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Jaitley, Dwivedi change the rules of political engagement

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: February 12, 2014 12:23 IST
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Arun Jaitley and Janardan DiwediArun Jaitley and Janardan Dwivedi have rewritten the rules of politics in the Age of the Internet and its young and restless user base, reports's Sheela Bhatt..

Two political leaders are using social media to spread their messages in a way that can teach a lesson or two to Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. And no, one of them is not Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Arun Jaitley, 62, and Janardan Dwivedi, 68, are showing an acute understanding of the power of the Internet and of the millions of young Indians who are logged into it.

Arun Jaitley, 62, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, may not strike you as a Net-savvy leader, but since November 2013 he has been hyperactive in cyberspace.

He publishes a blog post a day on his Web site (external link), then posts that on his Twitter (@arunjaitley) and Facebook (external link) accounts and also uses mass e-mail and smses to journalists to disseminate his views fast and furious.

At BJP offices all over India, state and district level leaders clearly know what the party line is on the Lokpal bill, on Arvind Kejriwal, on Choppergate or the Ishrat Jahan encounter case thanks to Jaitley.

In no time, Jaitley has ensured the best use of the Internet to reach out to the media and his party's leaders and cadres with his views, insights and smart one-liners.

Jaitley's backroom boys at the BJP's national headquarters on Ashoka Road in New Delhi also send his views on political topics every day to more than 600 journalists via sms and e-mail.

A Facebook manager reportedly told Jaitley that his FB account has seen one of the fastest organic growth in recent times.

Jaitley became active on FB in November 2013, and in just three months has 487,662 likes. In addition, he has 106,000 Twitter followers.

He wears many hats and is obviously busy as he is the BJP's leading strategist; he is Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and co-ordinates with Sushma Swaraj, his BJP counterpart in the Lok Sabha, on the party's parliamentary strategy to keep the United Progressive Alliance government on the edge.

On February 5, his well-planned efforts didn't allow the government to even table the communal violence bill in the Rajya Sabha.

There is no doubt that he is the major force behind Narendra Modi's strategy to lead the BJP into Election 2014. He spins political perceptions, launches powerful images of events and thrusts theories on the media with elan.

His success lies in the fact that due to his moderate views on most things and his media-savvy politics, his cunning arguments have never been questioned critically.

He became the BJP spokesperson during the 1998-1999 general election. Neither the Congress nor his party has brought someone of his stature and influence to 'feed' the media.

He became information and broadcasting minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1999 and later handled other portfolios. Somehow he never became a mass leader. He was a presentable politician, but never a charismatic neta with grass-root political appeal.

He was mild-mannered and laidback for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh zealots and never had it in him to create the sort of frenzy that Modi generates.

He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 2000 and BJP general secretary in 2002.

The charge against him, within his party, is that he lacks the killer instinct to fight for ideological issues. Outside his party, he is seen as a corporate lawyer-turned-political leader who is lucky to fit into the vacuum in the BJP's top leadership.

Jaitley, with his right-of-centre economic views and as the moderate face of Hindutva, even suits some Congress supporters. In the BJP's urban audience he is a known face, but that much needed connect with the masses has always been missing.

Jaitley's upward graph within the BJP has not been interrupted in spite of the fact that he has not fought a Lok Sabha election even once.

Within the party he has been an important voice in the decision-making processes for more than a decade. His personal credibility to put on the table 'unbiased' assessments of the ground situation, his legal acumen, his memory of contemporary and historical political events, his network of contacts among the rich and powerful, in political parties, in the media, in the legal world has helped his party as much as himself.

His political pragmatism has given him the edge that very few BJP leaders have.

Modi's rise within the BJP and on the national stage has been a direct challenge to the 'armchair politics' of 'Rajya Sabha members' in the party. Politicians like Modi bristle that these leaders remain powerful without getting their hands dirty in grassroot politics.

The BJP's New Delhi-based leaders are seen by the rank and file as having a soft approach to the real issues affecting the people. BJP cadres discovered, over the years, that that their New Delhi-based leaders lacked the fire in their belly.

During the 10 years of the UPA regime, some state- and district-level BJP leaders have frequently alleged that these New Delhi-based leaders are not confronting the 'dynastic and corrupt' Congress as forcefully as they should have.

But these are matters of the past.

The BJP's national HQ will change beyond recognition during and after the 2014 election.

Modi has forced the Delhi leadership to accept him as first among equals. BJP cadres have encountered the 'killer instinct' in Modi that they have sought since they lost power in 2004.

In such times, any other leader would cow down or step aside in the hustle-bustle of Modi's gigantic rallies and nationwide projection, but not Arun Jaitley.

Without taking a confrontationist position, Jaitley smartly complements Modi's campaign -- but on his own terms.

With the general election less than three months away, Modi and Jaitley are the most quoted BJP leaders in the print and social media.

Here, Jaitley has been the fastest and most spontaneous in using the power of the Internet to his maximum advantage.

