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Traditionally, in the Sangh Parivar, the decisionmaking process has been largely collegial. That was also true within the BJP, where the personalisation of power never went as far as it did with the Congress under Indira Gandhi. Even if L.K. Advani was in the limelight during the rath yatra, he continued to work in a team and it was not he, but A.B. Vajpayee, who became the first BJP prime minister six years later.
The personalisation of the BJP’s election campaign today does not stem only from the presidentialisation of the Indian polity.
Narendra Modi had already initiated this process in Gujarat — it was one of the reasons why senior BJP leaders seemed to feel alienated. Modi’s predecessor, Keshubhai Patel, allegedly left the BJP because of the chief minister’s style of functioning. Once reportedly, talking to VHP members, he said: “When he [Modi] took over the state BJP, I told him that this race is altogether different. It’s called a ‘relay race’, in which the baton is handed over from one participant to the other. Each one uses his strength and ultimately the team wins, not an individual. But since Modi took the baton in this relay race, he has never passed it on.”
This modus operandi was also resented by some state RSS leaders, who declared that they may abstain from backing Modi in the 2007 state elections. Pravin Maniar, one of them, then explained in an interview to the press that the RSS would adopt a different attitude than in 2002: “This time around, we have not asked our workers to get involved in any poll-related work. We have always extended our support for the cause of Hindutva. But we are wedded to an ideology and not any individual.’’
State RSS leaders were disenchanted with the BJP leadership of Gujarat because it did not submit the list of candidates nominated by the party to the Sangh, as state party leaders routinely do. Modi also reduced coordination with the state prant pracharak to a minimum and was accused of not rewarding other components of the Sangh Parivar, the VHP and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, which had helped him in 2002.
Over the last decade, Advani had tried to emancipate himself from the RSS leadership, arguing that the Nagpur-based organistation was not in a position to appreciate the strategies and tactics of a political party and should, therefore, grant the BJP more autonomy. He failed at the national level, whereas Modi succeeded, somewhat, at the state level. Modi’s biographer, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, points out that Manmohan Vaidya, once the Gujarat prant pracharak whom he tried to break free from, “was ultimately removed from Gujarat at Modi’s behest and was shifted to Chennai”. The concentration of so continued…