The Great Indian Party Circus
Even as the Congress has been trying to rein in a defiant Jagan Reddy, son of the deceased Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Reddy, a claimant for his ‘father’s throne’ since his unfortunate demise, from defying the party in undertaking his ‘Odarpu yatra’ that has left a bloody trail in Mahbubabad, BJP president Nitin Gadkari rued internal bickering in the saffron party (June 5): “It pains me the most when I see egos of two big people clashing. I try to mediate.” Two days later upset over allotment of tickets to the Rajya Sabha, former editor of the Organiser, Seshadri Chari wrote to the party president complaining that committed party workers had been ignored in favour of ‘rank opportunists and publicity managers’; referring to the nomination of Tarun Vijay, a former editor of the party’s Hindi publication the Panchjanya. The loss to the Trinamool Congress in the West Bengal local bodies elections, including in the prestigious Kolkata Municipal Corporation Council, has shaken up the Left Front too. The CPM, the party that has been on the forefront of forging a Third Front umpteen times, appears to be in dire need of rediscovering and refashioning itself.
Major regional and state parties in the country, whether or not they are in apparent succession row or in power, are no better. Smaller parties with national claims, but limited regional or state reach, such as Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal (it lost national party status after 2009 general election) have major institutional questions to reflect upon before they stare on their faces. While the BSP is embroiled in statue row and frequent discovery of corruption and criminality of its leaders, the party supremo Mayawati continues to be at her combative best against most
parties. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party has declined enough to lose its place in UP as one of the two alternatives (with BSP). However, that has not deterred him from keeping the party within his immediate family, remember how his daughter-in-law lost to Raj Babbar (Congress), his one time associate, in a by-poll for the Lok Sabha for the seat vacated by his son Akhilesh.
The layers of the IPL onion appear to be creating stink for parties and leaders; NCP president, Union Agriculture Minister and president of the Board of Control of India is the latest to be enveloped with the IPL stink. Since most of these parties are family based, family members generally become part of the stink. If Laloo Yadav had his brothers-in-law, fingers are being raised at Sharad Pawar’s family too, including his MP daughter Supriya Sule and her family, who are all in a vehement denial mode.
In the south of the country, the DMK may appear to be going strong, even if with an ailing Karunanidhi at the helm. However, the subterranean sibling rivalry for succession between Karunanidhi’s elder son Azhagiri, currently Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers, and Stalin, currently Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, came out in the open recently. His poet-politician youngest daughter Kanimozhi, an MP, is also not being ruled out from the contest, if at all it takes place. The Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK, which split from the DMK in 1972 with the falling-out of Karunanidhi and his long-time associate popular Tamil actor MGR, had its own succession drama on MGR’s demise in 1987 with his wife succeeding him and Jayalalithaa wresting control with the claim to perform sati on his pyre. In this political din, charges and counter-charges of corruption against each other have become a non-issue.
The rise and marginalisation, if not fall, of the Telugu Desam Party has been a legend in Andhra Pradesh politics. We must not forget the war of succession in the TDP during the life time of NTR, the actor-turned-politician who founded the party. He with his biographer and second wife Lakshmi Parvathi was on one side and his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu was on the other. The latter won the battle for the party in NTR’s life time. The Karnataka theatre has former Prime Minister (and former Chief Minister) HD Deve Gowda and sons running ‘their’ Janata Dal (Secular) as a family fiefdom. However, parties as family fiefdoms exist in Haryana, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir too.
The ongoing biennial Rajya Sabha poll has brought to fore the theatre of absurd created by the parties on the democratic political stage. The institutional significance of the Rajya Sabha and consequently of its poll has been lowered several notches by political parties by first making a mockery of the domicile
criterion that made it the Council of ‘States’. All the parties elected any of their leaders who lost the Lok Sabha election from any state even if it meant forging the domicile document.
Later they removed this condition by consensus for political expediency. This made floating small parties in India’s fractured party system important in electing leaders. The deal made recently by Congress with Ajit Singh, the important margin player and son of former Prime Minister Chaudhari Charan Singh (best known for working to defeat the Indira-Sanjay duo in 1977 and then entering into a deal with them within two years to split the Janata Party for Prime Ministerial chair), in UP to elect Rajiv Gandhi’s friend and a family loyalist Satish Sharma to Rajya Sabha.
