New Delhi: In the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi, there are lessons which the Indian National Congress (INC) will not learn, being fatally joined to the Nehru-Gandhi family. The role of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in founding, propping up and periodically guiding the BJP cannot be overlooked and underestimated in its rise. Indeed, the continuing growth and relevance of the RSS is itself a subject of serious inquiry, because it is among the last of such social organizations to exist anywhere in the world.

Two years ago, the BJP was in the sort of rut that the Congress finds itself in today. Perhaps it was not so bad because its numbers in the Lok Sabha weren’t as abysmal as the Congress’s presently. Nevertheless, it didn’t have a winning formula. The INC-led United Progressive Alliance government was mired in corruption and paralyzed in governance and policy-making. But L.K.Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley had neither the collective charisma nor the vision and strategy to make the BJP a winner. After much deliberation, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh accepted Narendra Modi as the prime minister-candidate; the rest is history.

The lesson from this is that a political party renews itself only by replacing the failed leadership lock, stock and barrel with a new younger person. Collective leadership never works. Advani, Sushma and Jaitley had nothing new to offer. One or two of them were even ready to work under Nitish Kumar, the then darling of the media. If that course had been adopted, the BJP would have been steadily depleted. Already, BJP leaders were psyched into believing that they could never get their own Lok Sabha majority. It needed Narendra Modi to break the BJP out of its defeatist mindset.

How could he do it? This piece is not about Narendra Modi’s personality so let us take it as a generic question. He was an outsider. He was immune to the aura of the Nehru-Gandhis. He believed in himself. He had a plan. If you look at the old political parties of the West, this trend of an “outsider” gaining the reins of the party is common and unexceptionable. All may not succeed. But change regenerates a party. Abraham Lincoln is America’s greatest president; but his family does not have a controlling stake in the Republican Party. Nor has Margaret Thatcher left behind a dynasty, much less Ronald Reagan.

If the Bharatiya Janata Party did not have RSS lineage, it would have become another dynastic party like the Congress. In the RSS, decision-making is by consensus; the RSS chief is selected by a college; and the chief has to work within a parameter failing which he may be sidelined and removed. The RSS is not a one-man organization. This ethos is embedded in the BJP. Ideally, after the 2004 defeat, Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley ought to have been sidelined. In not doing so, the BJP paid a price for the next 10 years it was out of power. Political parties have to be ruthless about failure. The power game is not for losers.

As a non-dynastic party, the BJP could correct its mistakes. The Indian National Congress, however, is saddled with the Nehru-Gandhis and especially Rahul Gandhi. The dynasty believes invoking the name of Jawaharlal Nehru would bring it back to power. Whoever advised the family of this is hopeless. If the principles of power strictly are to be followed, the Nehru-Gandhis have to go. They have to resign from every single position of the Indian National Congress. A new leader, a non-dynast, elected through free and fair internal elections, has to take over. Short of this, the party has no future.

Beyond a point, you cannot fight natural law. What is the connect of a young voter to Nehru who was born 125 years ago? M.K.Gandhi is reduced to a grainy picture on a banknote. You may say there is an existential crisis here: he exists because of the currency. In the North, they have captured him in a pithy idiom, “Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi.” You cannot blame the young for moving on; such is life. To stay relevant, therefore, a political party must keep reinventing itself. Reinvention begins at the top. After much opposition and agonizing, the BJP brought Narendra Modi; see the revolution he has wrought.

But there is a lesson in this for Modi too. The only constant in nature is change; once you understand that, it can be oddly reassuring and empowering. Narendra Modi has to remain constantly relevant to voters. Mega successes overseas are fine; but he will be judged on his domestic performance; on job creation, low and stable prices, healthcare, growth and peace. Power politics is cruel. It rarely gives anyone a second chance. The Nehru-Gandhis got more chances than they deserved; it is an obscenity. India will not be so considerate to future political leaders.