Photograph of Anil Chawla


Author - Anil Chawla

On 10 November, BJP's meeting of office-bearers turned out to be a nationally televised fiasco, with Uma Bharti openly challenging Advani's authority. A discussion on the internal dynamics of BJP in the light of the Uma Bharti episode.

Nothing is more tragic than to see a circus ringmaster mauled in full public view by one of the beasts that is supposed to dance to his whims and fancies. A similar tragedy happened in full glare of TV cameras on 10 November in the meeting of BJP office bearers when things did not work out as per the script.

Uma Bharti episode has made national headlines, probably because of the drama involved. Before discussing the drama, let us go back by a few years and understand the internal dynamics of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Kushabhau Thakre, Jana Krishnamurthy, Bangaru Laxman, Venkayya Naidu - this long list of former presidents of BJP has just one common quality. Each one of them was a nobody before becoming BJP President. None of them will even get a footnote in history. Each one of them was a result of a compromise between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. There can be some disagreement about who of the four was Atal's rubber stamp and who was Advani's rubber stamp. Such a controversy is meaningless because in most cases the two bosses work in tandem and all disputes between the two are resolved amicably. As BJP president, each of the incumbents would receive orders from either of the two bosses and would just obey without asking any questions. The height of this obedience was when, after Tehelka scandal, Atal Bihari asked Bangaru Laxman to resign and Bangaru resigned. Needless to say that Atal Bihari, as Prime Minister, had no official authority over BJP President. But when a political party is run as one's fiefdom, there is no place for such constitutional niceties.

Conversion of BJP from a cadre-based party to a fiefdom has been a slow process. A decade ago, as BJP came within smelling distance of power, Atal and Advani changed the essential characteristic of the party to suit their own interests. The party, now, has just three categories of people.

The first category is of stars. By definition, a star is one, who has mass appeal. Orators, rabble-rousers, film actors and actresses, cricket players, well-known journalists and authors, even politicians from other parties and retired bureaucrats and judicial officers - fall in this category. Stars help the party by drawing people towards the party. A good star is one who can draw huge crowds, serves the party at critical times like elections and is happy with a few tit-bits thrown into his / her lap. A star that becomes meddlesome and tends to interfere in the internal working of the party is avoidable.

The second category includes fulltime servants of the party who are dependent for their livelihood on the party. Most of them join the party (or some organization of Sangh clan) early in their youth. They possess no skills other than the ones required for 'organizational work' of BJP. They cannot be employed in any job or profession. Most of them come from middle class families and have no family support to sustain them in case they decide to quit the party and try their hand at something else. There are no service rules governing their job at the party. They get no pension, but if they remain in good books of the bosses, they are taken care of even in old age. On the other hand, party can be unusually harsh with anyone who falls out of favour. A senior functionary of the party in Madhya Pradesh, one fine morning, found himself out of the list of office bearers. Almost immediately, he was asked to move out of the room at party office where he used to live. Next few years he lived from hand to mouth. For some time, he was eking out a living by running a small roadside tea stall. He was later rehabilitated in the party and soon thereafter became general secretary of the party state unit.

Almost as a rule, party takes care that only such people are co-opted as fulltime workers, who have no professional qualification or standing. Incompetent fools are naturally subservient and their insecurity, as it increases with age, makes them more so. India has no shortage of fools and as BJP has come close to the gates of power, it has always found a long queue at its doors.

The fulltime workers control and manage the third category of party-men, which consists of ordinary party workers - a motley slogan shouting crowd of semi-educated or semi-literate or even illiterate men and women. This crowd can be compared to the vast number of extras (junior artistes) that one sees dancing behind hero and heroine in any Indian film. They know that they can never be stars. At the most they hope to get some petty gains, which can sustain their livelihood.

Stars, fulltime workers and ordinary workers - these, under the able leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, make up the BJP. RSS plays its role in the setup by supplying a steady stream of fulltime workers and also a significant portion of ordinary workers. Stars must be content receiving their remuneration, as per pre-negotiated terms. Fulltime workers have to be happy that their livelihood is taken care of and a vast multitude of ordinary workers salutes them. Ordinary workers are content with the little that they manage to get, and if they are not content - who cares? Party leadership in BJP remains centered within the Atal-Advani duo. Everyone else is a cog in the machine. Atal-Advani combine takes every vital decision in the party and everyone else just plays his / her part.

Photograph of Lalkrishna Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Within BJP, Atal-Advani combine is like God. They are above all rules and norms. Party constitution and organization structure are just instruments in their hands. They appoint party president or remove one at their own sweet will. They can do no wrong - that is what you are supposed to believe, if you want to work in BJP. If you have even a faint dream that goes against what they, in their divine wisdom, have ordained, you are accused of blasphemy and burnt at the stakes - well, not literally, but politically. So, when Advani announced that India was feeling good, no BJP person had the guts to tell him otherwise.

To understand Advani's actions, one must understand his deep conviction about his divinity and infallibility. He does not view his party colleagues as comrades. He views them as parts in a machine owned and operated by him in partnership with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Each and every part of the machine is replaceable and dispensable. No one dare even suggest that it is not the parts that need replacement, but it is he and his partner who need to be replaced.

Intoxicated by his own view of himself, Advani decided to play God in a style that had never been attempted before. He decided to let the news channels record the proceedings of his address to party office bearers. In any party, office bearers meet behind closed doors where everyone can speak his mind. But, BJP is a party with a difference. Advani wanted to play a grand drama in full view of the world, reinforcing his position as God that harbors no dissent or argument. Advani could see no reason for his plan to go awry. Yet, the plan boomeranged.

Photograph of Uma Bharati

After the episode, Uma has been suspended from the party. No tears need be shed for her. She was a BJP star, who helped the party rise to power in Madhya Pradesh. On the other hand, she was a disaster as a Chief Minister. In the present episode, she has acted in a manner for which she was always known. Her misbehavior was always ignored by party leadership (read LK Advani), who was happy cashing on her star value. The attitude of BJP leadership has been that a star, who helps the party grab power, can do no wrong.

BJP, under the leadership of Atal-Advani, has been designed as a machine that can get to power. The party has not been designed to operate the elaborate machinery of government. Stars like Uma Bharti, notwithstanding their rabble-rousing capabilities, are incapable of governance. Fulltime party workers, living through their insecurities, look at power as means to acquire and accumulate ill-gotten wealth so as to put an end to their perpetual insecurities. Ordinary party workers follow the example of their immediate superiors, the fulltime workers, and try to make quick hay while the sun shines.

The challenge before the party is to re-engineer itself as a party of governance. For too long, the party has been wooing stars and driving away competent, qualified, educated people that chose to knock on its doors. On one hand, it does not have a slot for them. On the other hand, incompetent semi-educated state level bosses of the party see talent and competence as threats. They, like their bosses at the national level, seek flattery and sycophancy from everyone who is not a star.

Uma Bharti may have been wrong in speaking out of turn at the ill-fated drama planned by Advani. She is like a spoilt brat, who deserves no sympathy for her tantrums. But the party needs talented, competent, capable persons, who can stand up to the party president as equals and tell him that he is wrong, whenever he is wrong. BJP must evolve from being a circus of crowd-pullers to a party of governance. India needs a party like that for her democracy to survive.

Anil Chawla
21 November 2004

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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