Sunday, November 25, 2012

Confessions Of A BJP Reporter: How I Outgrew Its Charm

Beautiful Sunday morning. Two headlines in the papers — Shatrughan seeks Gadkari resignation and Pollster predicts Modi sweep — brought back memories.
I was only ten when, in 1980, Jana Sangh became the Bharatiya Janata Party (the idea behind the change of name was to adopt a secular face that would be acceptable to larger sections of India). When you are just ten years old, you are more familiar with the names of reigning film stars than those of political leaders.
But by the time I was twenty, BJP leaders had become stars in my part of the world, the Hindi heartland of Kanpur, which was being swept by the winds of Hindutva. They were seen as our saviours: Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati. In the riot-stricken city, it had become fashionable for middle-class Hindus to put up BJP flags atop their homes.
In 1996, I began covering the BJP; and for five years I spent almost every afternoon at 11, Ashoka Road, the party’s headquarters in Delhi, sniffing for news. In any case, one had to be there for the 3 o’ clock press briefing. As a cub reporter, I would be a little intimidated to engage the likes of Vajpayee and Advani in a conversation, something that seasoned journalists did with enviable ease; but I would spend a lot of time with those who were easily approachable — the late Kushabhau Thakre and Sundar Singh Bhandare being among them.
On the whole BJP was fun beat: the party took great care of reporters. The snacks at the 3 o’ clock briefing was always something to look forward to; one was put up in the best hotels when travelling to cover the national executive or national council meetings; all facilities to ensure you are able to file your stories in time.
It was impossible not to be impressed with the works. And impossible not to be sympathetic towards them when you spent afternoon after afternoon in the company of leaders whose dedication to their ideology you admired, even if you didn’t agree with the ideology. You even felt sad for each time their coalition missed the majority mark by a whisker.
But dedication and discipline kept the BJP functioning like a well-oiled machine: the face of Vajpayee, the mind of Advani, the brains of Kushabhau Thakre and Govindacharya, the management skills of Pramod Mahajan, the PR skills of Sushma Swaraj, and silent contribution from countless others who remained in the shadows. Quite natural that one felt happy when the party finally won in 1998. It was a vicarious pleasure; my life remained just the same.
In early 2001, I left Delhi and moved to Chennai. And once I was out of the charmed radius of 11, Ashoka Road, something magical happened. I no longer felt the sense of bonding with my beat: from the distance, all the parties looked alike. The dark side of the BJP began to emerge. Bangaru Laxman, whose coronation as the party president I had attended in Nagpur only months before moving to Chennai, was now seen on TV, accepting wads of currency notes.
Gujarat happened. Egos grew. Personalities clashed. Dedicated old-timers were sidelined. And governance, as the 2004 elections proved, fell below expectations. It took just five years in power for a robust machinery to fall apart.
Today the BJP is a sum total of negatives: no leadership, no agenda, no vision, no orator, and — without these — possibly no future. I don’t know how 11, Ashoka Road looks like these days, but the party itself resembles a haunted house that was once brilliantly lit up by dedication, discipline and the dream to rule India someday.
I am reminded of the very first day I had stepped into the BJP headquarters. This was the summer of 1996. The office was largely empty — most leaders were out campaigning — and I nervously walked through the corridors peeping into the rooms, hoping to find someone to talk to.
Suddenly I came face to face with a man who wore a cropped beard, a kurta and a warm smile. When I introduced myself, he showed me into one of the rooms. We had a longish chat, and I took notes.
Finally, I asked him, “And sir, your name?”
“Narendra Modi,” he dictated as I jotted down, “National secretary, BJP.”
At least one man from the party has gone on to do very well — for himself.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

To certain extent the negative scenario you have depicted as for as BJP seems to be prevailing in all major parties.It looks India is staring at a blank wall rather political leadership bankrupty...
However coming to your blog itself,congrats the effort and quite a brave effort in that.Not sure how many hardcore so called Hindutva fanatics are likely to read your this piece of writing....

Paresh Palicha said...

So, you were writing history in a hurry & without the advantage of hindsight in 96... How the time flies... In those I'd be over the moon if my letter appeared in the local paper, India Today or The Week.

Yes, the BJP after Gujarat & the India Shining campaign has disappointed us. The saddest part being that being that it doesn't give any hope for the future.

Anonymous said...

i just want to say ....ur blogs.. when come ....the air turns warmly nostalgic ...
..like stray winds that bring smell of the days i had known.....half forgotten dreams and tears ...that gives the heart a sudden turn...
1996... i was in school then ...changing the world then looked so much posssible...
P...

Sudeep said...

Over the decades the 'secular' middle class has been carefully created, one of whose greatest pleasures seem to be to degenerate 'Hindutva' (represented mostly by the BJP and the RSS) without the foggiest idea what they stand for and why they are doing what they are doing. Of course, the BJP and the RSS have done some pretty stupid things, but so has everyone including you and me. Please don't join the ranks of the 'enlightened'.

Around the time BJP came to power I left for the U.S. I came back 5 years later around the time BJP went out of power, and how they had changed India in a way that had not happened for decades. When I came back, it was with a big load of presents for all the relatives and friends. I knew (from 5 years back when I had left) what presents people in India craved for but could not get. It was an utter disaster - everything that I had brought was available easily and at prices that the middle class could afford. Think back, since when did the middle class have access to reasonable amount of easy money. Since when did you see the roads starting to fill up with women on scooty’s off to work, shopping etc. How strange, that the life of the entire middle class was affected, but your life remained the same.

The Gujarat riots were a rotten thing to happen, but I have never understood why everyone who talks about the Gujarat riots appear not to know (or talk) about the earlier Gujarat riots (the plural is by intention) when the Congress was in power. If you care to read a book called ‘When a Tree Shook Delhi’, you will see that Modi needs to take correspondence lessens from the Congress on how to conduct a riot, and how to subjugate the state machinery.

The BJP governance fell below expectations compared to whom - VP Singh, Indira, or Sonia (MMS of course, does not count)? As a journalist, you of all people should know that the NDA loss was due to CBN and Jayalalitha getting wiped out in AP & TN – the Congress did no great shakes. If today, the BJP has no orator, I wonder what the Congress has? Would you classify Singvi or Manish Tiwari as an orator (any idea how he picked up an American accent having studied in Chandigarh). Digvijay?

Of course, the larger point is well made, BJP has become a bit of an expert in scoring self-goals. Still, they did not (and will not) grind the nose of our country into the dust – that can safely be left to the 100+ year old party.

Anonymous said...

BG,you deserve many more review comments than only the present four,for your this piece of brave political commentary/insight to the inside of the main opposition party head office (political/power) corridors.Maybe people are a wee-bit on the back foot particularly after the recent Sena-FB arrest fiasco..Or is it that people have become a sort of numbed/immune/insulated political happenings around them ..Anyhow my kudos to your good writing once again...BTW in a later date if somebody chance to make film 'Making of Modi' the filmmaker can approach you to play 'BG' an upcoming novice journo junior character role.....

Anubhuti said...

you can tell your children that you met the PM( by then he's have got there) when he was nothing :)