Over the past few decades, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar has perfected the art of couching an insidious political agenda or project in sanctimonious terms. This practice has become more nuanced in the nine years since Narendra Modi assumed leadership of the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election and led the saffron party to its first single-party majority in Parliament. Modi went on to win an even larger electoral victory in 2019, and the past three and a half years of his regime have been marked by i authoritarian and what many would call oppressive and sordid political and administrative manoeuvres behind the mask of self-righteous slogans.
This ploy came to the fore again in the first three days of July at the BJP’s national executive meeting in Hyderabad. The BJP leadership met in Telangana’s capital city just a few days after carrying out a political coup in Maharashtra, toppling the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, a coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress. As the coup unfolded, it became evident that horse-trading and strong-arm tactics involving the Central investigative agencies were at the core of these operations. The BJP and its agencies in the Union government were able to effect the defection of a large number of Shiv Sena MLAs, under the leadership of Eknath Shinde, who eventually went on to become Chief Minister.
However, at the BJP national executive meeting, the party’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and party president J.P. Nadda, used strikingly similar language to characterise its manoeuvres as efforts to create a “Parivar-mukt [dynasty-free] political India”. Nadda said while all other parties worked only to promote the interests of the dynasties that dominated them, the BJP alone worked for the interests of the common people. The opposition, he said, were all “baap-beta [father-son], baap-beti [father-daughter] or bua-bhatija [aunt-nephew] parties”, whereas the BJP was the only national party with a “neta [leader], niti [policy] and niyat [intent]”.
“One is the politics of devotion to family, while the other is committed to patriotism. These individuals may be in different States, but they remain connected by the strings of dynasty politics, covering up each other’s corruption. Some political parties at the national and State levels work only for the benefit of their families. In dynasty governments, the members of the family have control over everything from the local body to Parliament,” he explained. Modi and Shah echoed Nadda’s words.
Dynasty in the BJP
Interestingly, several leaders from various political dynasties participated in the national executive or played active roles on the sidelines of the conference. Leading the pack was Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, whose son Pankaj Singh is a two-time MLA in Uttar Pradesh. His elevation to the position of BJP general secretary in the State was seen as blatant nepotism. The move created such unrest in the Sangh Parivar that many of its leaders in Uttar Pradesh protested and even resigned from their official positions.
At the Hyderabad meeting, other members of dynasties included Union Ministers Piyush Goyal, son of former BJP treasurer Ved Prakash Goyal; Anurag Thakur, son of former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal; andDharmendra Pradhan, son of former Union Minister Debendra Pradhan. Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s family is well-represented in the higher echelons of the party. His aunt Vasundhara Raje Scindia is two-time Chief Minister of Rajasthan, while another aunt, Yashodhara Raje, has been a BJP MLA in Madhya Pradesh for several terms.
Devendra Fadnavis, former Maharashtra Chief Minister, who was forced to accept the Deputy Chief Minister’s post in the new dispensation, belongs to a family that has a long history of association with Sangh Parivar politics and has benefited consistently from its political arm in power. His father, Gangadharpant Fadnavis, a leader of the Jan Sangh, the BJP’s organisational predecessor, was a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council. Fadnavis’ aunt Shoba Fadnavis served as a Minister in an earlier BJP government in the State.
However, the BJP’s media and public relations outreach is so powerful that these facts as well as the odious games that the party and its associates in the Sangh Parivar play to target and topple opposition State governments and their party structures are systematically swept under the carpet.
Even a cursory examination of the BJP leadership’s posturing on dynasty-free politics and its many machinations against opposition governments and parties underscores its desire for a political firmament devoid of the opposition. That is, dynasty-mukt politics is merely a euphemism for opposition-mukt politics.
The thematic framework for this was established by Modi himself in mid-2013, when he launched the BJP’s campaign for the 2014 general election as its prime ministerial candidate. His slogan then was Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India). At that time, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was reeling under a spate of corruption charges against Ministers, policy paralysis, and a lack of direction in governance. All these contributed to high anti-incumbency for the Manmohan Singh government after two consecutive terms. Naturally, the slogan resonated with the electorate, and the Congress was reduced to its lowest ever tally of 44 seats in Parliament.
Diatribe against Congress culture
After becoming Prime Minister, Modi continued to advance the slogan, a key aspect of which was the argument that a Congress-mukt Bharat was not just about defeating the grand old party of India but also about “ridding the country of the venal Congress culture”. According to the argument, the Congress had been the main pillar of Indian politics for several decades since Independence, and its culture had spread to all parties and governance systems. In Modi’s view that culture was marked by corruption, casteism, dynastic politics, exploitation, treachery, and an overwhelming urge to have total control.