A few of his party colleagues say he speaks too much, but the feedback to Jaitley doesn't suggest any adverse effect. The 'likes' on his FB page, re-tweeting of his links, his blog being quoted in the media, hundreds of daily responses on his blog -- all give him a taste of success beyond his expectations.

A leader who all these years did not touch base with the masses is now quoted every single day in several English and language newspapers and television channels. His communication formula is likely to work to his advantage as well as that of his party till the election.

After Modi's rallies, Jaitley's blog gets the maximum media coverage for the BJP.

If Modi offers video footage of his rallies to the television channels, Jaitley offers timely and smart, crisp and witty quotable quotes much before the newspaper deadlines.

It helps the media and his party's second rank leaders, spokespersons in the state capitals and BJP's supporters to argue further on national issues in different fora, including in television debates.

The political brain who could not become a conventional netaji is trying to acquire critical mass in the virtual world.

At election time, all the political parties aim to dominate the space on television and in newspapers. The Modi-Jaitley duo is doing just that, and successfully so far.

What is astonishing is that Jaitley uses the Internet without even logging in!

Each day he dictates his blog to one of his secretaries. Jaitley is very cautious: The blog post is uploaded by his staffers only after he scans the typed copy. Everything is done in 20 minutes flat.

As soon as it is posted, some 15 BJP propaganda pages on Facebook and Twitter accounts spread it further. The BJP head office pushes it further into different media.

As Jaitley spreads his voice in the virtual world, his supporters wish that he will go into the real world and fight a Lok Sabha election at last!

If Jaitley uses the Internet, Janardan Dwivedi, one of the Congress's old guard, has done something that is far ahead of its time.

Dwivedi, a Brahmin leader from Uttar Pradesh, has enjoyed official positions in the party for the last 30-odd years. All these years he has never granted a detailed interview. He speaks after weighing his words carefully and is irritatingly guarded.

He is considered close to Sonia Gandhi and is part of the coterie that runs 24, Akbar Road, the Congress's national headquarters.

Dwivedi taught Hindi to Sonia Gandhi when she joined active politics. He wrote a book, Nirala Kavya Ka Abhivyanjana, on the verse of legendary poet Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', in 1971.

When Dwivedi, whose career was on a downhill after Rahul Gandhi took over the party, speaks, it means he has an agenda to address. He has issued a politically volatile statement to raise a point.

Dwivedi recently told a news agency, 'Reservations on the basis of the economic condition of people should be talked about.'

'This (reservation on caste lines) should have come to an end,' Dwivedi said. 'Why it did not happen so far was because vested interests got into the process.'

While talking about the 'creamy layer' among the beneficiaries of reservation, he said, 'Does the real needy person even among the Dalits and backward castes get the benefits of reservation? Those in the upper crust of these communities only avail the benefits. There is a difference between social justice and casteism.'

'The concept of social justice has now turned into casteism,' he elaborated further, saying, 'I believe there is a need to dismantle this. Since Rahul Gandhiji is seeking the views of the people directly for the party manifesto, I am now urging him that he should take a bold decision on this issue.'

Of course, the Congress veteran spoke in a well-planned manner and knew the controversy would end in a strong rebuttal by his own party.

Although Dwivedi has spoken too late in the day and expectedly his idea of shifting to a reservation policy based on economic criteria has been rebutted forcefully by no less than Sonia Gandhi and has been condemned by the Congress's opponents as a 'trial balloon', please try answering these questions:

  • Are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar the two most important states for the BJP to form the next government?
  • Are Muslims and Brahmins the two most strategically important groups of voters whose voting pattern will matter the most in the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP?
  • Isn't it true that poor Brahmins and Muslims are the victims of the matrix of Mandal reservation politics?
  • Isn't it true that the Brahmin-Baniya class seems all set to support BJP in UP and Bihar this election?
  • Modi is using the Other Backward Classes card unabashedly but without putting at risk the support he is likely to get from Brahmin-Baniya votes. Isn't it a win-win situation for him?
  • Do you think millions of young Indians who are on the Internet, largely, support Mandal Commission-based reservations? Remember, out of 1.2 billion Indians, some 11 percent are on the Internet.
  • Do you agree that some -- if not many -- young Dalits, tribals and OBCs don't want the label of their caste stuck on them with the continuation of reservations?
  • There is evidence to prove that the reservation policy of successive governments has at most been only partially successful.
  • Don't you think the reservation policy requires fine-tuning to match the ground realties and people's aspirations that we endlessly read on Indian Netizens's responses on the issue?
  • Isn't it true that the pain of being born in a poor Brahmin family or in a poor Muslim family in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or Bihar is not highlighted enough by the veterans of Mandal politics?
  • Isn't it true that the principles behind reservations are absolutely justified because it is a question of helping people who have suffered discrimination for centuries, but why should they become a tool for caste-based politics without getting maximum returns through reservations?