However, that is not the only deal we hear about. Calculators are out to work out the delicate vote arithmetic in fragmented party scenario in the legislatures due to India’s fractured party system. Naturally, small parties and independents who cannot elect anyone on their own are in great demand by big parties with feeble presence in the legislatures and big private players such as liquor baron Vijay Mallaya. No wonder The Economic Times feels that the Rajya Sabha elections have become game-of-rich. Whether a Rajya Sabha consisting of such members would be of any use either to India’s rajyas for whose political presence in the national capital this sabha has been designed, or for the country’s legislative process, which cannot be completed without a constructive contribution from this significant one-third of India’s Parliament, is a fact that is being lost in the din, the parties are creating for increasing their presence there.
Obviously as India is ready to celebrate its 64th Independence day, the country’s party system deserves a serious introspection, which must turn the spot light on the national parties. I am saying this without any prejudice to regional/state or other smaller parties, which should be considered a natural phenomenon in a diverse nation such as India, but traditions set by the national parties are significant for other parties at different levels. Though given the criteria of the Election Commission of India the number and the list of national parties have changed since the first general elections, a closer examination indicates that four parties have continued to be common in this list since 1989—the Congress, the BJP and the communists (CPI and CPM). The introspection on parties must take into account interrelated questions of institutionailsation, recruitment and leadership for each party.
The two Left parties would appear better than others on the institutionalsation scale. They go through regular elections, which is away from public eyes. There could be leaders and cadres from some families, but there is no familial or dynastic leadership tradition. However, being cadre-based parties, their election process is opaque and
away from the public glare. Thus not much could be said about their recruitment processes and leadership building processes.
The BJP, which in its earlier avatar as the Bharatiya Jan Sangh was also a national party, remained confined to urban areas in the northn and its association with the Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh and extreme right Hindutva ideology made its journey beyond the Vindhyas difficult. Having found a larger acceptance through their participation in the Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement in 1974-75, having suffered Emergency excesses with other parties and having merged with the post-Emergency Janata Party, it gained relatively wider acceptance. But after its reincarnation as the Bharatiya Janata Party following a split with the Janata Party in 1980, it went back to its RSS roots and Hindutva ideology following a brief flirtation with ‘Gandhian socialism’, which procured it only two seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha polls. Following the rediscovery of Hindutva potion through the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the mid-1980s, it crossed the century barrier in 1991 general elections, came to power with 182 seats in 1998 and 1999 and also scaled the Vindhyas to make a presence in the south.
Despite losing power in 2004 and 2009, it continues to be the second largest party. However, on other institutional parameters it does not appear to be a shining examples to other parties. The party indeed has been going through election formalities; its cadre too has expanded. Though political families are presen in the party, it claims to be shorn of dynastic tendencies. But that after the second consecutive loss in the general election 2009, which witnessed fading away of the founding generation of the party, particularly the Vajpayee-Advani duumvirate, the party appeared at loss for leadership, shows institutional deficit. Obviously, despite grooming some of the prominent leaders on its national political cradle, the democratic tradition of electing a leader and leadership change through democratic processes have been missing. Time and again the dispute had to be arbitrated through the RSS. The current party president is also an RSS choice. No wonder, he is not finding it easy to manage his domain as he lacks a national image and appeal. Little wonder he complains of ego clashes in the party because he does not command respect from party leaders. A cascading democratic party structure in which leaders from different levels would move up the ladder through elections is missing, hence any imposed leader would face such problems. The party also needs to co-opt leaders at the national level. The leadership issue in states is not settled entirely through democratic processes, but by selection by the national oligarchy.
Rahul Gandhi At 40
On June 19, 2010, Rahul Gandhi turned 40. That was the age his father Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister by tragic circumstances, who saw his mother, Indira Gandhi, felled by bullets fired by men who were supposed to guard her, in the aftermath of a military operation to free the Sikhs’ holiest shrine from terrorits.
