City City Bang Bang, Columns

BJP: Congress in the making?

Is the BJP increasingly beginning to resemble the Congress party in an increasing number of areas? It may not have a dynasty, and unlike the Congress, might have a visceral distaste for the minorities, but in many structural ways, the resemblance between the two parties is growing.

The BJP has over the course of its first term, moved from being the party that championed the cause of the free market, has drifted quite far from its moorings. It has not only continued with welfare programmes from the Congress era, but added a few of its own. In its own estimation it would appear that it attributes the thumping 2019 victory to these welfare schemes, apart from the Balakot raid and the charisma of Mr Modi. Its last Budget too carries little by way of reform, and the general mood in Industry is pessimistic, for it reads the writing on the wall all too well. This is a government that has little interest in a radical transformative business agenda seems to be the growing consensus, whatever be the public posturing.

If economically, the BJP is gravitating to the Congress formula, politically too, it has found ways of being much broader in its appeal over time. It has outgrown its Upper Caste, brahminical roots, and today is able to appeal to many more caste groups including the OBCs and Adivasis. While it’s enhanced inclusiveness draws a sharp line when it comes to Muslims, structurally it is more Congress-like in accommodating diverse groups, albeit under a Hindu umbrella.

The other unmistakable stamp of Congress-ness is visible in the ease with which it can make room for opportunists of the worst kind in its attempt to bring down opposition governments and replace them with its own. We have seen this pattern play out time and again, the most recent example being Karnataka. Apart from the fact that its own leader there is far from being perceived as clean, the manner in which it has acquired the numbers it needed is transparently shady. In Goa, its actions have drawn the ire of even some of its most ardent supporters, so opportunistic has been its posture.

Culturally, too the party has transited from being amongst the more democratic formations in Indian politics to being a version of the Congress, with a clear’ High Command knows best’ worldview. The diversity of voices that was a hallmark of the party has all but gone, replaced by the chorus of pious affirmations that are periodically mouthed by various senior leaders in an attempt to show their continued loyalty. The old guard is gone, and with the exception of Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, the current Cabinet is made of new faces that owe their political position entirely to the current leadership.

The other emerging trait of the party which runs counter to the strength of the leadership is its apparent inability to enforce discipline. In more than one instance, even when an act of indiscipline is pointed to by no less than the PM, no real action is taken. We saw this most recently in the case of Akash Vijayvargiya, where in spite of a specific and pointed comment by Mr Modi, the state unit refrained from taking any meaningful action against the offending youth. The sense that the party is not really serious about curbing the flagrant use of muscle in having its way, and hence public pronouncements of top leaders can safely be ignored or paid lip service to has seeped into the rank and the file of the party. The fact that the PM himself follows so many strident voices on social media seems to support this view.

While the culture of impunity that pervades the BJP can be found in parties across the political spectrum, not backing down in the face of criticism is a key feature of party’s aura of strength. This means that such displays are more likely to go unchecked than in other parties; indeed in most cases these will be aggressively defended by the party’s army of faithfuls. In the current political climate, any action that gets criticized by the other side is automatically defended, regardless of how egregious the misdemeanor may have been. Given that there are already a slew of private armies that operate under the party’s banner that are allowed to run rampant, this tolerance of rank hooliganism can serve to alienate the party from a much larger section of people.

The other danger for the party is that the influx of so many new entrants all attracted by the prospect of a share of rewards will over time lead to an unsustainable competition with its existing cadre. Those that have been bought over will expect their material needs to be met. After all, the economics of greed speaks louder than the politics of ideology. The more the party fills itself up with leaders who are there only for the money, the less coherent it becomes as a force. What seems like strength today might well be the reason for a steady erosion in its future prospects. The Congress became beset with dissidence precisely because it had far too many people jockeying for power and its rewards.

Is the BJP’s drift towards a Congress-like template a sign of its eventual weakening or is it an acknowledgement that any successful party in India must necessarily follow in the Grand Old Party’s footsteps? Is the BJP’s shift a sign that it is likely to become a looser, somewhat more inclusive version (drawing the line at Muslims of course) of itself or is it an act of ruthless pragmatism that seeks to decimate any prospect of a viable opposition? Regardless of how one reads this, one thing is clear. As a party, the Congress might be in tatters, but as a political culture it lives on.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *