BJP and the price of difference.
In a season when the fruit should have been ready for the picking, how come everyone, including party members think that the BJP is not perceived as a natural alternative to the Congress? This post proposes that it might have to do with a self-inflicted wound – and asks the party to stop trying to be different, and just be effective.
The last time the BJP executive met, the business of the day, or days, continued to be overshadowed by the absence of Narendra Modi. The reams of media speculation would have done any paper mill proud and as always, the ratiocinative deliberations were lost in the toss up between the fulminations, rumour mongering and gossipy guesswork.
Between the brackets of the last executive meeting and the meeting of the executive this year, much water has flowed and a series of semi-cataclysmic events have created a completely new landscape of possibilities, one where the ruling establishment is clinging for dear life and political calculations seem to add to naught for it so far. The blanket of scams, the global financial meltdown, the policy hubris and economic dead ending at home, the pinpricking allies and the moribund central leadership have all created conditions for almost an effortless easing out of the Congress led UPA from the centre, at least in common perception, if not in reality.
And yet, this time around, the greatest point of interest were none of the possibilities that might bear crystallization at the meeting of India’s largest opposition bulk, but the exact opposite of what consumed the media the last time around – the advent, this time of Narendra Modi to the event. Now, it would be disingenuous to pretend that there were not theatrics associated with the event. The resignation of Sanjay Joshi in what seemed like quid pro quo became the resonant tone of what followed. Some snippets of what the BJP was really thinking about in terms of making a pitch for the centre came about, but almost in whispers – almost as if being passed out unwillingly by a media agog with the politics of persona. Muddying the waters were more side news of some leaders absenting themselves from the follow through programs, a blog by Shri Advani, an article in the BJP organ Kamal Sandesh and dollops of tid-bitty off the record bytes from the party’s rank and file in the fall out of the Joshi resignation.
BJP supporters, particularly the louder ones across the internet have turned their ire inwards and the general tenor is shifting from the usual UPA and Congress bashing to deriding the BJP for its internal dissensions, overambitious leaders, undisciplined ranks, and foot in the mouth disease, not to mention the delightful ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Naturally, the Congress is beside itself with joy and has resurrected its motor mouth spokespersons from relative anonymity after a series of gaffes and electoral defeats.
But all of this makes one wonder whether there is any pretext to the theory that the BJP, quite opposed to the idea of a disciplined unit and a party with a difference, is really any more out of control and its leaders worse off for exhibiting their ambitions on their sleeve than other parties? Is this a result of a self inflicted high moral yardstick which the party continually fails to maintain owing perhaps to the lofty heights it has prescribed for itself? And, is the party being held ransom to the self image of some of its leaders who refuse to read the realities of the times and perhaps need to re-adjust their views accordingly? Or is it that too much democracy is indeed becoming an obstacle rather than a facility?
The question arises, because it is odd that a party where anyone can aspire to leadership at the highest level is pilloried the most on the issue of leadership whereas those that follow dynastical traditions are excused. Besides, what is that that makes a simple tiff between two members of the party seem like internecine wars to media and therefore to the public at large? Why does this magnification apply to the BJP and not to the equally fractious Congress or the communist parties or those led by regional satraps?
I am coming around to the view that there is merit in the idea that the BJP has crafted itself – at least in image terms – too delicately for the rough and tumble of the tough and rumble of realpolitik. And the evidence is mounting.
It is quite apparent that the position that the BJP comes of different stock has got manipulated into a slug line to mean ‘a party with a difference’, with the result that different people have taken it to mean different things and which has progressively been reduced to a derisive taunt now. A party with differences is, therefore, a common twist given to the line by detractors.
Of course, the elements of integrity, honesty, self abnegation and self-less work all hold true but these were essentially drawn from the RSS dictum and not really from the viewpoint of defining an ‘ideal’ political party. This may seem like a riposte to the current image crisis of the party, but the image crisis itself is the creation of this unresolved issue. Needless to say, its opposition has delighted in pursuing this line and repeating it ad nauseum to the discomfiture of the BJP as citadel after citadel fall victim to the exigencies of the same game that the Congress surrendered its values to. But, alas!, jibes are reserved for the BJP while everyone else gets a go by.
Hum uff bhi karte hain, to ho jaate hain badnaam,
woh quatl bhi karte hain to charcha nahi hota – Author unverified.
[They kill with abandon and no mention is made,
were we to even sigh, we would risk a bad name ]
Cardinally, it is always the label that you attach to yourself that becomes the principle benchmark of your behaviour. By calling yourself honest, you open yourself to not only the highest test of such virtue, but by association, either besmirch others close to you in the event of a single transgression, or in reverse, suffer the same fate if any associate skips the line. By naming himself pious, the priest sets himself up for a different standard of evaluation. Similarly, it can be argued that the BJP has taken on a mantle that was neither designed for politics, leave alone the rigours of realpolitik, but that in doing so it has also fiddled with the essential nature of political behaviour, to its own detriment.
The laws of politics are by nature an unflattering commentary on man and his affairs. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. There are no permanent enemies in politics. Or friends, if you believe, what they say. With ground rules like that, what price consistency, what price integrity? Still, rather than be judgmental, it would be better to work within the realities of the space it has chosen to occupy. The market for elections does not favour old wine. It demands a new indiscipline, however alien it may be to the ideal that we hold in our esteem.
