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Party time: Modi finally turns gaze towards BJP. Can he steer party out of trouble?

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:36 IST

The strategy

  • PM Narendra Modi has finally turned his gaze towards the workings of the BJP
  • He has recently reached out to senior leaders and party workers after 20 months

The reason

  • The upcoming assembly elections are crucial for the BJP after defeats in Delhi and Bihar
  • Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah need the support of the party cadres

More in the story

  • What are the challenges facing the BJP?
  • Why senior party leaders think Modi will have an uphill task

Globetrotting Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally turned his gaze inwards. Having left the running of the Bharatiya Janata Party to his colleagues while he concentrated on the premiership over the last 20 months, he is now focussing on consulting party office-bearers and taking their suggestions.

So what's the reason for this change of strategy?

Modi seems to have realised the difference between being in power in Gandhinagar and Delhi. Unlike his 12-year term as the Gujarat Chief Minister, he cannot handle everything by himself.

Also read: Amit Shah set to remain BJP chief. No one wants to challenge him

He seems to have learnt that tackling affairs at the power centre of the country needs flexibility, and needs everyone in the party on board with his vision and pulling in the same direction. He has to tactfully quell the discontent simmering within the party.

Modi seems to have realised the difference between being in power in Gandhinagar and Delhi

Closing ranks

After the victory in the summer of 2014, Modi chose his Man Friday, Amit Shah, to run the party. Senior leader and then-party chief Rajnath Singh was shifted to the Cabinet as Home Minister, and Shah took his place.

This was essential for a tight grip on power, as the party's affairs could not have been handed over to a potential detractor.

This unequivocally ushered in the era of Modi in the BJP. He had absolute control over the government as well as the party. Shah also brought in his trusted aides into prominent positions in the party - be it the party organisation or election campaigns.

The drawback of this absolute control is that while Modi and Shah received all the credit for the BJP's successes, its failures were also their failures. No one else could be held responsible.

Also read: 8 reasons why Amit Shah will stay as BJP chief, despite Bihar defeat

Also, this has led to disgruntlement in the party ranks, as well as sister organisations. Many BJP leaders believe this centralisation is against the party's ideology, and that it will harm the party in the long run.

But who would bell the cat? Dissenting voices were sidelined. Even veteran leaders like LK Advani and MM Joshi were relegated to the 'Margdarshak Mandal'. Any noises they made fell on deaf ears.

Setbacks and challenges

The BJP's embarrassing defeats in Delhi and Bihar have forced Modi and Shah to rethink their style. They seem to have realised that it's important to set their house in order, and the PM has to take the lead.

Also read: Sulking seniors, angry Dalits: 5 reasons Amit Shah is in for a tough second stint

It is also important for everyone associated with the party to put up a united front - any voice of discord must be hushed, as happened to Lok Sabha MP Kirti Azad when he started speaking out against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

The BJP's embarrassing defeats in Delhi and Bihar have forced Modi and Shah to rethink their style

These are not the only challenges the BJP faces. Several of the party's state governments are losing popularity. Modi's own charisma has faded a bit, and there's little progress on the economic front. His foreign policy initiatives haven't made much headway in India's immediate neighbourhood either.

This is the point where Modi and Shah need the entire party firmly behind them. Grassroot workers need to be involved in policy-making, because the BJP cadre is what will ultimately act as a shield against Opposition onslaught.

Change of track

Till now, only ministers, top bureaucrats, and the RSS brass had access to Modi. But now, the PM is taking party workers into confidence.

Recently, when Shah was handed another term as party chief, Modi was seen dining with senior party leaders. All senior party functionaries were invited to Modi's residence for dinner.

Also read: Amit Shah 2.0: Modi is BJP chief's strength as well as his main challenge

This current outreach programme has been extended to all seven party morchas, including the women's, youth and Dalit fronts. Modi has held a series of meetings with them, and consultations with senior leaders. He also held an hour-long meeting with Rajnath, where they discussed organisational issues as well as the party's strategy for next year's UP Assembly polls.

The party's wing for backward castes has suggested that the government should release the caste-based census data it has held back. The Prime Minister, in turn, has advised the activists to refrain from using offensive language on social media.

Quest for internal democracy

This change in tactics is especially important, in view of the upcoming Assembly elections in five states. The BJP's alliance with PDP in J&K is going through a phase of crisis. Its performance in states like Punjab and UP in 2017 could set the tone for the next general elections.

That's why Modi and Shah have set out to overhaul the party machinery.

Also read: Amit Shah will lead BJP to newer heights: PM Narendra Modi

However, many senior party leaders are cynical. The believe the difference within the party cannot be sorted out in a handful of meetings. The party, as well as the government, needs to show a big heart.

Clearly, this is just the beginning of a new avatar for Modi. It remains to be seen if this will result in greater internal democracy.

Also read: New year, new cabinet: Modi govt and BJP set for major overhaul

First published: 7 February 2016, 12:29 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.