Leadership Transition In Indian Politics
If five state legislative elections of 2012, particularly that of Uttar Pradesh, are dress rehearsals for the general election in the country two years later; its most noticeable aspect, that may eventually impact the result 2014 as well as the future of Indian polity, is the leadership transition. The gen-next leaders are here, visibly active on the political stage. Some of them are changing the style of functioning of their parties, using the latest media technologies to reach out to their constituencies, voters and support groups, ways that are more effective and personalised. Their traditional campaign styles too are different, use of time-tested rath notwithstanding. Surely, they would determine the shape and style of politics to come in the next general election and decades to come. The question whether their arrival and the new ways of functioning would bring any substantive change in the institutional dimension of political parties, governance and consequent change in the condition of the poor would nonetheless remains unanswered for now.
The fatigued and out-of-tune-with-the-times leadership of the 1970s and 1980s may still toil, but it is the young leadership that is moving to the centre stage. Not surprisingly, even in the familial (or dynastic) pocket borough, many ageing leaders are grooming their successors, which has also caused disaffection within and a pretext to the leadership-in-waiting to splinter away. Akhilesh Yadav and Varun Gandhi (UP), Sukhbir and Manpreet Badal (Punjab), Supriya Sule, Uddhav and Raj Thackeray (Maharashtra), the Karunanidhi scions MK Azhagiri, MK Stalin and Ms. Konimozhi (in Tamil Nadu), Agatha Sangma (Meghalaya), Hemant Soren (Deputy Chief Minister of Jharkhand and son of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren); to name a few are the younger generation on the political block. Aside from these, other visible leaders are Sandeep Dixit, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Navin Jindal (all Congress), Manavendra Singh and Dushyant Singh (both BJP), Dayanidhi Maran, Jagan Reddy, Omar Abdullah (Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and third generation National Conference leader) and Mahbooba Mufti, Kuldeep Bishnoi as well as Abhay and Ajay Chautala (Haryana), HD Kumaraswamy (Karnataka), Jayant Choudhary (son of RLD leader and Union Minister Ajit Singh) and so on. They are many of the young leaders from various political families across parties and from different states who are seeking political future in their family domains. Some of them have seized initiative to carve a niche by using innovative methods to connect to people and campaign. Indeed, the impact of their effort is likely to be known immediately after the current assembly elections and how they sustain it in the next couple of years in the sixteenth general election.
A recent study India: a Portrait (New Delhi: Penguin, 2011) by Patrick French mentions percentage of a party’s MPs that had reached the Lok Sabha through the family link—excluding parties with fewer than five MPs. Significantly, it shows that family succession in Indian politics is common with most parties; it perhaps creates a new pattern of circulation of elites that Italian sociologist Pareto spoke about. The existing situation for the Lok Sabha given in the Table, tells a limited story, as situation in state Legislative Assembly would indicate the real countrywide pattern. Given different size and physical reach of parties listed in the Table, it is prudent to draw the lesson that it has become a pervasive phenomenon, rather than pass value judgments as to which party is worse affected on this count.
“Generational change in BJP”—Smriti Irani, MP National President, BJP Mahila Morcha
Coalition politics has become inevitable in the current political scenario. How do you foresee it?
Coalition politics is not a phenomenon restricted only to the Indian nation but a reality many democracies across the world have come to terms with. I honestly believe that it provides an equal platform for regional interests to be heard and be debated in order to formulate a broad consensus on issues of national importance. Unfortunately, today “coalition dharma” as described by the Prime Minister at a press conference, seems more like a compulsion to retain power thereby ensuring that a “poltical license” is given to the UPA’s regional collaborators to indulge in widespread corruption while the Congress can publicly claim “helplessness”.
How can India be a developed nation?
