More a cult than a political party: Shivam Singh, BJP leader Ram Madhav’s former protégé

20 August 2020
Courtesy Shivam Shankar Singh
Courtesy Shivam Shankar Singh

In 2013, Shivam Shankar Singh, then a college student, volunteered for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign for the national polls the following year. He graduated from college in 2015 and began working for the BJP officially in 2016. Singh was mentored by Ram Madhav, a national general secretary of the BJP and a top ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Singh worked in the areas of data analytics and social media. In March 2018, he resigned from the party. In a blog post, Singh explained that he quit because of the party’s misleading narratives against the opposition and the media, the crackdown on political dissent, the dissemination of fake news and the deliberate communal polarisation of the Hindu majority, among others.

As Indian politics places itself firmly on the right of the ideological spectrum, some individuals who were previously members of right-wing organisations, have moved towards the left—or at least away from the right. Yet others, who hail from a notably right-wing milieu, never embraced it and have become the political right’s fiercest critics. What makes such individuals go against the stream? What events, situations and considerations shape their decisions? Abhimanyu Chandra, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, seeks to explore these transitions in a series of interviews, titled Converse Lens, being published by The Caravan. Chandra spoke to Singh about the final straw that led to his resignation, and the silent disillusionment with the current government within the BJP. He further discussed why opposition parties have failed to capitalise on this disillusionment.

Abhimanyu Chandra: It has been over two years since you resigned from the BJP. Has your opinion of the party changed in this time—or is it the same?
Shivam Shankar Singh: From what I can tell, the BJP has made more inroads over the last two years over systems. Initially, BJP was just a political party. That is no longer the case. At this point of time, they have extended way beyond only [being] a political party. The way the judiciary has been handling a lot of cases. What you get to see ultimately, is that the country has been taken over by one political party.

The phenomenon of everyone—in the judiciary, inside the BJP, outside the BJP, in the media—just giving up is slightly new. This is a post-2019 phenomenon. If you look at the coronavirus situation, the way it has played out, what Modiji has today—the kind of fan following—is more like a cult than a political party.

AC: In your resignation post, you had cited what you saw as the “good,” the “bad,” and the “ugly” in the BJP. Where would you say the balance has shifted since?
SSS: Today, we have moved way beyond this. The reality of the degree of power the BJP has, is so set in stone at this point in time, and there is very little happening to oppose it. Extremely little happening politically, extremely little is happening in the judiciary. There is an absolute sense that most of the people who could have done something about [opposing the BJP] have given up. There is no real sense of a choice being presented before people at this point in time.

Abhimanyu Chandra is a PhD student in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

Keywords: Converse Lens shivam shankar singh BJP RSS Narendra Modi JNU Delhi Violence
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