By Prerna Kundu
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
1989 marked the beginning of the era of coalition politics in India. Many political analysts believed that coalition governments were here to stay and were a reminder of the reality that no single party could win over a country as diversified in terms of regions, languages, ethnicities and classes as India. Yet in 2014, The Bhartiya Janata Party did what even the 128 year old Congress Party of India had been unable to since 1985, it won a clear majority in the Lok Sabha Elections and emerged as a pan-India party. The Congress Party is no longer the dominant political force in the country, the political vacuum it created was filled by the BJP. But is BJP the new Congress Party of India?
When one hears the name of the Congress Party, the first image that comes to mind is a party that united the entire nation and carried India through the trials, tribulations and challenges of nation building. The Congress Party connected to the aspirations of the citizens of the country, and the people displayed their faith in the party by voting the Congress Party to power with thumping majorities. Yet, after the death of Pt Nehru, the Congress Party began to lose its mass appeal. It no longer represented a social amalgamation of ideologies and while it still gained power, it did so on the backing of the popularity of a supreme leader, Indira Gandhi, and particular social groups like the disadvantaged, lower castes and the poor. With the dawn of the 21st century, the aspirations of the people of the country changed. A country with 65% of its population comprising of the youth, the people wanted jobs, not subsidy schemes named after more members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. People were disillusioned with the Congress and the dynastic nepotism and stagnancy and corruption that it came to represent. At a time like this, the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, rose to the task and promised people what they really wanted, good governance and development. BJP connected to the aspirations of the entire country, as the Congress used to once, and after many years, elections in the country were decided on the issues of governance and economic development rather than narrow minded regional or communal agendas. The BJP reached out to the people, with Modi personally traveling to the constituencies, and using technology in their favour by running a spectacular and hugely popular social media campaign.
Throughout India’s political history, the post Independence era has been dominated by the the Nehru-Gandhi family, particularly Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, who have defined Indian politics by their stellar and impactful leadership. In 1952, Jawahar Lal Nehru was the Congress party’s chief campaigner; traveling tirelessly across India to promote his message. Indira Gandhi in 1971 played a comparable role. The 2014 election was not won by Modi alone. Even so, it was one of the few instances where a single individual has had such an impact on an Indian election, drawing parallels only to the Congress Party under Nehru and Indira Gandhi. In Narendra Modi, the people of India see a dynamic, decisive and development-oriented leader who has emerged as a ray of hope for the dreams and aspirations of a billion Indians. The slogans ‘Abki baar Modi Sarkaar’ remind you of Deva Kanta Barooah who famously said about Indira Gandhi, “India is Indira and Indira is India’. Indira Gandhi’s was the first great personality cult in Indian politics. Modi’s appears to be the second. Modi’s mass appeal has converted him into a popular leader throughout the world, as the reception he received in the UNited States and Australia clearly indicate.
Another fundamental trait of the Congress Party at the height of its popularity was the sheer political clout it enjoyed throughout the country. From 1952-1967, all states except Jammu and Kahmir and Kerala, were ruled by Congress governments. With the election results in Maharashtra and Haryana, and with waited results in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, it seems like the BJP is dominating the politics in the country not only at the national level, but also in the state legislative assemblies. As of November 2014, the BJP has majority governments in 7 states and and a coalition government in 3 other states and a Union Territory. The political influence of the BJP has definitely expanded on a pan-India level.
It is hard to see how the Congress Party will recover. It seems that the Gandhi family cannot revive the Congress; but perhaps no one else can either. At the moment at least, the BJP has no national challenger. The BJP is clearly here to stay, and it is evident that it will continue a major and comprehensive influence in politcs in India in the years to come.
Is BJP then the new Congress Party of India? While there is no question about the popularity and good will enjoyed by the BJP currently, the answer to this question depends on the behavior of the fringe elements in the BJP. Whether Narendra Modi and his government will let their agendas of development and progress be maligned by issues of Hindu nationalism and extremist Hindutva ideologies is yet to be seen. But if Modi overcomes these challenges that the BJP faces, it could potentially be the new Congress Party of India in terms of its political dominance and the role it will play in shaping contemporary India’s future.
- Ramchandra Guha for the Prospect Magazine, http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/features/modi-the-cult-of-the-great-leader
Prerna Kundu is a first year Economics Honours student at Sri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. A part of the debating society, she is fascinated by politics and economics. Her love for reading is nurtured by an inquisitive nature and her favourite genres are historical fiction, classical literature and fantasy. She loves to travel and dreams of trekking around the world once in her life.