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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 21, New Delhi, May 8, 2021

Crisis of Leadership in BJP | D K Giri

Saturday 8 May 2021, by D.K. Giri


In the media discussion and the political discourse, the common refrain is that the Indian National Congress (INC) is crippled by the crisis of leadership. Since Indira Gandhi created Congress (I) in the 1969 split, the Congress party has been led by a member of her family. However, after the death of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, due to reluctance of his widow to take over the leadership and his children were too young, the leadership passed on to non-Indira Gandhi family members. Sonia Gandhi came to lead the party since 1998, bequeathed it to her son Rahul Gandhi in 2017. She took it back two years later as an interim president when Rahul resigned as the Congress president following the party’s poor showing at the hustings in 2019. Rahul Gandhi did not have much traction across the country and lost the family bastion, Amethi in 2019.

A group of 23 senior members of the Congress has been demanding certain reforms in the Party, mainly the elections of functionaries at different levels including that of the party president. Rahul Gandhi, though not popular in the press or among the people, remains the obvious choice within the party for the leadership. Some party workers would like Priyanka Gandhi to take over as she has bit of charisma unlike her brother, but the preference of the mother, Sonia Gandhi is apparently for Rahul. It is also clear that the party may not remain cohesive without a member of the Gandhi family helming it. The Congress Working Committee is to hold the elections for the party president. At the moment, Sonia Gandhi is in the role of a caretaker president.

If the leadership crisis in the Congress is centered on the family, BJP is beset with a bigger crisis in terms of leadership at various levels. It is not surprising that it goes unnoticed in the clamour for a decisive, charismatic and populist leadership represented presently by Narendra Modi. With his Man Friday Amit Sah, both constitute a ‘diarchy’ in the current BJP government. Since Modi has fashioned BJP under his leadership as a centralized monolith, no leader has emerged in the center or in the states. Narendra Modi should be made aware of the advice of the management guru Peter Drucker, “A good leader is one who produces more leaders.” If Congress suffers the absence of leadership at the top, BJP has huge leadership deficit across the board below Narendra Modi. Congress had talents in the cabinet, now in the CWC, and in the states who have mass base like Bhupinder Hooda, Ashok Gehlot, Captain Amarinder Singh, or Bhupesh Baghel, BJP has no leadership mettle in the cabinet or the states.

Look at the formation of the Council of Ministers. Modi has packed it with ex-bureaucrats. Some of us have been arguing for long that intellectuals, officials and technocrats can be advisers, not leaders or Ministers. In a democracy, only those who feel the pulse and purpose of the people, and are elected by them, could become the leaders; not those who have spent their adult life among files and furniture. Second, since BJP suffers from dearth of leadership at state and municipal levels, the Prime Minister is pressed into election service of the party from local to state elections. This strategy has not worked as seen in many elections including the recent elections in the five states. BJP, owing to the paucity of leaders continues unsuccessfully to use their only trump-card, the Prime Minister. Little does the party know that overuse of the Prime Minister of the country for the party work, be it, election campaigns is harming the country both internally and abroad.

In the recent elections, as the central government leadership was busy campaigning for the states, the country was badly hit by the second surge of Covid losing lives and livelihoods of its people. As deaths and despair grew exponentially across the country, India which was feted by the world leaders for prompt action during the first attack of Covid, including the production and overseas supply of vaccines, became an object of sympathy and SOS- support. This was caused by BJP’s misreading of political, federal and plural structure, undermining of state leaders and centralizing the principles and practice of politics, and thereby diluting the governance of the the elections just concluded, people have sent out a loud and clear message, by electing state leaders and rejecting the national parties at the states, that the diversities have to be respected.
I argue below why the BJP’s dearth of leadership leading to using the Union Ministers in states and local elections is unhealthy for our democracy. I do so by analyzing the BJP’s engagement in these elections.

Four out of 29 Indian states were in the electoral fray- West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. So was one out of 7 Union Territories- Puducherry. Out of these, West Bengal was most fiercely contested by BJP as perhaps it sniffed victory in this state. In the rest four, Assam had already been won by BJP 5 years ago and they seemed to be confident of retaining the government. Kerala is out their reach as in this state, for a long time, power had rested with two fronts led by CPM and the Congress. Tamil Nadu and its political satellite Puducherry had similar stories with power changing hands between two Dravidian parties- DMK and AIDMK. That is why West Bengal became the hotbed for contestation for power with BJP firing from all cylinders.

However, the nagging concern is about the gross dilution of federalism leading to centralization and unitarization of our polity. Given the huge diversities in our country embodied by the states, the pluralist character of our politics and society which is the hallmark of our democracy, is in grave danger. Note seriously that, the three top democracy rating agencies of the world have pointed out the backsliding of Indian democracy. The Freedom House of USA said India is partly free, the V-Dem of Sweden makes an alarming evaluation that India is an electoral autocracy, and the Intelligence Unit of The Economist dubs India as a flawed democracy. The government of India, as its wont, has dismissed these remarks as malafide, but academics, observers and experts take them seriously.

In such a context, we examine the nature and impact of the campaign conducted in these election-states. It has been a practice that even the Union Ministers including the Prime Minster campaign in the state elections on behalf of the parties they belong to. The Prime Ministers and other Union Ministers hold one or two odd rallies as part of the duty or obligation to their parties. But the PM and his Ministers of the current regime put all their energies and time for the state elections. Imagine the Prime Minister holding over 20 rallies and the Home Minister over 50 in the West Bengal alone. Is it fair or politically correct? It is neither for a good many factor of democratic politics. One, India that is a Union of states, is federal in its political structure, which is based on and complemented by the social and cultural diversities represented by the states. It may so happen that in a state, a government of a political party different from the party-in-power at the Centre may come up. In fact, this should strengthen the federal features. But the ruling BJP party disregards this novelty of our politics.

Second, the Prime Minister is the main campaigner, the mascot, for his party. He is fielding himself in each state election against the incumbent Chief ministers especially when they belong to non-BJP parties. He did that in the Bihar elections about 6 years ago and lost to Nitish Kumar and his Grand Coalition. It is another matter that Nitish Kumar, in utter contempt of the people’s mandate, rejoined the BJP coalition, NDA before the end of the term. In all fairness, since the Prime Minister Modi lost a state election, he should have resigned as the Prime Minister. Third, is it fair that Union Ministers who are supposed to govern the whole country, should be fighting one of the 29 Chief Ministers? So, the incumbent Bengal Chief Minister was taking on the might of the entire Union government. Is it an equal fight? How can we expect the Union government which is fighting a state to be fair to that state should they lose the election? The Council of Union Ministers has lost elections against a Chief Minister before. And there have been genuine complaints of discrimination by the Chief Ministers of the sates; be it Delhi or West Bengal or any other.

Third, democratic politics is based on good practices which become conventions like they are in the United Kingdom, which does not a have written constitution. Since we are perhaps not capable of responsible and rational behavior, most of the desirable political acts have to be codified as law. However, as a good practice or a law, should we not set a convention or codify that a Union Minister or even the State Minsters should not campaign for any other unless s(h)e is seeking individual re-election. The simple reason is, once a person is made a Minister, s(h)e belongs to the entire population under their jurisdiction. They cannot be partisan, no longer do the bidding of their parties. The other members of the party should run the election. The leadership of the party, central or state can campaign for their parties, not the Ministers. The crisis of leadership in BJP should not affect the governance of the country. Think about it.

(Author: Prof. D K Giri is Secretary-General, Association for Democratic Socialism, New Delhi )

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