Rise of grassroot workers: By elevating Om Birla, Thawar Chand Gehlot, BJP is telling the story of a new India

During the course of 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign, Congress president Rahul Gandhi once claimed that he was trying to change the language of politics. The Gandhi scion tried hard, almost to the point of sounding like the proverbial love guru.

He once claimed that his primary job was to remove the “hatred” in Narendra Modi’s heart through “love”. Rahul also complained before journalists in a news conference that while he “loves Modi,” the “PM doesn’t love him in return”. Sounding suspiciously like a jilted lover, he had also sounded a warning: “No way can Modi escape my love”.

And finally, after Congress was handed yet another drubbing and Rahul lost his pocket borough in Amethi, the dynast claimed before a crowd in Wayanad that while Modi’s campaign was based on “lies, poison, hatred”, “Congress stood for truth, love and affection”.

Unfortunately, Rahul’s noble attempts at changing the language of politics make him resemble a non-serious politician. To understand what ‘changing the lexicon of politics’ entails, that too in an irrevocable way, we need to turn our attention to what Modi is trying to do.

 Rise of grassroot workers: By elevating Om Birla, Thawar Chand Gehlot, BJP is telling the story of a new India

File image of Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla. Image courtesy: Twitter/@ombirlakota

The elevation of two-term BJP MP from Rajasthan, Om Birla, to the position of Lok Sabha Speaker, the appointment of Union minister Thawar Chand Gehlot to the post of the Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha in place of Arun Jaitley, or the nomination in 2017 of Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind to the post of president (he eventually become the 14th President of India defeating Meira Kumar) are examples of affirmative actions.

These affirmative actions may eventually bring a transformation in Indian politics in ways that we may not fully comprehend yet. But they are equally intended as signals at different levels. For one, the elevation of grassroot politicians such as Birla, a three-time MLA from Rajasthan, or Dalit faces such as Gehlot or Kovind to key Constitutional positions is a pointer to BJP workers and cadres that loyalty and hard work will bring rewards. Not being born into a family of influence or power will never be an impediment in political career.

On a much wider ambit, these decisions are also meant as signals that differentiate the BJP brand from other political parties. The dynastic structure of Congress has been much discussed. Across the political spectrum, dynastic succession still remains the byword among regional outfits where chieftains lay painstaking plans to hand over the reins of the party to their bloodlines. There are exceptions, but just to prove the rule.

The top two in BJP, Modi and Amit Shah, had humble beginnings. While the prime minister sold tea, Home Minister Shah put up BJP posters on walls as an ordinary worker. Birla, the two-time BJP MP from Rajasthan’s Kota-Bundi Lok Sabha constituency, rose up from the ranks to become the Speaker.

According to the Speaker’s profile in Lok Sabha website, Birla started his career with the BJP’s youth wing at the age of 17 from Gumanpura, Kota, in 1979 and then worked his way up to become the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) district president, state president and eventually the national vice-president.

According to a report in The Indian Express, Birla “remains a grassroots-level politician” and in his Lok Sabha constituency, is “known as a relentless worker, never shying away from his social commitments” who also “loves interacting with constituents and partaking in their social events.”

His profile talks at length about Birla helping the physically challenged, “cancer patients and thalassemia patients through various social organizations,” “providing free tricycles, wheelchairs and hearing aids to the handicapped,” leading the “mission to remove malnutrition and semi-unemployment in Sahriya tribal area in District Bara of Rajasthan” and leading the “relief team of more than 100 voluntary workers including doctors in order to help the victims of earthquake which occurred in Gujarat on 26 January, 2001.”

Gehlot, the Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha, is the Union social justice and empowerment minister who, according to a report in Business Standard, “started his career as a factory worker in Ujjain.”

A prominent Dalit face of the party, the 71-year-old Gehlot, who belongs to the Balai community of Scheduled Castes in Madhya Pradesh, launched into the textile mill workers’ movement and made the fight against Dalits’ social discrimination his own cause while in his teens. As a Firstpost report points out, Gehlot’s “consistent struggle towards securing social justice for the deprived and marginalised section got noticed in the higher echelons of the BJP."

Similarly, President Kovind, a virtually unknown name in national politics, comes from a humble background. As a report in India Today points out, “a weaver by caste, Kovind's family did not own any land. Father Maikulal Kori eked out a living for his family with nine children by running a small grocery store. The children learnt their first lessons under the old pipal tree.”

These profiles narrate the story of an aspirational India where hard work, diligence and loyalty are not virtues of the fool but smart keys to a great political career. This lexicon was unthinkable even a decade ago when politics of entitlement was the norm and power remained concentrated at the hands of a small clique that had outsized influence over every sphere of India’s body politic.

The difference between the BJP and Congress is at its starkest here. The arrogance and entitlement of Congress and its leaders was evident ironically on a day when President Kovind was addressing a joint session of the Parliament on Thursday. Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi was seen browsing his mobile phone while the president was delivering his speech at the Central Hall.

When the pictures and media reports attracted widespread condemnation, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma came out with an incredible explanation that the Gandhi dynast was apparently trying to “translate certain difficult Hindi words which weren’t heard properly.”

This raises a question: what exactly was Rahul trying to translate through his phone, when he couldn’t even hear the words properly? Media reports say Rahul was seen “scrolling through his phone and then typing away for about 24 minutes of President Kovind’s one-hour speech.”

This isn’t a frivolous debate but a pointer to the exceptionalism that entitled dynasts suffer from. Rahul’s behaviour is disrespectful towards the highest office of the land. More than that, it reflects how disconnected the rootless old elites are from the masses.

This difference between a party that remains grounded and creates opportunities for its workers, and a party where faithfuls are taught bottomless reverence towards the ‘high command’ whose divine right it is to rule over the party and the land, is unambiguous. This difference has also been accurately reflected in the polls. BJP has won 303 seats and Congress, 52. Don’t bet on a Congress revival.

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Updated Date: Jun 21, 2019 19:54:53 IST