RT meets Ajay Singh – author of a recent book on India’s ruling party and the unrivaled popularity of Narendra Modi
By Joydeep Sen GuptaAsia Editor
Ajay Singh is a seasoned political journalist featured in some of India’s leading publications. He had formal interactions and informal discussions with many Indian leaders and administrators over the years and closely followed the development and rise of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the largest political party in the world.
Singh’s recent book, “The Architect of the New BJP: How Narendra Modi Transformed the Party,” is an in-depth examination of the BJP’s phenomenal growth into a political organization of 180 million members since its founding in 1980. Singh has served as the Indian President’s Press Secretary since 2019. He worked with former President Ram Nath Kovind and incumbent Draupadi Murmu, the first tribal woman and the second to hold the country’s highest office.
Singh spoke to RT about the inspiration for the book. “As a journalist, I had been following the growth of the BJP for a long time. I have read books on party expansion. In the meantime, I read a book – “Party Building in a New Nation: The Indian National Congress” – written by a renowned American political scientist, Myron Weiner, on the growth of Congress. The book is a classic study of how a party developed in the post-independence phase and dominated the political scene for decades. The book gave graphic details of how building a party is quite close to building an army or any other dynamic human organization. I was inspired by this book and started researching the phenomenal growth of the BJP under the leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Singh first met Modi in 1995 at the Indian Parliament Annex in New Delhi where the party’s national executive was then held. Since then, Singh says, Modi’s contribution has been significant in galvanizing the BJP as the biggest political party in the world.
“Modi applied both conventional and unconventional methods to expand the organization, which now dominates the political scene in much the same way Congress did in the 1960s and 1970s. But unlike Congress, which ignored the structure organizational structure and focused on the charisma of one family (the Gandhis), the organizational structure of the BJP is robust. It can sustain the party for a long time,” he said.
Modi’s greatest strength, according to Singh, is that he has captured the hearts and minds of millions of Indians. His approval rating is unmatched, despite having been in power for nine uninterrupted years in a deeply anti-incumbent country.
“It’s not nine years but 21 years if you count his days as Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is one of those rare politicians who reaps the benefits of a pro-incumbent factor. He is exceptional in that he carried the pro-incumbent factor even to the national level. The obvious reason is that people trust him completely. It’s a unique achievement.” Singh explained.
The book takes a unique approach by drawing on the stories of people the Indian leader has interacted with in public life or otherwise over the years.
Singh talked about sourcing materials for the book.
“This book was only about Modi’s organizational skills. I took care of those organization building skills. The book is by no means a biographical account. I met most of these people who had closely observed Modi as a man of organization.
“Interestingly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP, has legions of organization builders such as Dattopant Thengdi, Eknath Ranade, Nanaji Deshmukh, Lal Krishna Advani and Kushabhau Thakre. He borrowed heavily from these pillars and introduced his own innovative methods of organization building. The book focuses on this aspect.
Many political pundits have compared the path taken by Modi to broaden his party’s base in Gujarat and his operating style that is closer to a business leader than a head of state, and very different from some of his immediate predecessors. But Singh has a different view on this.
“I think it would be completely wrong to compare an Indian Prime Minister to a business leader. The kind of diversity that characterizes even the smallest Indian state, let alone the country, is beyond the imagination of any one. of the greatest business ventures on earth. If you read my book, you will find that from the beginning of his career in public life his political conduct conformed to a pattern. And he always found that short-term political gains could be dedicated to the long-term public good. This is why he remains the most trusted leader in people’s perceptions,” he explained.
Modi freed the BJP from far-right Hindu politics and broadened the Saffron Party’s appeal base in remote parts of the country such as the northeastern states, many of which have a Christian majority.
Singh said, “His innovative methods of party expansion have proven useful for the BJP. In Assam, he enlisted Himanta Biswa Sarma from Congress and made her a BJP icon. Likewise, he broke new ground through alliances in other northeastern states that were considered a “no go” zone for the BJP until about a decade ago,” he said.
Can the BJP win the final frontiers under Modi, including Bihar and Odisha in eastern India and large parts of southern India, especially Tamil Nadu and Kerala? The ruling party has been unable to create much of an impression despite finishing two terms in the federal government next year.
Singh refused to hazard a guess. “In a country as diverse as India, any prediction of this nature will be untenable. Only a decade ago, who would have thought that Assam and Tripura would turn into an impregnable stronghold of the BJP? Likewise, the party won a major Lok Sabha [the lower house of Parliament] seats in all the states that have been mentioned. Several variables come into play in elections. But the organizational strength of the BJP has grown by leaps and bounds in these states.
Many critics questioned Singh for glossing over 2002’s Godhra massacre and the anti-Muslim riots that followed. Did the author deliberately choose to ignore the pogrom?
He set the record straight: “As I mentioned in the book and want to repeat it again, I focused on Modi’s organizational skills to expand the party to a phenomenal level. I only retained this focus.
What does the author think about how posterity will remember Modi? “It’s for history to assess a towering personality like Modi. But to my knowledge, he comes across as a combination of ‘sanctity’ in personal conduct with a strong sense of ‘pragmatism’ in public conduct. Posterity may be remembered as the architect of modern India”, Singh concluded.