Once upon a time there was a king who had some of the most intelligent, wise, loyal, brave and sensible persons as his staff members. But the king was often annoyed by his staff members. They demanded a wage hike every year. Everyday someone wanted to go on leave. They also expected the king to be humane towards them. For example, they wanted to be treated with courtesy and to be offered an opportunity for personal and professional growth. All this irritated the king. The news of king's irritation with his employees spread far and wide. One day a person came to the king with a bunch of well-trained monkeys. He told the king that the monkeys were better than the royal employees. The monkeys never demanded any salary; never went on leave; and were happy with just a handful of peanuts. The king saw the performance of monkeys and liked what he saw. He decided to gradually replace all his human employees with monkeys.
Soon the new employees were performing all the key duties. On one summer afternoon, the king was sleeping and a monkey was performing the duty of waving off the flies. It was all going fine till the monkey-on-duty noticed a fly that refused to go away. This angered the monkey-on-duty. He picked up the king's sword, which was lying nearby, and assaulted the fly. The fly flew away, but the king was dead before he even knew what hit him.
Does this story sound a bit exaggerated to you? Well, it is a bit blown up, but just a bit. The king is not dead. At the time of writing it, the king is flying around the country asking people to vote for BJP. However, no one can deny that the king has been badly bruised by stupid acts of a few monkeys.
When the ruling coalition led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to seek early elections, they seemed invincible. Few months down the line, as India goes to polls, Mr. Vajpayee seems a worried man. He can thank his monkey brigade for his worries.
The high point of monkey business came in Lucknow (Prime Minister's constituency) when twenty one women and a child were killed in a stampede. The occasion was the birthday of a prominent BJP leader, Lalji Tandon, who is a close associate of Vajpayee. To celebrate Tandon's birthday some local leaders had organized a programme for distribution of sarees to poor women. More than ten thousand women had assembled in a small park. Tandon distributed the first few sarees and departed from the scene. After his departure, the junior workers present on the scene also wanted to make as quick an exit. To cut a long process short, they started throwing sarees towards the crowd. This led to chaos. Poor women who had gathered to pick up a saree (costing less than Rs. 40 or 0.9US$ each) paid for the mindless act of organizers with their lives.
The media debate on the tragedy has hovered around legalities like violation of model code of conduct by BJP, prosecution of Lalji Tandon under relevant sections of Indian Penal Code, responsibility of Prime Minister in the affair etc. Some political commentators have moved beyond legalities and have tried to use this as a stick to puncture the feel-good and India Shining campaign of BJP. A few have written emotional obituaries for the poor women who died in the tragedy. However, there has been hardly any spotlight on the political workers who were the key culprits and on the structure that promotes such workers.
A few decades ago, when Jansangh had not metamorphosed into its present avatar of BJP, Sangh clan programmes were known for their punctuality, efficiency and well-ordered nature. I do not know whether it is true, but RSS claims that during 1962 war, RSS cadres were asked to take over many policing duties and they performed even better than the regular police. In those days, RSS cadres took genuine pride in saying that every programme of Sangh or any affiliated organization was an example of how a well-organized programme ought to be. A lot of water has flown down the Ganges since then. The saree-distribution at Lucknow was, officially speaking, not a Sangh or BJP programme. But it was surely manned by the same people who constitute the rank and file of Sangh and BJP.
There can be no denying the fact that there has been a steady deterioration in terms of quality of political cadres. It is most noticeable in case of Sangh and BJP because it was not too long ago that they used to pride themselves on their cadres. It was just five or six years ago that BJP had called itself a party with a difference. Well, that seems like long past history. Today the party makes no such lofty claims.
A new bunch of careerists has taken over the party from the bottom to the top. The ideologically inclined person, who devoted some time to political and social causes but earned his / her bread from some other profession or business, is a vanishing species in Indian political jungle. It was banished from Congress long ago (more about that later). Within Sangh clan the power now rests completely with the full-timers, who get their daily bread and butter from the organization. Most of these full-timers cannot even imagine an existence removed from the organization. Many of them are poorly educated and almost all have no other experience. So if the organization throws them out, they will either have to do petty menial jobs or starve to death. But within the organization, they enjoy all sorts of comforts and power.
