The Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership is training political hopefuls who align with the ruling BJP to be competent.
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe is on a mission that is at once impossibly simple and yet somehow insurmountable: He is training Indian politicians to be competent.
Not just any politicians, mind you—Hindu nationalist politicians.
Sahasrabuddhe, a senior official in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, has for years been admitting election hopefuls to his Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership, teaching them to deliver speeches, debate while staying on message, and promote good governance, all to show them how to work the system and, ultimately, master it. In essence, Sahasrabuddhe and his colleagues are trying to professionalize nationalism.
Such an effort to induct a new generation of leaders into political life is unusual in India, where many elected officials still rely on patrons or lineage to rise to the top. The institute, which markets itself as offering an Ivy League education in politics, offers a window into the BJP’s efforts to educate its cadres and widen its appeal. It suggests a level of strategic calm in a political party that faces tough national parliamentary elections this month and next, but which is nevertheless playing a longer game of investing in youth and expanding party ranks.
The institute’s classes offer a version of Indian history and society that has parallels with narratives pushed by the Steve Bannons and Nigel Farages of the world. India’s political establishment, the IIDL’s lecturers argue, has for years benefited from corrupt excesses, to the country’s detriment. In their telling, Westernization and globalization have caused more harm than good, and India’s path to greatness lies in reviving religious and cultural traditions. The world over, “democracy is failing,” Sahasrabuddhe told me. “If democracy is not in a position to cater to better quality of lives—if after changing government, I can’t see a change in my life, what is the point?”