Every now and then, the Indian cricket team turns easy matches into nail-biting finishes. Fans wonder why the game had to be taken down to the wire. Indian politics is in a similar situation, where the BJP seems to be throwing away all the massive political advantages it had gained last year.
With headline-grabbing scams afflicting the Congress, one would have thought that the 2014 elections would be a cakewalk for the BJP. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore. Instead of making plans to lead the nation, the usual BJP problems – infighting, inconsistent messages and personality clashes – have surfaced again. Too many talented people, too many egos and, frankly, too few ideas hold back the party. Public arguments don’t help ins-pire confidence either.
Meanwhile, the Congress plans to wire taxpayers’ money into millions of Aadhaar cardholders’ accounts right before the elections. Yes, ignore the havoc it will play with the nation’s finances or with inflation. We all know free cash in hand works for voters. Doesn’t seem like such an easy match for the BJP now, does it?
At a broader level, this isn’t about the BJP or the personalities that run it. The BJP represents the non-dynasty, non-Gandhi alternative for India. When the BJP flounders, it isn’t just a party or its people floundering, it is a sign that we Indians are still not quite ready to wean ourselves off the Gandhi family. That while we have created a democracy, deep inside we prefer kings at the top. BJP, where technically anyone can reach the top creating a more democratic environment, either does not perform as well in elections or is unable to manage itself well.
Indians see this instability of a non-dynasty party and go back to voting for India’s default safety option – the Gandhi family. This is much like people buying gold and tucking it under the pillow in times of crises. It may not be the best investment, but it sure beats putting it in something uncertain.
So why does the BJP constantly suffer such internal battles? Why is it unable to present an image of stability and consistency? More importantly, are we Indians incapable of choosing a leader from within ourselves compared to preordained dynasty?
Of course, there are no easy answers. To the first question, internal battles occur due to a mismatch of expectations of the individuals and the organisation. The Congress doesn’t need a clear policy on how the top leadership will be chosen. The top guys will be from the Gandhi family. The next layer would consist of people most liked by the Gandhi family. The family may well use some meritocratic means to promote people, but even if it doesn’t, members can’t do much. The family has the veto, and anyone signing up for the Congress knows that.
The BJP, however, cannot, and does not operate like that. There is no absolute directive from the top. Party members have the freedom to express their opinions, irrespective of hierarchy. This is wonderful for freedom and better solutions and is a more democratic system. However, it also often leads to abuse of that freedom, or can create a much higher degree of miscommunication among members.
In such cases, the policies and procedures need to be extra objective and transparent. The same should also be well communicated. In some ways, the Congress needs less management. The BJP needs a lot more of it. For instance, there is a school of thought among a section of senior BJP members that only Brahmins seem to get the top party positions. Other seniors in the party disagree with it. Whatever be the case, this issue can be a flashpoint for future trouble and needs to be resolved.
To the second question – of why the BJP is unable to inspire stability – there is no clear sense of what it stands for. The core message of Hindutva is outdated, the plank of anti-corruption was hypocritical and other parties already own the pro-poor theme. The youth in particular don’t know what to expect from the BJP.
While it used to be pro-capitalism and pro-business, the retail FDI opposition has led to confusion. It claimed to be anti-corruption, but found it difficult to take action against its own members. Opposing the Congress cannot be the raison d’etre of the party. The exercise to find a new contemporary identity is long overdue. The answer will probably lie in it being aligned with the new India the youth wants to see – merit-based, efficient, accountable and progressive.
The third question is perhaps the most important one. Do we Indians trust ourselves enough to choose our own leaders? Perhaps deep down, we know we are all unethical. Hence, we are cynical when one of us stakes a claim to lead us. A dynasty doesn’t face that cynicism. Our feudal mindset quickly allows those who have led us to continue leading us, even if we know we can do better. We want to have leadership, but we don’t want to take risks and change things.
Weaning ourselves off the Gandhi family may be difficult, but it is ultimately necessary. It may lead to some short-term instability. But ultimately, things will get better. This positive attitude towards change is what will drive voters towards parties like the BJP, and away from dynasties. Until then, the BJP has some self-reflection to do.