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The New BJP: Modi and the Making of the World’s Largest Political Party review: Strategy, experiments, digital push: explaining the BJP’s rise

literary review

When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, it shattered several presumptions, including the long-held belief that the party was perceived only as an upper caste one and that it did not really have the support of the backward classes. Since then, the BJP has won another majority in the Lok Sabha and many books have tried to explain the electoral successes of the party as older political support bases crumbled.

Nalin Mehta’s book, The New BJP : Modi and the Making of the World’s Largest Political Party, is an exhaustive look at the factors behind the rise of the BJP to a position of hegemony in Indian politics. How did India become a BJP-centric polity, from first being ruled mostly by the Congress, to a period of coalitions drawn from regional players and socialists and then a bipolar system? Mehta examines all these templates.

The caste game

The BJP’s electoral success cannot be explained without going into its history, the ideological challenges it faced, and the efforts the party made to transform its support base from being a largely upper caste to one based on solid support of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in significant States in north India. Mehta goes into great detail including the Mehta-Singh (named after himself and Sanjeev Singh, another journalist) index to show how the BJP increased representation for OBCs, especially the non-Yadav OBCs, while handing out both party tickets and ministerial berths. That the BJP was able to do that while keeping its upper caste support base intact has led to speculation whether this points to a total saffronisation of the OBCs or a basic social engineering on caste lines, with the upper castes as an important force within the party, but not the only one.

The book has interesting chapters on strategy and experiments it carried out on issues like digital engagement with the electorate, where the BJP had a first-mover advantage, and creating a “labarthi” or “beneficiary” vote bank out of those who receive welfare goods due to schemes and programmes run by BJP-led governments. The “labarthi” vote bank is in fact assiduously cultivated by the BJP and through outreach programmes via private call centres and personal meetings with Prime Minister Modi while he is on the campaign trail. This was first visible during the 2019 general elections, where the message, that a return of the BJP would mean more welfare benefits, was driven home, and programmes like the Ujjwala Yojana and the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana yielded solid electoral dividends.

Communicating the message

One of the most interesting chapters is on how the BJP communicates — what it focuses on and where it speaks. The chapter is anchored in some interesting data with the help of a NARAD (Normative Analysis of Reporting and Discourse) index that the author and data scientist Rishabh Srivastava set up together. This data set digitally analysed 11,558 BJP-linked documents (a whopping 17.9 million words) in the 2006-19 period for words used and the issues flagged by the party, in Hindi and English. One of its findings was that the BJP talks more about the Congress than itself, and that the second most mentioned word was Prime Minister Modi. The analysis was designed to pick up how often a word was used in every 100 words in a document.

The book leaves the reader in no doubt that the BJP and its ideological fellow travellers, organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP’s earlier avatar of Jan Sangh, have been constantly calibrating the message and actions with regard to not just electoral politics, but organisational agility and leadership. The rise of the BJP has been a process, with setbacks as well as triumphs, and Mehta does a deep dive into the process.

The New BJP: Modi and the Making of the World’s Largest Political Party; Nalin Mehta, Westland, ₹999.

nistula.hebbar@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Mar 5, 2022 4:19:08 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/the-new-bjp-modi-and-the-making-of-the-worlds-largest-political-party-review-strategy-experiments-digital-push-explaining-the-bjps-rise/article65092321.ece