Unlike Rahul, Rajiv did not have the benefit of choice of time nor the luxury of company of elders in the 125-year-old party to exercise his option. He had to take charge of the government and the party to a general election, which, of course handed him a massive mandate.
Innumerable accounts bear testimony to how Rajiv’s entry into politics was not due to his volition but because of his brother Sanjay’s untimely death in an air crash in 1980. Indira Gandhi wanted him to join her in politics to fill the vacuum left by Sanjay.
By sheer circumstances of his ascent and personality, Rajiv earned goodwill and popularity, kindling hope among India’s youth of a better future. It is another story though, that despite a huge mandate, his government ran into troubles within three years, owing to allegations of corruption, especially in defence deals.
By 1989, Rajiv had to battle his political rivals within his party and outside. When he about to reinvent himself in 1991, his life was snatched away. In all, Rajiv’s political life was no more than seven years but was an eventful one, with many ups and downs.
In contrast, Rahul’s advent was not talked about till January 2004. That was not until when he and his sister, Priyanka, visited their father’s former constituency of Amethi, which their mother held at the time. Even then, Rahul refused to give a definitive response, stating “I am not averse to politics. I have not decided when I will enter politics and indeed, if I ever will”.
At the time, this move generated surprise among political pundits, who had regarded his sister Priyanka as being the more charismatic and likely to succeed. However, in March 2004, Rahul announced his entry into politics by announcing he would contest the general elections called by an overconfident NDA government in May of that year. Rahul chose his father’s former constituency of Amethi to make his debut in the Lok Sabha, India’s Lower House of the Parliament.
In retrospect, Rahul could not have chosen a better timing. As the NDA collapsed at the hustings, the Congress made its way back to power after a gap of eight years. After Sonia Gandhi’s dramatic decision not to stake claim power herself to cap the controversy relating to her Italian origin, the Congress was set to ride on a wave of an aam admi campaign under Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.
By 2009, Rahul’s sense of priorities appeared to give him an aura of infallibility when it came to politically correct choices. When the elections were held, he and his mother decided to shun temptations to project him as Prime Minister candidate, leaving the honour to Dr Singh.
That strategy worked handsomely for the Congress and to the detriment of the BJP which was harping on a weak PM. Impressed by the Congress’ tally of 200 plus seats in Parliament, Congress leaders and cadres alike could not but credit “Rahul magic” for the youth rejecting the BJP in all urban centres.
The script so far could not have but gone well. Rahul remains deliberately aloof from daily politics and his thoughts on many major issues remain mostly unknown. Yet, everyone believes he seems to be preparing for his future, and that of the Congress. “The Congress’ reconstruction is in progress under Rahul,” a Congress leader proudly claimed the other day.
Other party leaders say Rahul is using his popularity to broaden the party’s political base, steering clear of the more contentious policy-making. As AICC general secretary, he is focusing on recruiting as many as 10 million new youth members.
His big test is supposed to be the politically killing fields of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where the assembly elections are four months away. It is in UP that Rahul has invested his time and energy. Will a youthful Congress under his name make a mark when Mayawati-led BSP faces the electorate in May 2011?
Rahul is ticking off warring Congress leaders, telling them to ensure there is no groupism or “adjustments” between faction leaders. He is also keeping a watch on activities of an ambitious Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. In the Capital, when the PM presented his report card on UPA II’s first anniversary, Rahul was the only invitee outside the government to attend the event.
On May 25, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he is ready to hand over the reins of the government to Rahul as and when the Congress party asked him to do so. Singh, at the same time, added that he will not going to step down in a hurry as he had a lot of unfinished business to attend to. “I’ve been entrusted with a responsibility. The task is still incomplete. There is no question of retiring till the task is completed”, the prime minister told in his first national press conference in five years.