In a country where unemployment is very high and even for the job of a peon there are thousands of applicants, the power and comforts enjoyed by full-time workers of Sangh clan has attracted thousands of young men (and a handful of women) to Sangh clan. They come not because of any ideological affiliation but because Sangh offers an excellent career option. What does one need to become a Sangh full-timer? Nothing much, one needs to attend three courses of less than one month duration each. These courses are quite strenuous but no one fails. In a country, where thousands appear in ridiculously tough examinations every year to ensure a decent career, this is surprisingly easy. Even a school dropout is welcomed and after becoming a full-timer, he soon acquires the airs of a leader; gets a motorcycle (graduating later to a swanky SUV like Qualis or Scorpio) and a mobile phone; and starts wearing starched kurtas.
Well, not every one qualifies to reach the stage of SUV. One needs to have blessings of some top leader for such an achievement. For every one aspirant who succeeds there are at least a hundred who are struggling to get into the good books of some leader. This suits the leaders. In fact they love it. These so-called followers are perfect in every respect. If they hear that the high command is in favour of constructing a temple at Ayodhya, all of them start shouting for a temple; if there is even a small hint that the high command may favour a mosque, they will start issuing statements to the press demanding construction of a mosque; tell them that high up leaders are thinking of building a huge toilet there, they will even applaud that. They have no mind of their own and that is their greatest strength. They are in politics because they have nowhere else to go. And they are not going to risk their basic bread and butter by trying to think.
These non-thinking career-oriented politicians have no ideology and have no capabilities except as babblers or rabble-rousers or slogan-shouters. Their greatest capability, of course, lies in telling the boss that he is perfectly right, even when he is obviously wrong. This breed is not unique to BJP or Sangh clan. It was originally developed by Congress. The dynasty rule that has emerged in Congress is a result of decades of nurturing of this breed of political animals. Many foreign observers are surprised at the way a party with a history of more than a century has become a family lapdog.
The process that led to this sorry state of affairs in Congress is now in full swing at BJP and Sangh clan. A few weeks back when LK Advani started his Bharat Uday Yatra, there was no other political leader on the stage. He was flanked by his wife and daughter. Next morning every newspaper in India carried the photograph of Advani and family. There was not even a murmur of protest within the party. Opposing or even criticizing Advani can be suicidal for a BJP careerist. No one in BJP wishes to commit suicide. Anyone who could have even dreamt of it has either been unceremoniously thrown out or has found doors closed on his face.
BJP is going the Congress way but there is a difference. Congress leadership has always known the limitations of its own cadres. So it does lateral induction of capable and talented persons. Recently, Congress leadership inducted Sam Pitroda into the party and asked him to offer suggestions for the party. When doing lateral induction, BJP takes no such risks and plays safe by inducting only retired bureaucrats, judges and army officers. Unlike Sam Pitroda, who has a mind of his own, the retired worthies rounded up by BJP have served orders all through their career and are too willing to join as heads of the monkey brigade. Actually, none of them gets the position of head of the brigade. They serve a decorative role and are happy enjoying the trappings of power without getting involved with the party's internal functioning in any way.
The situation is no different in other parties. Most of such parties are modeled on the Congress with one or two key leaders supported by a large brigade of followers (read monkeys). Bahujan Samaj Party can be called Mayawati & Co.; Samajwadi Party can be called Mulayam Singh, Amar Singh & Co.; AIDMK is Jayalalitha & Co.; Telugu Desam Party is Chandrababu Naidu & Co. The central figure of such parties does not allow any other leader to emerge within the party. In due course, when he / she becomes weak, physically or politically, the party withers.
The withering of Congress after the death of Mrs. Indira Gandhi is a result of her failure to groom a line of succession during her lifetime. BJP has refused to learn from the fate of Congress. BJP's top leadership is aging fast. Atalbihari Vajpayee and LK Advani have ruled the party with an iron fist nipping in the bud most mercilessly every possible sign of dissent. Every leader of BJP owes his / her position in the party to one or the other of the two. The day is not far when both these leaders will no longer be active. What will happen to BJP at that time? Will it wither away or will it continue to grow?
This is a question that may be asked not just about BJP, but also about Indian political class and structure as a whole. Will the system of democracy and political parties, as we know it, survive beyond the process of monkeyfication? The king was grievously injured by the monkey serving him. What happened after the king died? Did the monkeys take over? Was there anarchy after the king died? The fictional story does not give us answers to these imaginary questions. As monkeys take over politics of the country, these questions are no longer imaginary. They stare us in the face. In due course there will be developments that will answer all these questions. At the moment, the most important question is -- will the humans stand up against the monkeys or will they let the monkeys rule them?
6 May 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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