This will be hard to believe today, but there was a time when Narendra Modi was a near-nobody in national politics. Way back in those times, a ‘Chintan Baithak‘ was organised in Shimla, post-2009 loss. It ended with the announcement that L.K. Advani will make way for the next generation. Sushma Swaraj, and Arun Jaitley were chosen as the new Leaders of Opposition. Both of them lacked the mass base that Modi can today boast about, but once ‘chosen’, they tirelessly gave voice to the anti-Congress , anti-Left perspective that was so badly needed in the country.
I strongly believe that the Anna movement was an important page in the history of BJP. The movement was a wake-up call. It made the party realise the importance of transforming itself from a ‘cadre-based’ to ‘mass-based’ party, and from an ‘ideology-driven’ party, to an ‘individual-driven’ party. The failure of traditional Left in India can be attributed to the failure in having successfully transformed, along the same lines. From introducing ‘membership by missed call’, to the search for a truly mass leader, a lot changed. Anna movement’s biggest success was making the masses realise the importance of leveraging their collective strength. It made politics ‘interesting’ again. It introduced a new generation to politics- a generation that BJP was eager to tap into its own party.
Modi’s sudden elevation in BJP was nothing short of magical. It was a carefully orchestrated ‘mission’. Nitin Gadkari got discredited due to leaked files (charges which turned out to be false later). Soon after becoming the President (almost overnight, following Gadkari’s fall), Rajnath Singh appointed Modi as the PM candidate, and Amit Shah as the incharge of UP. For the elections, Arun Jaitley was given his favourite seat (Amritsar, to much dislike of sitting Member of Parliament Navjot Singh Sidhu), so was Rajnath himself (Lucknow). How they orchestrated this ‘mission’, will be a subject of history writing in the years, and decades to come. But the fact remains that while all of this was happening, there was someone who ‘allowed’ Modi to rise. She may not have had the mass base to win as big as him, but she had enough political positioning, to deny him one, by involving him in a prolonged internal feud of succession. She could have revolted, but she instead placated the ones who were revolting for her. She was the first one to rush to Advani ‘s residence, when he shook the nation by momentarily resigning from the party he not only founded, but built- brick by brick, and made it the national force that it eventually turned out to be. Ms. Swaraj went to Goa, where Modi’s name was announced as the campaign committee chief. She gave him her stamp of approval, soon enough; and went out of the way, to convince Advani.
Sushma Swaraj was no Modi fangirl, something that looks like a criteria, to rise in this “new” BJP. But she understood the jolt that the party, and the country would have faced, had she acted as irresponsibly as the likes of Advani. So, the de-facto, ‘chosen’ PM-in waiting (who until a decade back was the prime challenger to the Gandhis) stepped aside, and made way for Modi. This was probably because she understood that while she may be the ‘chosen’ one, Modi was the one the cadres, wanted to ‘elect’.
During General Elections, reports came that she was fighting a lone battle for her own seat. Only insiders can tell if this was true, but what no one can deny is that she was not a part of the ‘core’ team. Arun Jaitley turned out to be everything that the fictional “Frank Underwood” (House of Cards) initially wanted to be (that is, be the one who sends his man to the White House, and act as his Deputy). Rajnath Singh made himself available to Modi, when he needed someone like him the most, and this gave a fresh life to his dying political career. As for Ms. Sushma, she quietly campaigned, and earned herself the External Affairs portfolio. As External Affairs Minister, she has been eclipsed by Modi completely- to the extent that he decides the high-profile officials of her Ministry. Yet, there has been no visible sign of resentment. I do not suggest that Modi has wronged her; for this was unavoidable. As PM, his stature is higher, and deserves a central position in India’s diplomacy. Even so, given the egos involved, I cannot imagine Modi giving this kind of leeway to his internal competitors (of the same age).
Today, BJP has changed. “Modi Mantra”, and “Modi for India” booklets can be seen in the hands of all National Executive members. Two men from a single state (Gujarat), have, in a short period of 3-4 years, established their rule over the now-country’s largest political party.
It was a proud moment, to see her become India’s voice, at the UN General Assembly. The whole country was looking forward to the speech, and she did a fine job with it. She gave it hard to Nawaz Sharif, and in a language that he can very well understand. Had Atal Bihari Vajpayee been healthy today, he would have surely seen a bit of himself in her, for he too gave some of these fiery Hindi speeches, at the United Nations.
Many will argue that the Bharatiya Janata Party has evolved, and transformed for good. Maybe it has. But even so, the journey is one memorable story- one that deserves to be told, again and again. For lovers of Indian politics like me, the “old” BJP’s transformation will remain one of the most fascinating subjects of study. And so, this is to the woman, who is the last of the crop of leaders, who really believed in “Nation first, Party second, Individual last”.
Well done, Ms. Swaraj. The country stands behind you. As for BJP, only Lord Ram can predict what lies ahead, once Modi retires. That will be yet another important page in BJP’s history.