As for Rahul, the PM said he was ready to make way for him. “He’s very qualified to hold a Cabinet post. I’ve discussed with him on a number of occasions, although I don’t remember exactly the date when I spoke to him last. He’s very reluctant to join the Cabinet, saying that he has duties to perform in reviving the Congress party,” Singh said in response to queries about the possibility of handing over the baton to the AICC general secretary before the completion of his five-year term. Singh went on to make a strong case for handing over responsibilities to the younger leaders. “As and when the Congress party makes a judgment, I’ll be happy to make way for the young,” he pointed out.
The buzz in the Congress is that the UP election could be a turning point. Rahul may then decide to accept the invitation of the Prime Minister to join his government as a Cabinet Minister for Rural Development or Human Resources Development.
Alternatively, the President’s election in 2012 may provide a window to understand Rahul’s plans. One speculation is that Dr Manmohan Singh may be elevated to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan when Pratibha Patil’s tenure ends.
As time rolls on, there is little doubt that Rahul will be the Prime Minister candidate of the Congress in the 2014 elections.
No one is talking about dynastic politics. Congress leaders have always argued that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is legitimised by democracy: the Gandhis are voted to their Lok Sabha constituencies by huge margins.
Rahul has conceded that he owes his position to his birth. He is not proud of a system that allows such feudal anomalies and wants to bring internal democracy to the Youth Congress with transparent elections so that young men and women of merit can enter politics. His ambition is to conduct similar polls for the Congress set-ups in the states too.
As The New York Times noted a few days ago, despite his established political credentials and an aura of inevitability about his future, Rahul, the great-grandson of India’s first Prime Minister (Jawaharlal Nehru), the grandson of India’s fourth Prime Minister (Indira Gandhi) and the son of India’s seventh Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi), largely remains an enigma.
The paper further quotes analysts, as saying, in due course, Rahul will have to reveal more about himself than his just organisational vision. So far, critics have seen his inaccessibility as a deliberate effort to protect him from taking unpopular public stands and also to burnish his image.
“At 40, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was implementing policy. At 40, Rahul needs to spend as much time publicly articulating his own policy vision as he does refurbishing his 125-year-old party across India,” wrote a newspaper columnist.
The democratic deficit in India’s grand old party, the Indian National Congress, is acute, which has
deinstitutionalised the party since the great split of 1969 in the past four decades. It has created a leadership void across states, even at the national level. Not only organisational elections did not take place at any level, both the organisation and leadership were at the feet of one person, scuttling any possibilities of emergence of any leadership at any level in order to thwart any possibility of dissension and challenge. Naturally with the brief absence of the family leadership during the 1990s, the party declined.
Even now, lacking in democratic processes and having surrendered the leadership to the ‘family’, the party is finding it difficult to resuscitate itself in key states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar-Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh-Chhatisgarh in the absence of a state leadership. Gujarat has slipped out of its hands despite a desperate attempt to hand over the party reins to a former BJP chief minister and in Maharahstra it can form only a coalition government and cannot rein in whimsical sectarian Senas. The party ended up creating a bizarre situation in Bihar in the process of reviving itself after 2009 elections when it inducted the tainted brother-in-law of Lalu Yadav. The Congress leadership has not learnt any lesson from Andhra Pradesh where emergence of YS Rajashekhar Reddy could bring an unexpected victory over the TDP in 2004. The party also does not see the point that in Maharashtra it is in coalition with a party castaway and in West Bengal an estranged leader has tamed the Left after over three decades of monopoly, which could not have been possible by occasional visits by a leader from Lutyens imperial New Delhi. Every time it wins an election by the politics of default in any state, there is desperate search for a chief ministerial candidate, who is nominated from Delhi.
Rahul Gandhi has indeed rejuvenated the party in some of the states, including the critical UP. He has also made mass recruitment in some states including conflict-torn Jammu and Kashmir. But the question whether these recruits are just flag-wavers and flag-bearers, or they would be part of a democratic process within the party, which will provide leadership to the party, local institutions, states and the nation is a question that remains unanswered. The party will need many more Rahul Gandhis at every level to come back to health and this is not possible
without a democratic process. Current paradoxes emerging in the Congress after the Bhopal gas tragedy judgment with leaders both from the state and at the national level embarrassing each other. The party apparently lacks institutional forums and mechanisms to sort out leadership differences; the party leader does not always have time to iron out emerging disagreements. Consequently, the ‘crab mentality’ in the party that senior leader Vasant Sathe referred to in the early 1990s, continues to be its trait. We could be reasonably sure that the tendency does not afflict the Congress alone.
