Sunday 23 March 2014

Dissent in BJP signifies health, not weakness (Sunday Guardian)

Narendra Modi along with Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh during an election rally in Lucknow on 2 March. PTI
hose whose business it is to monitor the health of India's democracy — whether they be appointed officially or self-appointed — they clearly believe the Pyongyang model to be the closest approximation to a perfect democracy. The Election Commission would have us believe that the slightest move by an incumbent government that is of even peripheral benefit to citizens ought to be avoided, and the governance or the country left in a policy limbo for more than a month, as other "voters may get influenced". There are those who regard the influencing of voters as being among the core tasks of any political party, but clearly our Election Commissioners disagree. None of the worthies appointed thus far to the EC have been known to contest even a college union election, but this has not stopped them from seeking to so "sanitise" campaigns that no candidate should say anything even mildly derogatory of the other. The "Model Code Of Elections", a title that has more than a whiff of Orwellian doublespeak about it, belongs in the dustbin of a democracy rather than on the mantelpiece, as it so constrains candidates that they are prevented from venting the frustrations of their constituents or in asking for answers to the many questions about probity and competence that any candidate, especially one from a party likely to enter the portals of government, need to answer. In detail and incessantly.
The "Three Monkeys" approach of the EC to campaigning — see, hear and talk no evil about your electoral rivals — has been extended by editorial writers and television anchors to the functioning of political parties. These worthies would have us believe that the presence of dissent signifies ill-health and worse, incompetence. That a complete absence of dissent ought to characterise the working of a political party at all levels, rather than the play of differing views and blueprints. Perhaps it is this entrenched fealty on the part of the interpreters of public opinion, for what is essentially a colonial-era climate of conformity, which has led to the unanimous diagnosis of "crisis" within the BJP, because that party is having a very public playing-out of spats between its leaders. That L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj do not fancy Narendra Modi as their party's Prime Ministerial candidate (much less as the Prime Minister himself) is hardly a secret. Rather than be excoriated, both Advani and Swaraj need to be complimented for their honesty, for there exists more than a few BJP leaders with a similar distaste for Modi, although these have disguised such negativism with effusive displays of admiration and support.
There is little doubt that much more than half the top ten in the BJP would be less than devastated if the party's Lok Sabha tally dipped below the 200-seat level that would make a Narendra Modi-led government inevitable. A seat tally below 175 would almost certainly result in a chorus of regional voices offering support to the BJP, provided that someone other than Modi be made the PM.
While it is hypothetically possible that a BJP-led government can come into being in the third week of May that is led not by Modi but by another BJP leader, in fact, such an outcome would so enrage both voters as well as cadres as to make such a transition very rocky indeed. Verdict 2014 is in essence a referendum for or against Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, and the BJP, if it wants any future at all, would be well advised to make it clear that it will be the Modi-led BJP or those parties in opposition to Modi which will occupy South and North Blocks, and not any government led by a BJP leader other than the man who has from relative obscurity occupied the centre-stage of domestic politics in a manner not seen since Indira Gandhi passed away.
However, this does not mean that the BJP needs to morph into a homogenous collection of NaMo bhaktas. The voluble presence of critics (and yes, rivals) of Narendra Modi will help to ensure that the checks and balances that are essential to a democracy operate in a strength that has been absent during the UPA years, where the Prime Minister's Office is clearly only a post office for missives from 10 Janpath. Rather than symptoms of disease, the sniping of L.K. Advani or Sushma Swaraj indicates that the state of democracy within the BJP is far more robust than in several other parties, and ought to be welcomed rather than excoriated.

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