under his stewardship and relentless pursuit that the BJP has expanded its base from the south to the east and further into the North-East. When he said that from Kanyakumari to Ladakh and from Kutch to Kamrup, the BJP now has representation, Shah was not being facetious; it is a presence which he has himself worked out and stitched together. Long derided and dismissed as a north Indian party, the BJP’s expansion in eastern and southern India is worth taking note. It breaks an externally enforced false stereotype of its limited reach.
The BJP performance in the Kerala and West Bengal in 2016 was highly indicative of this evolving trend and shift. The higher vote percentage polled by it, the opening of an Assembly account in Kerala and a re-opening in West Bengal with a higher percentage of votes, were indicative that Shah’s strategy and prescience had worked. The party was indeed on a southern and eastern march.
The spectacular victory in Assam, the huge victory in the recent Odisha local body election, where the BJP did well not only in the opponent’s bastions but made its mark in the most difficult terrains and districts afflicted with neglect and Maoist extortion rackets, and the more recent Manipur victory, have clearly indicated that Shah’s strategy has begun to roll. For one who was often dismissed as a State strategist confined to a portion of western India, with no proper understanding of the Hindi heartland and beyond, Shah’s arithmetic has demonstrated a mind with a deep connect and feel of the grassroots political psyche.
When he pointed out that he had actually visited and interacted with people and workers in over 398 Assembly segments across Uttar Pradesh, it essentially showed how well-plugged in Shah was with the entire region. It was this connect and this first hand evaluation — a throwback to his days in Gujarat, when for years together he would travel across the State in rickety State transport buses to organise the party at the grassroots — that has always enabled Shah to put together a near unassailable and unmatched political structure on the ground. Few perhaps recall or even know, that when the Congress and its first ‘family’ connived and conspired to have Shah exiled from Gujarat, it was basically announcing its own eventual political
It was during those years of exile that Shah had extensively travelled across the State, spending days and weeks interacting with cross-sections, spending nights at mutts, driving through the vast hinterland, pouring through archival records and gazettes — interestingly, the elephantine memory that he has, Shah can still recall the exact details of colonial gazettes, records and documents that he had poured through across Uttar Pradesh during this period. His political banishment from his mother-State was the opening of another chapter. The Congress’s conspiracy thus paved the way for Shah to further sharpen his national understanding and perspective. It was a dogged tenacity that enabled him to completely internalise the spirit, the character, the arithmetic and psyche of the Hindi heartland. Little did the Congress’s first family realise that by banishing Shah, it was actually decimating its own political future.
While the spoilt princelings of Indian politics postured and habitually indulged in expletive laden rhetoric, Shah had, over the last one year and more, quietly built up and revitalised the BJP’s grassroots organisation in the State and across the country. But just as the physical re-organisation and re-structuring is important, the ideological re-vitalisation too remains crucial. It is Shah’s continuous emphasis on re-discovering and re-articulating the ideological basis that instils commitment, determination in the core-worker who forms the core-constituent of that core-component — the booth. Ideological re-vitalisation at a time of a general de-ideologisation has been one of Shah’s most important contributions to the party in the last few years that he has been at the helm.
The Uttar Pradesh verdict has also been a resounding blow to the likes of Mamata Banerjee who bases the edifice of her politics on the foundations of appeasement. Throughout the election campaign, Shah had repeatedly emphasised that this election would deal a decisive blow to the politics of casteism, of dynastism and of appeasement. Indeed, the Uttar Pradesh result and the outcome in the other States have clearly indicated the rejection of these three diseases which have long gnawed away at the vital entrails of our body politics.
The other narrative built by Shah and Narendra Modi, which became the dominant narrative in these elections, culminating in the articulation of the vision of ‘New India’, was the duo’s emphasis on the ‘politics of service’, as the social philosopher Ram Swarup had termed it, as against the ‘politics of self-alienation’. The politics of service, wrote Ram Swarup, is “different from the politics of power. It requires the capacity to see in common people, even in the midst of their poverty, a new dignity and beauty, new qualities of the mind and the heart.
This alone makes us give them due respect and honour. This alone develops in us those qualities of humility, tolerance and understanding, so necessary for any deeper work”. This narrative of the ‘politics of service’ is what has ultimately triumphed and has begun to dominate and find resonance cutting across divides.
Shah often refers to his inspirations, Chanakya and ‘Veer’ Savarkar. If one has to understand Indian politics and aspires to govern India, internalising these two epochal minds, he often argues, is indispensible. One can clearly see that inspiration in his own politics and functioning. Interestingly, those who have no knowledge of Chanakya and have rejected, pilloried and demonised Savarkar, are the very ones who are losing to Shah’s politics today.
(The writer is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation)
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