At the core of our desire to see “ Bharat” attain the status of a developed nation lies the need to ensure that basic amenities and rights of the citizens are provided for. After 65 years of Independence, “Bijli, Sadak, Paani” along with “Shiksha, Suraksha and Sushasan” are still the fundamental promises that most political manifestos comprise of, thereby highlighting the fact that we are yet to overcome the basic challlenges that confront our polity and people. However, whenever solutions are by leaders with vision, ability and grit, we have seen wonders happen. Gujarat and Bihar are the prime examples of the same. Hence, for “Bharat” to attain the status of being a truly developed nation we need to apply ourselves to solutions pertaining to equal oppurtunities in education, strengthening infrastructure, ensuring equal growth in the agricultural and industrial sectors, be an energy-efficient and energy independent nation; along with retaining the ‘value system’ that makes our culture and nation so unique. To achieve this goal “politics” can only be a means to the end, the true catalysts in the realisation of this dream will be the detemination and desire of the Indian people.
Do you feel the role of young leaders and women are limited in today’s politics? If not please elaborate.
Speaking purely on the basis of my experience in the BJP, my growth as a political activist was never dependent on my gender, religion, age or lineage. In the BJP, merit is the only yardstick used to judge an individual’s performance. However, in order to encourage participation of women, the BJP amended its constitution to provide 33 per cent reservation for women within the organisation. Similarly, our seniors have always encouraged the youth to take charge and have whole heartedly supported generational change in the organisation . Hence, today we are by the youngest ever National President Shri Nitinji Gadkari who is ably supported by Sushmaji and Arunji in Parliament. In fact when our organisation is compared to the Congress, one can clearly see that while in the Congress “dynasty” rules, in the BJP an average young man or woman has equal opportunity to collaborate and contribute to the greater good of the nation.
What steps should India take to have a stable economy and to fight terrorism?
There is an immediate need to curb the notion that India is now a nation of ‘scams’ in order to ensure a resurgence in investor confidence in India. For stable and all-inclusive growth, the widening urban-rural, rich-poor divide that has plauged India, needs to be addressed. Equal opportunites for education, employment and access to health care needs to be provided in rural India in order to prevent migration to cities which are already crumbling due to lack of proper infrastructure. Mere declaration of policy and allocation of funds will not help strengthen the economy. Implementation needs to be strictly monitored in order to stop “deliberate and criminal leakage of funds”.
The fight against terrorism cannot be won by a nation that is led by a government committed to “vote bank” politics. Our intelligence gathering network needs to be strengthened and effectively monitored, laws pertaining to terrorism need to be strengthened and should not be a victim to Centre-State politics e.g. GUJCOC, there is a need for better coordination between Centre and State for sharing of intelligence. Last but not least, India ‘s foreign policy should equally and strongly represent that sate or “non-state actors” India in its own soveriegn interest will deal with terrorism very strongly. Unfortunately, recent events will show whether it be it the NCTC wherein states were not taken into confidence or the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Congress party has put national interest at risk for political gain and consideration.
Obviously, leadership transition in India too must be looked at from the perspective of family rotation. In fact, many a time, when the next generation is not available the baton is passed on to the spouse. First such example was in Congress, when a section of party leadership and functionaries passed on the baton to Rajiv Gandhi’s Italian-born wife Sonia Gandhi seven years after his assassination. Apparently, the family and succession to Rajiv Gandhi’s son lurked in the background even as PV Narasimha Rao was consolidating himself. Whether or not he bungled an opportunity, some within the party saw the family as the only successor and saviour of the party and its fortune. The second such situation was witnessed in the wake of Lalu Yadav resigning after the fodder scam taint. Instead of anyone else from the party, his wife Rabri Devi was installed as the Chief Minister; his scions were not yet ready to take over. This clearly means that non-family entrants have to toil harder and/or depend heavily on party patronage, which could also be under the circumstances based on family patronage, i.e., of families that dominate parties. Also, this indicates a lack of clear recruitment and succession policy in political parties. This becomes evident at the time of nomination and ticket distribution during elections. Anyone who gets a foothold attempts to bring in his family members.