BJP’s National Executive meeting in Patna on June 12-13, 2010 did not so much bring out strength of the party as it exposed contradictions on which the country’s coalition culture is surviving. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had drifted away from the Janata Dal to form Samata Party and supported the BJP, had roared in the Lok Sabha in 1997 to snub the rumours of Lalu Yadav becoming Prime Minister Bharat ka pradhan mantri Bihari hoga, magar woh Atal Behari hoga. He now leads a government with the BJP as junior partner. He has no problem with his saffron deputy Sushil Modi, but is terribly embarrassed with BJP’s poster boy from Gujarat Narendra Modi. Such contradictions have been visible in uneasy cohabitation of coalition partners in a number of states Maharashtra (Congress-NCP and BJP-Shiv Sena), Odisha (BJD-BJP). Even in New Delhi both the NDA and UPA have had cohabitation problems with either the senior party feeling dissatisfied with junior partners or vice versa. These are reflective of missing institutionalism in parties.
The 2009 general elections witnessed 34 state parties and 16 unrecognised state parties aside from seven ‘national parties’ contesting the polls, most of them were single leader or family-based parties. This could be misconstrued as greater democratisation of the Indian political turf. Fragmentation is not synonymous with democratisation. This could be a sign of leaders looking for an autonomous political domain for greater political bargain which a party platform does not give them. India needs to introspect!
By Ajay K Mehra
Abhishek please make this article in Box
WILL NITIN MANTRA SUCCEED?
By Deepak Kumar Rath
Around six months have passed since the new BJP chief Nitin Gadkari took over the reins and it was his first national executive at Patna, which did not turn into a perfect platter for him to serve his innovative plans, ideas and actions. In fact, the Patna’s saffron show was snatched away by two leaders—one the saffron scion, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the other, new messiah of Bihar, Nitish Kumar—of course, for wrong reasons. The supporters of Narendra Modi issued full-page advertisements in newspapers depicting Nitish Kumar and Modi holding hands showing an expression of solidarity, which upset Nitish Kumar, as it did not carry his approval. Although the JD(U) is one of the oldest allies of NDA, Nitish is afraid of the Muslim support base, as this is an election year for Bihar. So furious Nitish became that he threatened a legal action against those who issued the advertisements and even did not make a courtesy call to the senior BJP leaders. Nitish also cancelled a dinner for the BJP executive members in an unceremonious manner. The vote-bank politics was instrumental in making a dent in the BJP-JD(U) alliance. The BJP has a strong wicket of upper caste votes, good number of MLAs, and also have a strong mass-following, which was witnessed at the huge BJP rally in Gandhi Maidan, Patna.
One senior BJP leader pointed out that Bihar is not Naveen Patnaik’s Orissa, as the BJP has strong hold of vote percentage across the state. During the executive, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav made a clarification in Delhi that both the allies would work together as usual, as they are the oldest partners since the NDA formation. Nitish has been working on the agenda of a new-Bihar having prospectives for all sections of the society. So when one asks a layman in Bihar, to whom he would cast his vote, pat comes the answer to development, which is now seen everywhere in Bihar. So the popular Bihari myth that vote aur beti hum apni jaat ko dete hain may not work this time in the forthcoming assembly elections. Gone are the days when the powerful Yadavs were ruling the roost only in the name of caste politics in Bihar.
During the two-day BJP meet, Nitin Gadkari did not figure in the media and in the discussions in political circles in Patna, and more evidently Narendra Modi took the centre stage at the impressive massive rally by rank and file of the party. Modi delivered a passionate speech at the Gandhi Maidan, where he overshadowed all other BJP Chief Ministers and other senior BJP leaders. In his own style, the Gujarat scion attacked the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and asked her: Who was maut ka saudagar during the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984, when 15,000 people died? He received tremendous response from the crowds holding the placards of Narendra Modi. Although there were no special hoardings of Narendra Modi at the Gandhi Maidan, it was evidently felt that the saffron scion is the real king of the for-BJP masses. Several grassroots-level party workers opined that when Modi delivered the speech, it appeared as if Vajpayee was speaking. “Yes he has a charm, and his body language attracts all of us,” said many people who had attended the rally.
