God works in mysterious ways. Many who pass beyond the pale are exalted to divinity, but are also replaced by the Almighty’s chosen. Others languish without substitutes, waiting for divine intervention. Divine intentions leave behind devastated passels of admirers and adversaries in politics, too, as some battered institutions battle losses for considerable periods of time.
Last week, the BJP was hit by a tragic tsunami in the form of the untimely death of one of its tallest leaders, Arun Jaitley who was just 66. Jaitley had won and lost many political battles in his 45 years of active politics. But for the past 15 years he had been combating the adverse alchemies of Nature, which had dealt agonising blows to his health from heart attacks to malignancy of tissues. While he excelled at mauling his detractors with wit, wisdom and adept media management, the cruelty of Death stilled his urbane voice.
While his friends and followers lost a mentor, a magnanimous messiah, a promoter and above all a dependable protector; the party lost a leader who could carry off the role of a hawk or a liberal depending on the occasion. Jaitley was an intellectual, raconteur and spinmeister, in whose demise Prime Minister Narendra Modi lost a friend who had steered his ship braving turbulent seas and stormy skies.
God hasn’t been merciful to the BJP’s senior leadership. From 2006 onwards, many of its erudite engagers, fiery fighters, down-to-earth doyens and managerial mavericks have died prematurely. They were all under 60 and had long innings left in the game—Pramod Mahajan, Anil Dave, Manohar Parrikar, Gopinath Munde, Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj and, now Jaitley. The first commander claimed by the Grim Reaper was Mahajan who was seen as a future prime minister after Vajpayee and Advani. Fratricide felled him before he could extend his expertise in mergers and acquisitions or forcing corporates to bend their knee. He was a genius at handling complex government issues; the only GenNext leader trusted equally by Vajpayee and Advani.
His departure was followed by the death of formidable backward leader and relative Gopinath Munde, a former Union Minister and the BJP’s most powerful face in Maharashtra. After Munde’s demise, Death halted its march temporarily. But its scythe again swept through the saffron echelons mercilessly. History wrote the obituaries of colossus Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the elegantly popular Sushma Swaraj, organisational prodigy Ananth Kumar and Goan visionary Manohar Parrikar. Each of them possessed a unique quality which added to the class, mass and firepower of the party. They were collectively the party’s face, pillars and ideological torch bearers—Atal-Advani protégés handpicked to unfurl the saffron standard over their individual constituencies as part of an impregnable Gen-Next team with the mojo to dominate regional and national politics.
Through sheer hard work and political skills, their personas dwarfed other leaders inside and outside the party. Atal and Advani dominated the national discourse even while the BJP was struggling to acquire national endorsement. Together, they led its ascent to power and ensured that successors like Narendra Modi would take the party to Himalayan heights and bring over two-thirds of India as its domain. Death’s frequent visits couldn’t halt the BJP juggernaut. Modi, with his mesmerising messages and good governance has proved that the party is well-equipped not only to bear the loss of prominent players, but also to offer talented and dedicated leaders. With its leadership aged above 60, the BJP has a Gen-Third ready to command the future.
Modi has chosen young leaders as office bearers, chief ministers and Union ministers with important portfolios. Whoever thought that Amit Shah, a low-profile mantri under Modi in Gujarat would turn out to be the most successful party chief and an awesomely effective Central minister? Under his leadership, the BJP has become the world’s largest political party with over 160 million members. Working closely under Modi’s guidance, he chose younger persons and politicians with clean images as candidates. More than half of the BJP chief ministers are below 50. The secret to the party’s success lies in merit-based succession rather than the compulsions of pedigree and dynasty.
On the contrary, the Indian National Congress, which also lost a phalanx of popular leaders in the past is unable to provide successful successors. While at the national level, the sole stewardship belonged to the Gandhis, not a single state leader was allowed to assume unhindered leadership after a stalwart’s death. After Vilasrao Deshmukh died, the Congress couldn’t produce an equally admirable and credible leader in Maharashtra. In Uttar Pradesh, it is yet to find a leader who is acceptable in a district, let alone the entire state. In more than half the states, even state presidents cannot win elections.
The Congress had leaders of stature such as H N Bahuguna, V P Singh, Narain Dutt Tiwari, K Kamaraj, Y S Reddy, Bhajan Lal, Jagannath Mishra, Sheila Dixit, Nandini Satpathy, Chimanbhai Patel, K Karunakaran and more. Most have either died or left the party because the Gandhis were busy consolidating their own control. The leadership was disinterested in rebuilding the grassroots, preferring the Machiavellian court politics of Lutyens Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi had made a feeble attempt at vitaminising the ranks with training cells and new recruitments but soon gave up. In contrast, the BJP adopted the twin policies of expanding its cadre base and offering an alternative model of governance and ideology.
The Congress, never a cadre- based party, started to lose its mass support and was faced with desertions. Dismal performances in state and national polls, coupled with factional feuds forced its cadre base to shrink. Its traditional mass base of Dalits, backwards, women and even a section of the minorities moved to other parties or switched to the BJP. The Congress’s loss was the BJP’s gain, which paved the nationalist path to Raisina Hill.
The Congress failed to remember the basic biological cycle that eventually determined its karma of pilotage. Immorality is not a human virtue. To perpetuate any organisation’s dominance, the death of good human beings has to be compensated by grooming a better vanguard. On reincarnation, the Bhagvad Gita says: like a person puts on new garments after shedding old ones, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. The rebirth of leadership as a continuous circle is the life force of the 38-year-old Modi-led BJP unlike the longevity of the 135-year-old Grand Old Party which is genetically stagnant in the past as elegies overwhelm its energies.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla