In the 1980s and 1990s, following a suggestion by its ideologue KN Govindacharya, the RSS had begun to promote ‘backward’ caste leaders in its various affiliate organisations, including the BJP — Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati, Vinay Katiyar, Bangaru Laxman, Sushil Modi and Narendra Modi, among others — in what he termed as “social engineering”. Some of them later faded away; Modi is the most successful among them.
But this was only a pilot project in the BJP. By implementing the Mandal Commission Report, the then Prime Minister VP Singh had given a fillip to this social engineering across the socio-political spectrum and lost his government when the BJP pulled the rug in 1991.
Senior BJP leader LK Advani, whose Somnath-to-Ayodhya Rathyatra toppled the Singh Government, is now retired and the Ram Temple issue he raised has been ‘benched’, for the time being.
His one-time protégé, Modi, has benefited from this ongoing social engineering that gradually elbowed out the ‘forward’ castes to the political fringe of India and brought OBCs to the centre on the country’s political firmament. Modi is the son of an OBC family, raised in the RSS’ Brahaminical traditions. In a party floated by the RSS, he has been raised to this pinnacle by those who have historically been opposed to upper caste dominance.
Modi represents the generational power-shift in India which is no longer privileged, feudal, dynastic, religion or caste-centric, but empowered and aspirational, which thinks and votes beyond parochial or narrow confines.
After the Shankersinh Vaghela episode of the mid-1990s, the BJP had begun to consciously promote low-profile leaders and dropped them when they became an albatross and over-ambitious; it realised that anti-incumbency is, basically, not against the top rung of leadership but against the local elected representatives who are in direct touch with the masses. That is why, as the chief minister of Gujarat (2001-13), Modi began to drop unwanted MLAs, almost a third of the total strength, every five years. Even in 2019, he replaced about 130 sitting BJP MPs by newcomers, 120 of whom were elected.
He had also begun ‘Mandalisation’ of the BJP in Gujarat, gradually sending into oblivion many a party stalwart from the upper or dominant castes, including his predecessors Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta, and Brahmins like the late Haren Pandya, Harin Pathak and Jaynarayan Vyas. In New Delhi, he set up a virtual retirement home for the Margdarshak Mandal; he occasionally visits Advani, Joshi and others.
Betting on winnable leaders
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he had roped in winnable non-BJP leaders like Jagdambika Pal (UP) and Ramkripal Yadav (Bihar) and ‘shifted’ constituencies of Brahmins like Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalraj Mishra as a prelude to their eventual retirement in 2019; at a public meeting in 2014, Modi had said the BJP was no longer an upper castes’ party. In 2019, the BJP fielded an estranged KP Yadav in Guna (MP) to defeat his one-time mentor Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Even without Pulwama and Balakot, Modi had virtually laid out the chessboard for 2019. Circumstances also helped him. For instance, re-election of Ahmed Patel in the 2017 Rajya Sabha election reinforced influence of the “Old Guard” in the Congress; as a consequence, in December 2018, the Congress foisted Kamal Nath (72) and Ashok Gehlot (68) as Chief Ministers in MP and Rajasthan, instead of the projected young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia (48) and Sachin Pilot (41).
This triggered a huge undercurrent in the Congress against its own leadership.
Apart from the withdrawal of Chief Ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan (MP) and Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan), his one-time challengers, most of the BJP MPs elected now from the two States are Modi acolytes, not from the Chouhan or Raje camps.
A workaholic politician, Modi evolved his own social engineering. He went beyond the BJP’s traditional caste-based combinations, reached out to some influential non-BJP politicians, and made ‘winnability’ the sole criterion for elections.
The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s displeasure with RSS chief KC Sudershan was public knowledge in the NDA-1 regime; there has been no such tiff between Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
The nonagenarian parent organisation is now ‘dependent’ on its Son of the Toil who has outgrown the confines of the shakhas and shikhas (the Brahmin’s tuft of hair).
The RSS had withdrawn almost completely from public gaze, including the social media, for the last six months, in a bid to avoid any controversies; many thought the RSS was against the BJP and not participating in the elections. In fact, every RSS worker was directed to just do his own bit and return to base without talking to anyone; even crucial meetings were held at nondescript places — away from media attention.
As part of the BJP’s social engineering, the ‘consolidated’ caste and religion-based vote banks have also fragmented. The SP-BSP alliance almost failed in UP as their respective vote banks did not add-up cent-percent against the BJP; instead, almost half of it shifted towards the BJP. Even the Muslim vote bank fractured. Early on, since the 1980s, the BJP consciously chipped away the Shias politically from the Muslim ‘monolith’ by promoting leaders like Sikandar Bakht, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussein.
In Bihar, the Pasmanda segment of the Muslims, converts from ‘low’ castes, have found affinity with the BJP’s own ‘low’ caste support base; the Pasmandas comprise some 40 sub-castes and almost 75 per cent of the total Muslims, who are against the traditional dominance of ‘upper caste’ Sayyeds, Sheikhs, etc. Besides, the Modi Government’s stand on the instant Triple Talaq issue found good traction among Sunni women voters.
In 2019, the divided Muslim vote has benefited the NDA, even in Kishanganj (Bihar) where Muslims comprise nearly 67 per cent of the total vote. Of the 92 Lok Sabha constituencies where the Muslim vote is crucial, the BJP-led NDA has won in 45.
Thrust on services sector
Issues like nationalism and unemployment may have made only a marginal impact on the outcome of elections. It is well known that, due to liberalisation of the economy and computerisation of offices, organised sectors offer fewer jobs. Instead, it is the informal, unorganised and service sectors that create new employment opportunities.
Expansion of services like logistics, for instance, has created thousands of jobs for the tech-savvy and upwardly mobile youngsters of all castes and religions who move quickly from one place and job to another. Many aspirational and irreverent urban youth no longer depend on job security or the Provident Fund but invest in mutual funds.
Modi represents this aspirational hard-working India that goes beyond the traditional calculus of dynasticism, caste, religion.