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Turn out the party-poopers

Turn out the party-poopers

Author: Rakesh Sinha
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: December 4, 2001

Introduction: A clear decline in organizational power and a rise of the 'power elite' may badly affect the BJP before the UP elections. The party needs to immediately turn away from this rapid descent into Congressisation

The change of guard in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh carried out this year was done smoothly by the BJP. However, in the past, the party had experienced serious trouble in both these states. The party had to witness embarrassing revolts by two senior leaders, Kalyan Singh and Sankarsinh Vaghela. Thus the predicament of controlling the 'power elite' remains a major concern for the BJP.

The central leadership's clear preferences for a younger leadership - as is obvious from the choice of Rajnath Singh, Narendra Modi and Babulal Marandi (in Jharkhand) - drew some resistance from the no-changers. Clearly, unlike both the Congress and the Left parties, the BJP has to evolve a third way to control their 'power elite'.

In the Congress system, the local party units have been forced to surrender their will and conscience to the central 'high command' - as is evident most recently by the 'resignations' of Sheila Dikshit's cabinet in Delhi - whose decisions are considered to be final. This trend began soon after the demise of Nehru's contemporaries at the provincial level.

Such a change in attitude shattered the confidence and initiative of party workers. It culminated with the shift of the centre of gravity from the party headquarters to the residence of the prime minister. It proved detrimental for the party's organisation and was an instrument in the erosion of the base of the party.

The Congress is not ready to learn from its mistakes. Its dependence on dynastic leadership shows as much. The average Congressman learnt to live and enjoy in this 'benevolent autocratic' system.

There is another side to the coin. The Left parties religiously believe in 'democratic centralism'. The CPI(M), for instance, maintained superiority of the party organisation over the 'power elite'. Jyoti Basu's popularity beyond the party's ambit and his liberal gestures were appropriated by the party. But when he tried to reap a harvest from this image, the party had no qualms about curbing him.

At the zenith of his popularity, Basu's ambition to become the prime minister was killed - which led the West Bengal chief minister to describe the decision as a 'historic blunder'. The CPI(M) is still sailing in West Bengal, but in Kerala, acute factionalism - in its own terminology, 'bourgeois vices' - has become clearly visible.

The BJP's emergence as a ruling party has metamorphosed it into a mass party. On the flip side, this has resulted in a loosening of organisational culture. Power has absorbed veterans of the party and very few leaders have been left to control the party mechanism. This is one of the reasons why a party loses its 'glow'. The Congress experienced this during the Nehru era itself. The BJP is facing a somewhat similar situation today.

Nevertheless, the party has one unstated advantage due to its link with the Sangh parivar. Like the Labour Party in Britain, the BJP was born out of the political exigencies of a non-political nature. However, there is a difference between the two. While the Labour was a transformation of the trade union movement into a political party, the BJP was a by-product of the ideological pursuit of the RSS. Thus, the RSS is an important factor which provides legitimacy to new and old leaderships inside the BJP. This is why the BJP cannot become the Congress - as long as it derives its energy from a non-political body.

It is true that the 'power elite' is a jealous mistress of organisational leadership. Their exposure and authority make it easy for them to escape the organisation. Such a trend can be curbed only when a strong and dynamic contingent of party bureaucracy is evolved. It is they who compete with the government bureaucracy, provide policy inputs and envision compatibility between the party's manifesto and the compulsions of the government. It also leads to a wide participation of party workers at various levels.

The only precondition for setting up such a structure is that it must be free from members of the ancien regime. The Republican Party in the US and the Labour Party in Britain are exemplary examples of such a mechanism. Their examples were later followed by the Democrats and the Tories, respectively. The Congress which ruled for 50 years has not evolved this tradition. The BJP initiated this process in the beginning of the Nineties. However, it was marred by individuals in their bid to gain untrammelled power.

Another task which the BJP has to accomplish to restore its credibility as a party with a difference is to build up a mechanism to control the public and private behaviour of ministers. Maintaining lavish lifestyles needs to be strongly discouraged. Sangh cadres are the first critics of the BJP government as they scrutinise the personal life of the 'power elite' and they are themselves not appropriators of State power.

Opportunism of a few and old-style 'corridor politics' are prime reasons for the grassroots workers to be dejected. BJP workers are motivated by two things: ideology and idealism. Ideology precedes idealism.

The effect of idealism is always in the context of ideology which alone rejuvenates cadres. Idealism sustains them even when the chips are down. Training camps are not enough to eradicate some of the newly afflicted diseases of the BJP. Caste-based polarisation within the party and individualism have been liabilities for the party.

The BJP has been acquiring the maturity of a ruling party and the sooner it removes the incongruity between theory and practice, the better it will be for its prospects of reaping an electoral harvest.

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