Photograph of Anil Chawla

Author - Anil Chawla

In the past few years, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not had a single major electoral success. The results of the recent elections in four states have been just one more in the setbacks that the party has been experiencing. At one time BJP used to have a slogan " AAJ CHAR PRADESH, KAL POORA DESH" (Today we rule in four states, tomorrow we shall rule the complete country). Times have changed. Today BJP rules in just three states (Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkand) and the centre. The party is acutely aware that it is going downhill rather than being on the ascendant. The sentiment today is "AAJ CHAR SARKAR, KAL HONGE BEKAR " (Today we have four governments, tomorrow we may be unemployed).

The despondency in BJP is not without reason. The party's Governments in the three states are not the most popular governments. The performance of the Central Government may be classified as good or bad depending on one's political loyalties. But not even the most loyal BJP supporter is confident of being able to win the next general election on the strength of the performance of the Central Government.

While there may be arguments about the performance of the Government, there can be no arguments about the fact that the Government is led by aging leaders who are on the wrong side of seventy. Would the septuagenarians be able to lead the party through the elections even after they have become octogenarians? Possibly, yes. The more important question is whether they should.

There can be no doubt that the old men controlling BJP today have sacrificed their lives and have built the party to the level to which it has reached. The party has in fact grown around them. They basked in the glory when they took the party up the hill. Is it fair to blame them when the party seems to be going downhill? No, surely no one in the party can even dream of pointing a finger in their direction.

Each of these leaders enjoys a God like status in the eyes of his supporters in the party. One can neither question God nor question His creation. So the party is constrained to look at everyone else. Infighting is blamed for the debacle. Groupism among party cadres is blamed. Anti-incumbency factor is quoted. Inability to do propaganda about the good work done by the Government is cited as a reason. Non-cooperative attitude of media and bureaucracy are favourite scapegoats. Some jugglery with figures about voting percentage and vote division in combination with criticism of the first-past-the-post system completes the analysis of every defeat of BJP.

Such analysis of defeat has been heard again and again year after year at all the "Sameeksha Baithaks" (Review meetings) that are convened in various states by the party. It is time that the party moved beyond such routine exercises. It is time that the party invites and gets prepared for some uncomfortable questions. Was it Einstein who said that asking the right question is half the answer? The party badly needs people who can ask the right questions.

But before that the first question is whether the party has any such people among its own "disciplined" cadre. Least likely. The party needs ruthless iconoclastic critics who will look at its structure, leaders, policies, systems, members, performance, programmes, in fact at everything connected with the party. No organization, whether in the political field or in the field of business, normally has such critics within its members. In the field of business and industry, there are consultants who specialize in reengineering of organizations. Unfortunately, there are no such consultants in the market for political parties. BJP will have to either discover someone capable of acting as such a consultant or else create someone who can fulfill this responsibility.

As and when BJP can find someone to act as "Reengineering Consultant", BJP will have to give a brief to the consultant. The brief may ask the consultant to inter alia look at the following points:

  1. ENTRY LEVEL PROFILE - What is the profile of people entering BJP today? Has the profile changed during the past twenty years? Does the party need to do anything to change this profile?

  2. INTERNAL STRUCTURE - Does the internal structure need any fundamental changes? Does the internal structure of the party promote the best and the most talented to rise upwards or is it the opposite? Is there any truth in the allegations that the pressures of internal democracy and collective decision, combined with self interest ensure that the weakest of the lot with no leadership qualities gets promoted?

  3. INTELLECTUALS - Does the party have sufficient persons at each level who can guide the party on policy issues and in matters related to governance? How competent are the intellectuals who are with the party? What should the party do to improve its interaction with the intellectuals and to attract better, more competent intellectuals in larger numbers to the party?

  4. MEMBERS - Is the present classification of members suited to the needs of the party? Is there any truth in the allegation that a large number of party members are fictitious? Should the party aim to be leaner and fitter fighting machine or should it continue with the omnibus model?

  5. LEADERS - Is the party leadership at different states and centre sufficiently competent? What should be done to improve the competence of the leaders at all levels?

  6. POLICIES - Are the present systems of policy making and of debates on policy issues adequate for the needs of the party? Are the present policies in line with the ideological direction of the party? Has the party committed some policy somersaults in the past few years, which have alienated the traditional party supporters and sympathizers? If yes, are these somersaults in line with the ideology of the party? Does the party need to have a better two-way communication with its cadre on policy issues?

  7. IDEOLOGY - Is the ideology of the party sufficiently clearly defined? Does the ideology need any fundamental changes in view of the changed circumstances? Is the party leadership and cadre well versed with the ideology?

  8. GOVERNANCE - In objective terms, how well has each of the ministers of the party performed? Have the party ministers furthered the ideological and policy agenda of the party? What has been the support that the party received from each minister? How efficient have the ministers been in responding to requests from party functionaries and cadre? What can be done in terms of institutional steps to improve the performance of BJP ministers etc. in future Governments?

  9. ROLE AS OPPOSITION - Has the party fulfilled people's expectations as an opposition party? Has the party built credibility and hope? Does the party convey the impression of being a responsible and capable party with clear direction on various policy issues?

  10. FEEDBACK - Is the party getting adequate quality feedback from the people? Is there a tendency to give only palatable feedback to the leadership? How to improve the ground level information gathering capacities of the party?

  11. FULLTIMERS - Are the fulltime workers of the party playing the role that they should or have they become like the clergy?

The above list of questions is not exhaustive. The consultant and the party may add any number of questions. However, the key to the success of the exercise will lie in the ability of the party to accept the outcome of uncomfortable questions. Any reengineering exercise involves breaking of the old before the new can be created. Needless to say that this is not without pain. More often than not, reengineering is like a surgery without anesthesia. Yet, it must be carried out because at the end of it, the organization emerges stronger and healthier.

The problem with such a painful exercise is that normally organizational managers cannot order something that may recommend themselves to be sacked. In companies that are going downhill, it is rarely the Chief Executive Officer who can order for a reengineering expert to analyze, dissect and recommend. The initiative for an overhaul normally comes from the owners or shareholders who are concerned about falling returns on their investments. In case of BJP, one wonders who is the real owner of the party. Is it the Sangh pariwar (RSS clan)? Is it the large number of members (real and fictitious) spread across the country? Is it everyone who has supported, funded or voted for the party in the past? Is it the country as a whole? The question can be answered in a number of ways depending on the way one looks at it. But there can be no doubt that the leaders who are currently controlling the affairs of the party are only managers and are not its owners.

The fact is that in BJP, unlike the Congress, there is no one who can act as the owner of the party. The Nehru-Gandhi family viewed Congress as a personal property and brought about revolutionary changes within the party from time to time. Established groups and leaders have been often overthrown and new blood, new talent promoted. This is not to argue for dynastic rule. But one must admit that dynastic rule, combined with a relentless pursuit of exploits of power has once again catapulted Congress into positions of power in almost half the states of India. Probably, the strength of BJP has become its weakness.

Internal democracy and absence of dynastic rule has been a strength of BJP. However, this has also meant that there are no owners who can order for ruthless surgery and if needed amputation. This is the greatest challenge before BJP today. Will its leaders have the courage to sign up for something that will herald the death of all that is due to die or will they instead let the party die? The challenge is also for all those who support the party ideologically, financially and physically. Will they push their sick friend into the hospital or will they keep entertaining their dear friend with fruits, flower and music unto his last breath?

The answers to these questions will determine not just the future of BJP, but also the future of Indian polity. Best wishes to those who are ready to catch the bull by the horn and apologies to all those who like to always talk sweet.


27 February 2002

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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