Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Is Indian democracy now at the mercy of smaller leaders?

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Increasingly, the well-wishers of democracy have little reason to hope anything much of the two major national level parties in India. Even in times of utter distress, the Congress has shown no signs of sloughing out of its lineage oriented dynastic mould that makes it a ‘darbari’ party. The hereditary impulse of the Congress is so strong, it doesn’t even permit the growth of regional satraps, forget competition at the centre. Despite concentrating all the powers in his hands at the centre, BJP’s Modi has at least thus far shown no tendency to cut to size its regional stalwarts, an important difference between the two parties. When and how the Congress may finally redeem itself through an act of abdication is open to guesswork. But the new hubris shown by the Congress in its doggedly obstructionist conduct in the parliament, based as it is on its recent performance in Bihar as a third ranking partner only indicates the depth of the crisis of confidence in the party. That the Congress is at a decisive dead end is perhaps too strong a proposition but it can be safely said that if at all the change in the Congress will come not voluntarily from within but under further battering by forces beyond its control. What those external conditions may be cannot be specified in the midst of an ever-changing political dynamics in the country. But right now the party is pushing the brazenness of its dynastic pretence to the furthest extreme possible.

As for the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] under Narendra Modi’s leadership, it came in last year with a wild tornado of hope among the masses and the industry. The hope was based on Modi’s presumed ability to clean up the corrupt political-bureaucratic system and to rev up the development process. What we got however is a brazen and extreme pro-business set up based on trickle-down theory that no one any longer sets store by. Even worse, the Hindutva agenda of the BJP seems to pervade wherever you look. If the Congress has its proved its ‘dynstism’ to be its weakest spot, the steel frame of the Hindutva agenda is repeatedly proving to be the undoing of a party and government that knows no other way of proving its political distinctness. If the party has shown any suppleness of thought, it is only in reverting after the briefest detours to its Hindutva bombast. There was a time when liberal and radical intellectuals spent reams to argue the wrongness of Hindutva. Compared to the highs of 2014, BJP’s predicament is now so gravely pitiful that you can save your breath and just point out that Hindutva doesn’t work in the manner of a hard core pragmatist. This was demonstrated repeatedly in the Delhi and Bihar assembly elections and even the local elections in Gujarat, the Modi citadel. Even the engineering of communal incidents does not seem to bring in the desired outcomes anymore. If a party must constantly seek communally sensitive areas such as Assam or even smaller terrains from Western Uttar Pradesh to further its fortunes, the limited agenda does not seem very promising. The only remnants of the pro-Modi hysteria are now to be found abroad among the NRIs for whom Modi fulfils the function of boosting up their self-regard.  

One has to therefore come to a conclusion that may sound na├»ve and hasty but also unavoidable. The conclusion may be that the Congress and the BJP despite the full awareness of their pitfalls will not be able to go against their grain. No wonder our Prime Minister now spends more time on grandiose symbols and slogans, foreign trips to make deals of questionable value and high-sounding homilies for those commandeered to listen. A good example of the last is the recent jamboree in Kutch where the PM at the All-India Director General of Police (DGP) Conference advised the top cops ‘sensitivity has to be vital element of policing. Police forces should establish strong links with local community and connect with people.’ The mantra supposedly is ‘from smart to sensitive policing’ whatever that means. We have never had a PM who reduced himself to such triteness! Similarly, though Modi’s forthcoming trip to Russia on December 24th has a largely defence purchase agenda he will be accompanied by eighteen top Indian industrialists. This is supposedly part of the ‘make in India’ campaign another mantra that is proving hollow among a fast growing body of quotable quotes from Modi.

All this gives us a good reason to wonder if the ‘smaller’ leaders confined to their home grounds like Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar, Mamata and Mayawati to name a few are really the ones that will end up steering the Indian democracy on a course that takes it ahead rather than round and round. There is a sound basis to suspect that. Recently, ‘Days after the release of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar’s autobiography on the occasion of his 75th birthday saw a galaxy of leaders gathering at Vigyan Bhawan, an even bigger show of strength was seen on the lawns of 7, Tughlak Road, the residence of JD(U) president Sharad Yadav on Monday.’ Those present included like Sonia Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal, Ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh, BJP veterans L.K. Advani and Yashwant Sinha. They all came to felicitate Mr Yadav as a book based on his life was released by Vice-President Hamid Ansari. During the event, ‘the cynosure of all eyes were the two chief ministers — Mr. Kumar for his triumph in Bihar and Mr Kejriwal for taking on the government. ‘Ms Gandhi, accompanied by several party MPs, decided to stay back for the lunch that was laid out on the lawns — a decision that was a political statement by itself’.

There is of course no point in using grand words like ‘era’ and ‘epoch’ since the basic scale for measuring political time is the tenure from one election to the other. But the question is does one see in all this an indication of things to come? The Congress has dropped from a great height in a graduated manner that seems inevitable in retrospect. The Nehru-Gandhi family has run out of talent and the dynastic principle itself now creates distaste. The BJP’s seems a briefer version of the Congress graph. The climb was precipitate enough but the drop seems like a resounding crash. If you include Mamata and Mayawati to the list along with Nitish and Kejriwal, these are all leaders with an intense sense of local assignment and commitment, most likely not even accustomed to thinking of themselves seriously as national figures. But the timing and the logic of their careers is pushing them beyond their citadels as the only option in the face of a failing centre. Indications are the new year will reveal many things – whether BJP shows the ability to mould itself or keeps springing back to its communal steel frame, whether the Congress’s ability to ride the backs of the smaller parties continues to work wonders, and the ability of the smaller leaders to grow in size and stature over 2016-17 sufficiently in time before we come face to face with 2019 general elections. 

The second rung leaders listed above may not be colossal visionaries or inheritors of grand pasts but they have fewer human failings. They may be small but they are all known for their political sobriety and a commitment to manage the chaos of the Indian reality with the sort of quick-thinking flexibility that neither the Congress nor the BJP seem to currently possess.

1 comment:

Umesh Patil said...

If state level leaders can make the difference, that is good for India's Federal structure. But the problem is these leaders, howsoever competent, do not have any say in appointing the next RBI Chief. Meaning there are certain levers of powers which only are available to Central leaders and we want that leadership to work for common Indians. This is especially critical given the globalized nature of today's economy, including India. As the world integrates more; Federal level Political Power continues to assume larger influence. This is not just confined to India, but all over the world.

On this background, what the author points about the sorry state of vacuum in leadership at Central level in India is indeed worrisome. PM Modi rode on a big wave of expectations. It is not encouraging that he is unable to realize that potential and that is not good for India.

Demise of Congress Party has been written so many times. In that sense the party might survive but its inability to reform is plain and clear as the author has pointed out so correctly.

May be Indian Polity will further evolve to work via coalition of these regional power brokers than what we have seen so far.