Book Review | Visceral leadership: A racy, insightful biography of BJP
Deccan Chronicle.| Sriram Karri
The authors have resisted the temptation to delve into any single personality, historic incident or theory at too much length
Cover Image of the book 'The Rise of the BJP: The Making of the World's Largest Political Party' by Bhupender Yadav and Ila Patnaik.
Even in a season of many a book being launched on the most dominant national party, the scholarly and well researched work of Union minister Bhupendra Yadav, in an unlikely but successful partnership with economist Ila Patnaik, The Rise of the BJP, is a good addition to the political non-fiction collection of any serious reader or politics watcher.
Unlike most political books that choose to analyse the growth of a party like the BJP as if rooted in a particular ideological backdrop alone, this fast-reading book, backed by loads of data, anecdotes and personalities, showcases the rise of the saffron party over the decades with dexterity owing to varied factors.
The authors have resisted the temptation to delve into any single personality, historic incident or theory at too much length, keeping the book light and easy to read.
From the pre-Independent context of the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to the earliest debates within the RSS and the other top Hindutva leaders on creating a political party to address a constituency and need they felt existed; to the simultaneous expansion and collapse of such space immediately after the Independence, Partition and assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, lie the foundations of the book.
The Nehruvian era is dealt with as a backdrop in which the idea kept floating, with the creation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the early work of Syama Prasad Mukherjee and his ideological convictions providing the basic DNA to the party.
But the book is most successful in not falling for the temptation of making its focus the political biography or over-analysis of the personal lives of each iconic leader who contributed to its direction and growth. Instead, it keeps the spotlight firmly on the party, while avoiding raking up any controversy just for the sake of a media debate.
As author and Union minister for labour and employment, environment and forests, Bhupendra Yadav shared in a conversation, "I wrote my first book on law when I was a practising lawyer. Now, as a practising politician, I decided to write about a subject I know keenly from within." But as the book moves ahead, the various decisions and political convictions of its founding leaders, principally Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, and how it created a "party with a difference" is narrated with alacrity.
While with Mukherjee, the authors establish the nationalistic fervour of the party and the significance of opposing Article 370 in Kashmir historically, Upadhyaya serves to characterise the humanity and purpose of the party, a kind of service to eliminate poverty seeped in Indian culture without adopting the deep socialism in favour in their time. Sadly, both leaders lost their lives before they finished the lives naturally, and in the transition to the next generation of leaders, the authors give a feel of how the party is able to withstand losses, and how the organisation reigns supreme, almost viscerally, over individuals, no matter how great their contribution or significance.
The A.B. Vajpayee-L.K. Advani era and the corresponding incident of history, too, are dealt with rather objectively, including the formation of the Janata Party government post Emergency, the willingness of the Jana Sangh leaders to compromise for a larger Opposition unity against Indira Gandhi, but their refusal to cut the umbilical cord with the RSS, and sacrificing a government for it — ideas that resurface again in the other governments the BJP was a part of in a coalition.
It is interestingly suggested that while most coalition governments failed because of individual ambitions and egos of leaders of other parties, the BJP leaders themselves never allowed their personal issues to shake the boat.
While giving the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and Lal Krishna Advani the credit for its renewed growth after the total electoral rout in 1984 of the newly formed BJP, the book showcases how a combination of Hindutva, nationalism and non-dynasty-oriented politics, with its top leaders living a simple life and putting the party above the self, has created the modern powerful BJP.
The book is thankfully no hagiography of either Atal Behari Vajpayee or Narendra Modi, despite emphasising their roles and contribution to the rise of the BJP. It rationally parses the organic decline of the Congress after 1984, and in parallel, the slow, steady but unstoppable rise of the BJP under the two leaders who have led governments.
It is not often that author(s) can do justice to their ambition of becoming a Boswell to a collective — a country, a political party or any other large organisation. It is even harder when the action is spread across nearly a century, and giving an insight into often-asked questions — what is the relationship of the RSS and the BJP, what really propels the party and has made it electorally powerful, and how it feels confident of an ideology that is often questioned and attacked viciously?
A wonderful book that is a must read for anyone wishing to understand what makes the BJP so powerful, relevant and successful and what possibly lies ahead for the party.
Sriram Karri is the Resident Editor of Deccan Chronicle, based in Hyderabad. He is also the author of the MAN Asian Literary Prize long-listed novel 'Autobiography of a Mad Nation' and 'The Spiritual Supermarket'.