The party chief Nitin Gadkari, however, could not produce as much charisma as Modi did. Giving a serious note to the executive members, he said: “I have always been appealing to our members let us each try to be a self-start engine. Let us not wait for somebody to give you orders and instructions. Start working for redressing the grievances of the people. Identify yourself with the masses, empathise with their agonies and aspirations, work in the field, contribute through your intellect, give new ideas and be articulate while presenting party’s view points. The character of political activism is undergoing changes. Let us try to be adept at this transformation. It is only by cultivating political activism through diverse ways that you can empower yourself. If you are empowered, party will automatically be empowered.”
Abhishek please make this article in Box
The country needs to have federal structure to combat Maoist menace
Nirmala Sitharaman has an easy charm about her. Her down-to-earth manners have helped her in becoming the BJP’s spokesperson. In an exclusive interview to Correspondent Sachin Kaushik, she talked about issues concerning the party. Excerpts:
There is a sharp reaction among the BJP cadres for nominating Ram Jethmalani to the Upper House. What do you have to say?
It was the considered choice of the party to choose the senior jurist Ram Jethmalani to be party’s candidate for the Rajya Sabha and that was given a due consideration and consensus approach by the party president Nitin Gadkari. The differences within the party are not as much as has been depicted by media. And whatever differences are there in the party have been addressed by the senior party leaders.
In the recently concluded BJP executive meeting in Patna, Nitish Kumar cancelled the dinner without any notice. What was the reaction of BJP?
The party did not give much of a importance to the dinner. The Chief Minister of Bihar might have his own reasons to cancel the dinner. But I would not want to play upon it and we didn’t even play upon it at that time. Now I think you can see the impact in the public domain that we have for not whipping up any kind of emotions vis-à-vis that issue. This helped to a large extent in projecting the due role in any alliance, which the BJP has always played.
Narendra Modi was the great crowd-puller at the public meeting in Patna. Was it the preparation of his projection as PM candidate?
It is too early to comment on it. Whenever the decision is taken, it will be taken by the parliamentary board considering the circumstances of that time. I don’t know in what way media sees it, but we follow certain protocol for the public rallies. Mr Modi was one of the speakers as were the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, who chose to speak in Hindi. It was for the first time that a CM from southern India delivered his speech in Hindi. So Narendra Modi was one of the Chief Ministers who came for the rally. There was no attempt on part of the BJP to do either this or that and if you perceive that, it is your perception, but we simply followed the protocol.
Maoists have posed a grave danger for the common man of Chhattisgarh, being ruled by BJP. What is lacking to crush them with an iron hand?
The Maoist problem in this country is not confined to only one state. Maoists clearly state that they don’t believe in the Constitution of India; they are clearly anti-national. Therefore to confine the problem to just one state is not right. Chhattisgarh has faced the brunt of Maoist problem, as it happens to be in the centre of the Red Corridor, which is slowly fanning out into other parts of this country. We should have the federal structure to deal with this problem.
How did Sonia Gandhi react when Narendra Modi reverted back her expression maut ke suadagar in context of Bhopal gas tragedy, which was coined by her for Modi’s alleged role in Gujarat riots?
It’s a very important question. Other than just talking on the words maut ke saudagar, I want you to understand when BJP or when Narendra Modi questions Sonia Gandhi to answer, we are not questioning the wife of the late Rajiv Gandhi, but we are questioning the president of Congress, the party which was at helm of power in Madhya Pradesh at the time of Bhopal tragedy. So it is to be taken in that spirit and it is in that spirit we expect her to answer. We want her to answer not because BJP is questioning, but because BJP today is the principle Opposition party of this country. And if the Congress diverts the question by saying that she was not even the party president at the time of the tragedy, it is not a sustainable argument.