Originally published here on Niti Central.
The BJP has now been out of power at the Centre for nearly nine years. In these nine years, it has witnessed two Lok Sabha defeats, a patriarch fade away from public limelight, a promising star die an unnatural death, its tallest Leader a pale shadow of himself while the next generation of leaders in Delhi struggled to come of age. These nine years also saw some of its intellectual leading lights estranged, its policy stalwarts become anachronisms while the party itself in Delhi meandered from one agitation to another without a coherent ideological anchor.
The drift in the BJP’s centre ironically had the opposite effect in States ruled by it as a new generation of leaders emerged to hasten the federalisation of the BJP.
Last week’s National Executive followed by the National Council marks the culmination of the generational shift within the BJP. A process that reluctantly started in 2009 after the second successive defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. While the BJP attempted to show deep bench strength with younger leaders taking over the roles of Leaders of Opposition, it did not quite settle the leadership pecking order. Last week settled that issue with the most democratic of means possible within a political party in India. The groundswell of pressure from below made it unambiguously clear where the leadership pecking order starts from.
Congress sacrificing India for one family: Modi (Part- 1)
But last week was about something larger than just the leadership issue. The nine-year drift within the core of the BJP had taken its toll on even the most ardent and passionate of BJP supporters. Last week was about finally giving that faceless and nameless BJP worker a new hope that the drift had ended and that there was a new ‘mission’ at hand.
In a political culture where firing up the base with anger is the conventional norm, it does take creativity to deliver a speech that both raises the motivation of the lowest of the BJP ranks and also charges them with a mission to take a message of hope and aspiration to the people.
Congress sacrificing India for one family: Modi (Part-2)
Going beyond the superlative reactions and the usual griping it must be noted that Narendra Modi’s politically charged speech at the Talkatora Stadium in Delhi marks a significant departure from any of the BJP’s usual rhetoric since 2009.
There was none of the trademark hand-wringing that had come to symbolise the BJP’s political impulses since the successive Lok Sabha losses. There was also none of the petulant anger that was in ample display since the Lok Sabha defeat. Make no mistake, there was both passion and fire in this speech but it was not rooted in negative emotions, rather it sprung from hope and confidence of finally being able to mount a credible challenge to the Sonia Gandhi led UPA in the next Lok Sabha election.
If there was even the slightest of doubt in the hearts and minds of any BJP worker on this count, it was soon allayed as the UPA reacted with uncharacteristic alacrity to the Narendra Modi speech with the barrage of angry tweets from the Prime Minister’s media advisor, to the Union Information & Broadcasting Minister.
Narendra Modi framed the battle for the next Lok Sabha in clear terms to his audience – the party’s base with his exhortation that the BJP had to project itself as a credible alternative to the UPA in the minds of the voters. If there was disappointment in some quarters outside the BJP on the tone and substance of the speech it was misplaced for this was a speech to aimed squarely at the BJP’s base to send home the message that the nine-year drift had come to an end. This speech was about telling the demotivated BJP worker that for the first time after 9 years, the BJP has something positive to offer to the people while calling upon them to throw the Congress out of office. It was not a speech aimed at persuading fence-sitters nor was it a speech focused on laying out a Policy Roadmap. There is a time and place for those speeches but the primary task that needed to be accomplished was to get the BJP worker fired up over a new Mission.
But the speech was not entirely bereft of a broader message to the nation at large.
Three points stood out in the speech that even the most cynical of Narendra Modi critics will have to acknowledge. The first was that the next election had to be about something bigger than mere hope and change. It had to be about a billion aspirations, about dreaming big. The second point was on what constitutes reforms and on countering the UPA’s token measures being labeled as ‘reforms’. Even the most cynical fence sitter will appreciate the point the high bar that was set in the speech on what constitutes reforms – long term structural changes whose impact spans multiple decades. The third point was the clarion call to make the next election about freedom from poor governance and about creating demand for ‘good governance’.
All three of the above points in the speech went beyond the immediate focus of the speech aimed at the base to define the contours of the BJP’s platform for the next election.
Last but not the least, the speech’s pointed attacks on the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC, on the unnatural arrangement between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi of vesting power without any responsibility on the Nehru-Gandhi family and on the dismal performance of the Prime Minister were a reminder that the UPA had to first account for its sins for the past nine years before attempting a course correction from its faltering ‘aam admi agenda’ as it has tried to since the Chintan Shivir in Jaipur and most recently in the Budget speech.
The message emerging from the BJP’s National Council after the murky circumstances in which it effected its recent leadership change is that the drift of the nine years is a matter of the past. There is a new hope and a new de facto leader with a deep bench of supporting leaders each with their unique value addition. If Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s speech reminded of the need for gender sensitivity, LK Advani’s speech sought to allay minority anxieties and apprehensions, Arun Jaitley’s speech focused on policy nitty-gritties and Sushma Swaraj’s speech elevated the discourse as the BJP’s conscience reminding of the need to work as team.
Narendra Modi’s speech underlined that team spirit with the clear message that the debate on Prime Ministerial candidate was secondary; the mission to uproot the Congress was primary.
The battle for the next Lok Sabha has verily begun. The alacrity with which Congress spin doctors scrambled to rebut Narendra Modi’s speech on social media is a sign that it has already conceded the psychological advantage to the challenger despite being a two term incumbent.