When Dwivedi speaks about the need to rise above Mandal politics to break the boundaries of caste and communalism, he is trying to tell Rahul Gandhi, his party's vice-president, that unless the Congress starts working towards it, there is no way Rahul Gandhi can navigate the cesspool of caste politics which is monopolised by anti-Congress Mandalite political leaders.

Rahul Gandhi's first television interview exposed his weaknesses completely. Post the interview it is more necessary that the Congress party fights the Lok Sabha election on the basis of ideology, ideas, exposes the confusing ideologies and support base of its opponents and exploits the grey areas of Indian politics. Dwivedi has ventured to do just that.

In Uttar Pradesh, many Congressmen portray the Gandhi-Nehru family as Brahmins, but as Modi arrives on the national scene, Mandal politics will change dramatically.

As Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati brought the unthinkable combination of Dalits and Brahmins together (she could not sustain the alliance for the long haul), Modi's Brahmin-Baniya supported economy and OBC-driven vote-bank politics can be a trend-setter if it succeeds in giving the BJP more than 40 out of UP's 80 Lok Sabha seats.

Dwivedi's assumption seems to be that in the future, there will be a conflict of interests in the BJP's caste combo. Modi has lately been encashing his OBC card (which he never ever did in Gujarat. Interestingly, in Gujarat his chaiwallah image also won't give him any advantage as Gujaratis would question the wisdom of giving the reins of power to someone perceived as weak or poor, says a senior state BJP leader).

Rahul Gandhi will never be able to flaunt his social identity, which by the way is confusing, as the powerful regional satraps are doing.

As long as Mandal politics dominates the Hindi belt, the Congress has no chance of coming to power in UP and that keeps it perennially weak on the national political scene.

Modi is trying his hand at playing multiple identities in the battleground of the Hindi belt.

After the 2014 election, more and more Indians will be on the Internet and many more Indians will find their own identity beyond being a Jatav, Pasi, Kurmi, Yadav, Patel, Brahmin or Baniya.

By 2019 or say by 2024, the Congress will have to return to Rajiv Gandhi's idea that he expressed in the Lok Sabha when then prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh was implementing the Mandal Commission report to give reservation to the Backward Classes.

Dwivedi's views, which were dismissed unequivocally by Sonia Gandhi (external link), should be read only after what Rajiv Gandhi said (external link) in Parliament in 1990.

Dwivedi has said exactly what Sonia's husband said 23 years ago.

On September 6, 1990, Rajiv Gandhi spoke for 150 minutes in the Lok Sabha. He accepted the backwardness existing in the country and the inequalities in opportunities, but he said let us remove poverty and backwardness first.

The implementation of the Mandal Commission report unleashed massive emotions among the youth. Delhi student Rajiv Goswami died after immolating himself in protest. The violent and bloody political youth movement was secretly supported by the Congress and the BJP.

More than 159 young people all over India burnt themselves and 60 died, according to Mulchand Rana who wrote the book Reservations in India: Myths and Realities.

The blood trail of people opposing implementation of the Mandal report shook India.

Dwivedi may have been snubbed by his party leaders today, but in those days a certain section of society was strongly supportive of his views, so much so that OBC leaders could not get top lawyers to fight their case in the Supreme Court, Rana says in his book.

Eventually, Ram Jethamalani fought the case and won. The Supreme Court judgment of November 16, 1992 was not unanimous. The verdict said, 'We don't intend to accelerate casteism. But the caste system is a bitter reality of our society. We can't ignore the existence of caste.'

The issue of OBC reservations received legal sanction, but since that day, the Congress's fortunes have been on the decline in the Hindi heartland where OBC leaders dominate electoral politics by exploiting the caste structure and people's insecurities over identity-based issues.

Dwivedi's remarks are not going to help the Congress in 2014; rather, they will create confusion.

It will help the Congress's opponents to claim that the party is trying to send signals to the upper castes that seem to be siding with the BJP. Mayawati too will use Dwivedi's intervention as the Congress's 'Brahminical idea'.

It will, eventually -- at the appropriate time -- lead to the debate that in a country where the Constitution does not recognise religion-based reservations, and when Islam does not recognise castes, then how are poor Muslims ever going to get any help from the State?

Also, when Modi's claim to power is getting stronger and stronger each day, it is obvious that the BJP and Modi will fight tooth and nail to ensure that there is no way that Muslims get reservations on the basis of religion in the short- or long-term.

Amit Shah, Modi's confidant, has said, "Why promote this idea of reservations based on religion? The BJP is against the idea of reservations based on religion. We do not want to divide the country based on religion. But whoever falls under the definition of OBC and other such categories has a right to reservation Constitutionally, irrespective of religion."

Dwivedi's statement is to offer one of the many future courses of political options that Rahul Gandhi can follow when hopefully the social media gets stronger and better.

It is refreshing to see two Indian politicians, both over 60 years old, on the opposite sides of the political fence, trying to appeal to a young and modern India.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi