Narendra Modi is right in demanding more internal democracy among parties: BJP owes its success to organisational strength

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid emphasis on internal democracy within India's political parties during an interaction with the media on 'Diwali Milan' last week in the capital, he was merely echoing the sentiments of Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), a political progenitor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Two years before the formation of the BJS, Mookherjee, who was still in political wilderness after prevaricating over his own future, wrote a "programme for a new political party" in 1950. And he theorised: "If democracy has to live, parties must exist. Otherwise democracy may degenerate into a one-party rule and then into a one-man rule."

The obvious inference was the growing stranglehold of Jawaharlal Nehru over the party apparatus. This prompted another stalwart, the then editor of the Organiser, KR Malkani, to write, "Gone is the Hinduising influence of Gandhiji. And now gone too is the moderating influence of Sardar."

Narendra Modi is right in demanding more internal democracy among parties: BJP owes its success to organisational strength

File image of Narendra Modi. PTI

There is a marked consistency in the evolution of the BJS — and later BJP — as a political entity except for brief interregnum of the Janata Party phase (1977-1982). Its top leadership always insisted on strengthening the core values of the organisational building and inducting a large group of volunteers motivated by a higher goal of nation-building than self-serving interests.

This strategy stood the party in good stead when the BJS and BJP were passing through turbulence. The journey of the BJS and BJP in these turbulent years is quite analogous to the political trajectory of the pre-independent Congress under the leadership of Gandhi whose abiding faith in secularism was accompanied by incorporating Hindu symbolism as well.

In Nehru's time, the legacy of a strong organisation of the Congress was a source of strength for the party which sustained him for a long time before the emergence of a charismatic figure like Indira Gandhi. Since the 1970s, the Congress started relying more on personal charisma of its leaders than organisational strength.

But look at the contrast with the BJS, which did not hesitate to have an alliance with the communists in Maharashtra while forming the Samukta Maharashtra Samiti in 1958, or propping up Aruna Asid Ali as Mayor of Delhi in alliance with the Marxists in 1960. Though neither alliance lasted long, it was indicative of remarkable flexibility in the BJS's organisational leadership to learn even from their adversaries the skill of expanding an organisation. Those entrusted with the task of building the organisation — either in the BJP or the BJS — did not allow their ideological predilections to come in the way of the party's growth.

This history bears significance in today's context, as the BJP has emerged as a party whose phenomenal expansion of its organisational network has positioned it in an enviable position vis-a-vis the Congress. So, Modi's dig at a lack of internal democracy within the latter has sound political reasoning. To treat it as mere rhetoric would be to ignore the elephant in the room.

Unlike the Congress, the BJP has borrowed from its experience three effective methods of party expansion. Over the years, it has developed an expertise in building up cadre and motivating them to expand the party's influence. Since much of the core cadre strength is drawn from an RSS-trained volunteer pool, they are bound by a set of discipline and core values of the Sangh. And this cadre strength works as a steel frame for the party's organisation.

Though the Sangh Parivar is averse to developing a personality cult, they quickly realised its significance in the modern context. Despite initial hesitation, they agreed to the projection of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the face of the party. In Modi's case, his individual charm was so overwhelming that his numero uno position was accepted as given. And there can be no doubt that the BJP has immensely benefited from Modi's charismatic personality.

The BJP's third effective strategy was nothing but an imitation of the old Congress, where "notables" were inducted regardless of their ideological positions. The manner in which Modi tries to coopt even ideologically incompatible allies is quite remarkable. For instance, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, or the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra are all NDA allies despite many hiccups.

Though deeply immersed in the core values of the RSS, Modi often looks beyond ideological blindfolds to consolidate his party's position. He rather believes in the prescient words of Deen Dayal Upadhayaya, the ideological father-figure of BJS, who had said, "The votes are there if we can go out and get them but for that we need organisation and more organisation."

If we paraphrase Mao's maxim in Modi's mantra, it will be, "Power grows out of the organisation, not a barrel of gun."

No doubt the BJP has been building up a formidable organisational structure, while the Congress is relying on an "illusion of a charisma" of Rahul Gandhi, who is still to come to terms with the great political task at hand given his juvenile conduct of tweeting with his pet. A debilitated Congress does not augur well for Indian democracy. But that seems to be the reality.

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Updated Date: Oct 30, 2017 15:36:31 IST

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