Clearly the BJP has painted itself into a corner by not attending to this issue. Chances are, it has never thought of this as an issue, leave alone finding it worthy of attention. But the downside is apparent and it finds echo frequently – lately the patriarch of the BJP resorted to a blog to send a message that resonates with this predicament. In effect, he is portending to the same crisis. The Congress is no longer that party of choice, and that is the writing on the wall. But then, why does everyone think neither is the BJP, when in clear, cold calculations the opposite is true. On the states it wins, on its record of governance, on the range of leaders, on the quality of leadership, or just plain size of its member base, its structural strength and organizational might the BJP is streets ahead of the Congress. But there seem to be very few buyers for the fact.
Ummeed se kam chashme kharidaar mein aye,
hum log zara der se bazaar mein aye – Shaharyar
[Not many buyers noticed what we came to sell
I wager a little late to the market we came]
So what explains this dissonance? Clearly, one of the main impediments is the perception of the self inflicted ‘difference’. The disproportionate media mileage to quibbles in BJP and allusions to palace intrigues are only symptomatic of the deeper issue. The bitter truth is that politics inIndiahas never been exemplary after the first cadre of independent politicians faded from the scene. There has been stunning depreciation in the stock of politicians since then and they are in most cases themselves to blame. But there has also been a baying for blood, a mob mentality to the cries for instant justice against errant politicans, fuelled in most part due to the explosion of the media apparatus in the last decade.
The media too, has frequently compromised its judgment and it is now slave to the loudest noise, the craziest outburst and its new darlings are the sensationalist, the publicist or the arsonist. It also serves its purpose well in a country with no heroes to expose villains, some real, many imagined. Civil society is then merely a screening committee before the next fall guy is identified while power brokers within parties fix enemies in this melee. The audience remains flabbergasted.
I am inundated with responses from supporters and non supporters of the BJP asking me to atone for the sins of party members who succumb to some temptation, perceived or real, media created or media inflicted and it is curious how ever-willing they are – at least the supporters – to believe the worst about their own party just at the whiff of a transgression. It makes me think that we live in an age where everyone is suspect until proven innocent.
Usee ka shahar, wohi muddayee, wohi munsif
hamen yakeen tha hamara qasoor nikelaga – Qazalbash
[Yours is the city, you are the judge, complainant too
Any wonder my friend that you found me guilty]
It serves the purpose of charlatans to believe everyone to be one. It is a community of people with no self respect which would want none for the other. Blame it on anything, or the times we live in, but the pattern is a sad representation of how despicable our self image has begun to look. In the end it just works like a self fulfilling prophecy where everyone contributes to the destruction of everyone else.
Be that as it may, to imagine that anybody could underwrite the good character of over one crore party members is downright impossible. The obvious conclusion therefore is that the BJP’s claim of ‘difference’ was way out of proportion and not even God can guarantee pristine behaviour from so many of his creation. The claim must therefore be subsumed through a series of carefully crafted overlapping messages and be transformed into a more reliable, believable, practical credo. To allow a passive disintegration of this image carries the risk of negative circumstantial validation, and which is detrimental because it erodes the image even as it recedes. It is better to take control of the situation and calibrate the mutation from an unrealistic aspiration to a more believable proposition that focuses on outcomes rather than on idealistic nuance.
It is a fact that the BJP is not a family affair and far more liberal and democratic in its organizational function. That is a positive. But in the context of the persisting image of it as a warring entity, it is presenting the Congress, with all its attendant weaknesses as preferable to itself. At some point, a voter may ask if indeed there is any reason to shift loyalties? It becomes its job, therefore, to counter public perception about the BJP’s minor hiccups as major impediments. It must not be allowed to fester that the petty crimes of its black sheep are more deplorable than the grand larceny of the grand old party.
But how is this to be addressed?
One is to emphasize the importance of winning. After all, the BJP is neither a social service organisation, nor a goodwill mission. It is here to win elections, so that it can wield power, so that it can put into place its plans and ideas to lead the nation as it think it should be led. This will require a recalibration of its prowess. Instead of being evaluated on the loss in UP, be evaluated for wresting power from Congress in nine states. Amplify your growing footprint, and more importantly work with renewed vigour where the footprint is small.
The second is to encourage and celebrate good governance. Some of this is done at times of elections or rather infrequently but a whole new programme is needed to realign people’s perception of the record of BJP run states to illustrate a consistency of political thought and administrative thrust. Amplify state success, cap central command news. Shift focus. Let news emanate out of the states and one has only to look atGujaratto see how its done. That way, we not only have a lot more magnification for success stories around BJP, it also depresses space for negative news.
The third is to synchronize leadership thought and actions through a smaller command structure. Consensus is fine, consensus is good, but consensus is not the end – progress is the end. If progress is compromised by the process of deriving consensus, it is of no worth. A smaller group will reduce time lag, number of egos to manage, quarantine the laggards, provide a cohesive front and present a unified faction. That will reduce elbowroom for detractors, inflated ambitions and nay sayers. Of course, this is easier said than done in a time where the principal actors do not seem to see eye to eye on some crucial organizational issues, but then, that is the choice and the challenge the party has to face.
Above all, remember that you are a political party not Maggi ketchup. Quit trying to be different. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Image Credit: http://crescentactivitybank.co.uk/