Augean Stables

by N V Subramanian - Jun 30, 2015 12:52 AM +05:30 IST
Augean Stables

Prime Minister Modi has to roll back the “Congressization” of the BJP

However clean an Indian prime minister may be, he would still be compelled to carry the past baggage of his cabinet and party colleagues. He could make devices to be rid of the more egregious team members, but it would have to be in the future without causing instability to the government. This, in a nutshell, explains Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s present position in relation to the snowballing Indian Premier League (IPL)-Lalit Modi scandal.

Narendra Modi came from the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) stream into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some of the most committed and successful BJP leaders of the recent past have followed a similar career trajectory. This is not surprising because the RSS created the BJP’s forerunner, the Jan Sangh, as an experiment to fill a perceived political vacuum. Talented RSS volunteers like Deendayal Upadhyaya, A. B. Vajpayee and L. K. Advani were seconded to it. The broad understanding was that the RSS could always shut down the Jan Sangh if the foundational aims were not satisfied. But such a situation never came to pass. The Jan Sangh became even more successful as the BJP and was established for life.

Not all the RSS leaders sent to the Jan Sangh/ BJP retained the defining traits of the mother organization. This is understandable. The RSS has a set objective of organizing Hindu society, however diluted that aim may be today whilst the Jan Sangh/ BJP were designed to operate in the political arena. The different outlooks of the two organizations would be reflected to a degree in their respective leaders.

Moreover, the Jan Sangh and then the BJP drew additional talent from outside the confines of the RSS pool. The political expansion of the non-Congress space immediately after the Emergency facilitated and even spurred this trend. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) was one of the organizations that made up the talent shortfall in the Jan Sangh/ BJP. Although a Sangh front organisation, ABVP did not enjoy the same status as the RSS proper, and its members in the BJP were informally ranked lower even while occupying, in exceptional cases, high positions. For example, it is impossible to conceive a non-RSS person as the BJP’s prime minister. The negative list includes the ABVP. This convention may well break down in the future, but this is how it is in the present.

Narendra Modi was an RSS pracharak. Everybody cannot become one. It requires exceptional leadership and inspirational qualities to gain that position. Unlike some of his seniors in the Jan Sangh/ BJP, he never shed the core values of the Sangh. One of these was to retain his integrity in all circumstances. A lot of this owes to his persona, but the Sangh background and training played a large role. The milieu in which he came to work, however, could scarcely match his high standards of personal integrity. This is where the roots of his present problems lie, and of which the IPL/ Lalit Modi episode is but one manifestation.

The BJP is not peculiarly or even particularly corrupt; by far the Indian National Congress takes the cake in that respect and in regards to venality. In some ways, the BJP is still a “party with a difference”, although the description may seem to have a hollow ring today. The troubles for the party on the probity question began in the 1990s when the BJP massively expanded. From a cadre-based party, it became a mass one. One of the powerful votaries for this change was Pramod Mahajan, and the less said about his financial affairs, the better. If any man made a substantial contribution to the “Congressization” of the BJP, it was Mahajan. He knew all the dirty tricks of the Congress. He was close to L. K. Advani and then migrated to Vajpayee’s side when he became prime minister. You can imagine the damage done to the BJP.

The Congressization of the BJP became rampant when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power. Vajpayee stayed above all this and tried his best to give a clean government. The fact that he kept Arun Shourie in important portfolios of communication and disinvestment speaks to his integrity. But at some level, the BJP was corrupted. Then as now, the party has been in power in a number of states. The same story of corruption has recurred. When the BJP was out of power in the Centre for the ten years of United Progressive Alliance rule, the corruption of its leaders continued. A corrupted BJP ensured longevity of the Congress. This is an old and well-known political principle.

When Narendra Modi became prime minister, he was well aware of the rot he was inheriting. It should have felt like Gujarat when he first became chief minister, but on a vaster scale. In Gujarat, he gradually eradicated corruption at top levels. He had no control of the quality of the party apparatus he was bequeathed, but he made policy-making clean. At the Centre, he is working towards the same object. In one year of office, there is not a whiff of corruption. He said as much in a tweet on Saturday (27 June), recommending a Foreign Policy magazine story on India with an excerpted line reading, “Growth forecasts up, perceptions of corruption down, and investors better protected….”

This is as much as Prime Minister Modi can do in the present. He understands that the opposition and media campaign against the tainted in the Lalit Modi controversy indeed targets him. Once the tainted are removed or reassigned, the dissent against the prime minister will gather pace. His larger vision of growth and prosperity for India will be stillborn. Furthermore, the BJP has travelled very far from the ideals on which it was founded by the RSS. The RSS has changed in all that time. Narendra Modi cannot rationally return all that idealism and past probity. Political power has changed everything. It is like Heraclitus’ aphorism that you cannot step twice into the same river.

Nevertheless, Narendra Modi is a long-distance runner. He has understood the nature of the beast that is the IPL-Lalit Modi scandal and he will take steps to cage it in all metamorphosed forms. The past baggage of his cabinet and party colleagues has come to haunt his government. He will make doubly sure that the present administration is insulated from harm from dodgy quarters, and by and by, he will clean out the Augean stables. It will take another Hercules to do this, but Narendra Modi is not giving up.

N.V.Subramanian is the Editor of and writes on politics and strategic affairs.
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