Under the circumstances, an initiative for a fundamental change in style of functioning of a party, or its poll strategy, has to come from the young emerging leadership, but only belonging to the families that control the party. It appears that in recent years democratic legitimation of family succession is strategised with new and innovative leadership styles, but option is not open to all the young leaders who are on the succession row. Taking the Congress as an example, options available to Rahul Gandhi, whose leadership and prime ministerial stakes have to be legitimised through his initiatives; do not appear to be available to other young leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Sandeep Dixit, Navin Jindal and so on. Of course, they are free to manage their constituencies in their own ways, but have little room to take larger initiatives unless approved by the party. For them to throw their hat in leadership ring for party positions, ministerial berth, chief minister’s chair, et. al, is completely ruled out; of course, they can lobby with low profile for this to be given as a favour or patronage from ‘the’ leader(ship).
Indeed, Rahul Gandhi is the most visible gen-next striving for the throne for the past decade, though still not showing a hurry to ascend it. From Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to several leaders of the party have been requesting him to take up the leadership of the party, join the Union Cabinet; even take up prime ministerial chair. He has continuously declined this nudge. We thus need to mention him for this and a variety of reasons. First, as a scion of the famous Nehru-Gandhi family, he has been groomed to ascend the prime ministerial throne by the Congress, that has willy nilly accepted his familial claim to leadership of the party; even kept the throne reserved for him with loyalist non-politician Dr Manmohan Singh occupying prime ministerial chair. Second, he has in the mean time been touring the country, most particularly UP, where the party has lost its way since 1990, and attempting to garner popular support for the party. In 2007 assembly election Congress won a meagre 22 seats, being reduced to a fourth position, but in 2009 Lok Sabha election the party won 22 Lok Sabha seats, beating the ruling BSP by two seats and tying with the SP.
“Cong: Only pan-Indian party”—Tom Vadakkan National Secretary, AICC
What would you say on the current state of Indian democracy?
On the surface, it may appear that Indian democracy is under an abnormal strain and pressure and it could crumble anytime. But that has been more or less the case since India became independent. Western political scientists and philosophers declared repeatedly that India would not survive because of its extreme poverty, illiteracy and diversities. But we not only survived, we grew at a remarkable pace and our democracy is now viewed as a model in the entire world. This is a tribute to the Congress and its centrist approach which accommodated divergent views, took all sections of society together and steadfastly maintained an egalitarian policy perspective. Today we are almost on the verge of becoming a key global power.
What roles do you see the young parliamentarians should play in making the democracy strong?
The youth is our most precious capital and fortunately we have a very talented young political leadership which understands the complexities of India and is largely committed to serving the weaker sections of society. Almost 60 per cent of our population is young today and that would require a vast expansion of educational infrastructure and employment opportunities. We should hope young parliamentarians recognise the challenges before the nation and work constructively instead of getting bogged down in politicking and partisan warfare. We need a development-oriented political discourse in the coming decades.
Your views on federalism, would the Centre-state relations be strained with the current policy changes like the NCTC?
Strains on Centre-state relations should be viewed in the larger context of our fractured polity. The growth of multi-party system is bound to affect our politics and create new strains but we must recognise the fact that a strong Centre is as much a national imperative as healthy relations with states. Federalism is not an antidote to nationalism; they coexist. As far as the controversy surrounding decisions like NCTC are concerned, these are small glitches which would be solved. The Centre is open to the idea of accommodating the views of the states and addressing their concerns. The NCTC is a step towards strengthening the anti-terror mechanism and this should only be seen as a process.
Why is the age-old Congress party fighting for survival despite having many talented young leaders?
This perception about crisis and fight for survival is not new; if you look back, every phase would appear difficult and troubled in this vast country with such basic problems and diversities. Prophets of doom couldn’t see the system had the resilience to protect itself and our leadership has proven time and time again that it can rise to the occasion to meet any challenge whatsoever. The Congress remains the only pan-Indian party and the principal political force in the country even today. That there is a matured young leadership in the Congress only reassures us and makes us look forward to the future with great expectations.
Your vision for a developed India.
The Congress has built this nation on Gandhian tolerance, on concepts of equality and justice and secularism. The diversity that India has is our beauty and we must protect it. We cannot have a vision of development without undiluted commitment to social harmony. As far as development is concerned, we need to focus on the poor and their social safety as much as we have to focus on infrastructure development, industrialisation and economic growth. We must look up to the future with hope.
