This interview of Nalin Mehta for Times of India by Jaya Battacharji Rose appeared in TOI BookMark on 5 January 2023. Listen to the full podcast here
Dr Nalin Mehta is the author of many books, but most notably and recently he has written the New BJP: Modi and the Making of the World’s Largest Political Party. Professor Nalin Mehta is also Dean, the School of Modern Media, UPES, adviser, Global University Systems, and non-resident senior fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is an award-winning social scientist, journalist and author. Over to you Nalin now we have a lot of interesting questions to ask. Regarding the new BJP. First and foremost, why this book?
This is a question a lot of people ask me . A lot of people ask me questions like why the new BJP? Why not call it the old BJP? What is new about this? I think fundamentally this book was written primarily because of one question, which is this, but from 2014 onwards the BJP in India has won more elections when it lost both at the Centre and at the state levels or done better in those elections than it did before. And now the core basics, which clearly meant that the core base of the party has expanded. Now the question I was looking to answer was why is the BJP doing better than it did before? Has the core base of Hindutva expanded or has the country changed completely or Is the BJP doing things differently? So this book started from that premise and the point of this was, it doesn’t matter whether you support the BJP or you oppose the BJP or you’re neutral politically. As a country, I think it’s a question we need to answer because the BJP has become a premier predominant poll of our quality in the way the Congress was, to use that famous phrase of Rajni Kothari. That the Congress system which dominated India for a very long time in our politics, the BJP has replaced the Congress as the predominant national party electorally. We must understand why and how it happened.
From your days as a reporter through your journalism you frequently recorded and documented the BJP. Was that also a factor at play?
It was. I covered the BJP over 20 years. I covered the BJP beat from the late ’90s onwards. The problem with a topic like the BJP is that firstly, we all have our own mental maps of what we think about politics. I think whether we like or hate the BJP, people have preconceived notions about it. The other problem is that when you look at the books which are written about the BJP, you will only find two kinds of books. Either there will be hagiographies which are only saying great things about one side of the picture, or for those who are looking to move up to the party hierarchy. Or you will find from the liberal set only books that show all the negative side of things in a way that shows all doom and gloom. If that was the case only, I think both have some elements of truth to it, but if that is the case, only then the BJP won’t be winning the electoral contests that it’s winning. So what I wanted to do was to get away from it. We also are prisoners of our echo chambers. So I wanted to get away from that and I wanted to really look at the data and do an objective non-powered design study to the extent that that is possible. So what do we do? We created a whole bunch of new datasets to understand what’s happening at the ground level. We created three new indices. One is called the Naarad index which basically puts together over 12,000 BJP linked documents and digitised them and we run an AI algorithm randomly to see patterns of communication that you would rather not see with the naked eye. And we created Poll Neeti which is 418 different datasets which at the constituency level, put together different datasets and politics and political economy and saw interlinkages between them…..
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This article was first published on https://epaper.timesgroup.com | Jan 5, 2023