Thus, Modi’s call for a “Congress-mukt Bharat” was, it would seem, significant in terms of the larger political situation in the country and even sowed the seeds for an “opposition-mukt India”. A point that Modi emphasised was the aggressive pursuit of power by the Congress right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. He elaborated on the Congress’ vile tactics, including threats, blackmail, appeasement policies, and bribes, to wean away politicians from other parties and maintained that the Congress had no sense of democracy in terms of the larger political system and in its relationship with other parties. As for internal democracy, Modi argued, it was totally non-existent in the Congress’ organisational structure.
BJP’s game plan
However, the BJP’s critics would say that in its desire to capture power at any cost, the party has come to stand for everything that Modisaid the Congress stood for during its heyday. A look at crucial Assembly elections since November 2015 throws light on the political trajectory of Modi and his team. For instance, in November 2015, the BJP suffered a setback in the Bihar Assembly election at the hands of a Grand Alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Janata Dal (United) and the Congress. Incidentally, throughout the election campaign, the BJP had consistently derided the RJD and the Congress as dynastic parties, but that did not have much effect on the electorate.
In the following years, there were similar electoral outcomes in different parts of the country. Of five States that held Assembly elections in 2016, the BJP gained power only in Assam. The Trinamool Congress and the AIADMK retained power in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively, while the Left Democratic Front wrested power from the United Democratic Front in Kerala. A Congress-DMK alliance won Puducherry.
The next year, the BJP won its traditional strongholds of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand hands down, but faced a stiff challenge from the Congress in Modi’s home State Gujarat. The BJP returned to power here, but in unconvincing fashion. In Punjab, the Congress defeated the BJP’s alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal . The Assembly election results of 2018 were an absolute shocker to the BJP as they once again underscored the failure of its “Congress-mukt Bharat” slogan.
In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Congress wrested power from the BJP in 2018, while Karnataka elected the opposition alliance of the Janata Dal (Socialist) and the Congress. While the Congress won comprehensively in Chhattisgarh, it had only slender majorities in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
It is against the background of the 2017 and 2018 Assembly elections that the BJP shaped its strategies for a “Congress- mukt Bharat”.. First, it literally stole the 2017 elections from the Congress in Goa and Manipur. The elections had resulted in hung Assemblies, with the Congress emerging as the single largest party in both places. But the BJP’s money and muscle power, and some would say quick thinking, enabled it to form governments in both States.
The BJP’s toppling games began in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan immediately after the 2018 Assembly election results were announced but reached fruition in July 2019 in Karnataka and March 2020 in Madhya Pradesh, when the BJP managed to wean away several MLAs from the Congress. In Madhya Pradesh it also got theprize catch in the form of Jyotiraditya Scindia. Similar games have been on in Rajasthan for the past four years, but Ashok Gehlot has brought all his experience into play to thwart the BJP’s schemes. At one point, the BJP almost lured Sachin Pilot, the relatively young Congress leader, but the hope was short-lived. After the Maharashtra Assembly election that followed the BJP’s ovewhelming victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, long-term BJP ally Shiv Sena joined hands with the Congress and the NCP to form the government. And it lasted two and a half years.
In Jharkhand, a coalition of the Jharkhand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and the Congress defeated the BJP in the 2019 Assembly election by a clear majority. By all indications, the BJP’s focus is on toppling the ministry headed by JMM leader Hemant Soren.
The successful manoeuvres in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, and the unsuccessful ones in Rajasthan and Jharkhand were dubbed “Operation Lotus” by BJP and Sangh Parivar insiders. Apparently, the operations planned for the near future are also titled “Operation Lotus”. According to insiders, an assessment was made as early as December 2021 that the operations in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand had failed because of the inability to follow the Madhya Pradesh-Karnataka formula, which involved spending crores of rupees to buy out opposition MLAs. The plan was apparently modified and implemented in Maharashtra. It is Jharkhand next, these insiders say.
A number of senior activists of the BJP and other Sangh Parivar outfits told Frontline that the Hyderabad conclave has set the stage for a grand narrative based on dynasty-mukt Bharat for the 2024 general election. A senior RSS leader from Lucknow pointed out that the narrative would cover almost all regional parties in the country, including those in the south, where the BJP is all set to give a new push to its electoral outreach.
“The big gain in Maharashtra has given a new energy to the southern push. Dynasty politics will be projected as the greatest threat to democratic principles, and the root cause of corruption and misgovernance,” this leader said. He and a number of his associates in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand are of the view that this narrative will gain traction in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu where second-generation politicians either hold sway or are actively seeking leadership roles in regional parties.