Rahul Gandhi has been extensively working in the state, particularly in villages with endemic poverty, mixing with dalit population, since 2004. His strategy appears to be to demystify his political altitude inherited due to his descent from the first political family of the country. If Mayawati connects with the dalits due to her birth, he has made conscious effort to go to them, spend nights in their huts, eat with them, and so on; howsoever theatrical it may look to others. It has been reported that his secretariat is populated with people who feed him with latest information, prepare his speeches and work on his strategy, but we have no definite information. He has even reported to have roped in some topmost social scientists in the country to help him with his election plans two years later. His speech in Lok Sabha referring to Kalavati, a poor lady from the drought-hit Vidarbha in Maharashtra, was an indication of this. Most recently, in the course of election campaign in UP, Rahul Gandhi asserted that his priority was not the prime ministerial chair, but to win hearts and minds of the people of the state for his party.
Aside from his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who never misses an election campaign in family borough of Amethi and Rae Bareli and time and again have requested to take to active politics, I have mentioned other young leaders of the party, scions of various political families, many are MPs and MLAs, they too deserve to be viewed in the context of the politics generation change. Their performance and initiatives deserve to scrutinised to see the kind of changes they are bringing. It is however clear that a visible role in campaigning is not open to all, but restricted to the family and its loyalists. Apparently, there is a portective wall against any encroachment on the family and its scion’s leadership claim.
Besides Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, the focus in UP is on another young leader, Akhilesh Yadav. The son of SP stalwart Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has been the Chief Minister of the state thrice and Union Minister once, he has been under the shadow of his father till now. A Lok Sabha MP, he appears to have realised that he needed to mix new with the old to regain the state. Aside from deglamourising the party from the Amar Singh era, he has intensified jan sampark, which Rahul Gandhi too is toiling with; he is adding the use of new media technology to reach out to voters. Akhilesh has covered 110 assembly constituencies in two months, holding 20-odd meetings a day and connect with some 70,000-1,00,000 people a day. Everywhere, Akhilesh seems to know the local leader or candidate. In his own quiet way, the young Yadav is galvanising the SP cadre.
Where does this place Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party? Since the current election is predicted to produce a hung assembly in UP, it is difficult to make prediction at the fate of the party at this stage. However, from the leadership perspective, she and her party are relatively handicapped. Leadership succession is lacking in the BSP too and there is no apparent familial successor. As the successor of Kanshiram, she indeed reinvented the party with her sarvajan slogan and social coalition in 2007. Would she be able to reinvent the party in the face of the challenge from the new generation leaders such as Rahul and Akhilesh? We need to wait and see.
It is important in this context to mention grand success of Shiv Sena in Mumbai Municipal Corporation election. Media reports indicated that the election campaign was strategised by Uddhav Thackeray, the son of Bal Thackeray, who left his son free to make his mark. It was also a decisive moment for the succession row with the other Thackeray scion, nephew Raj Thackeray, who left some years back to form Maharashtra Navnirman Sena because he was denied his uncle’s throne. The significance of this victory would nonetheless be known only in the wake of the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, but another gen-next leader has indeed emerged, though from a family.
Indeed, the ongoing legislative elections will determine several things, demystify old politics and draw the contours of a new emerging one. Not only is Mayawati’s statues-and-parks dalit politics as well as her sarvajan strategy of a social alliance with the Brahmins on test, but also Rahul Gandhi’s go-it-alone single leader campaign and Akhilesh Yadav’s new-look SP claim to power would be on test. If Mayawati is handicapped with her monolithic leadership and single issue party, monolithism is a handicap of the Congress and SP too. Jati samikaran will continue to hold its sway, who benefits would be a matter of everyone’s guess. A hung assembly with various permutations is predicted, the leadership challenge with young Gandhi and Yadav would be to get the jigsaw right to rule UP during the next five years, more critically during the sixteenth general election in 2014.
By Ajay K Mehra
(The author is Honorary Director, Centre for Public Affairs, Noida)