File photo. Photograph:( Zee News Network )
Leaders are nominated and there is 'guidance' from what has now euphemistically come to be called as the 'high Command'.
In 2014, months before the general elections in May, the Congress elected Narendra Rawat as its candidate for the Vadodara Lok Sabha seat through what was described as the organisational primaries. Workers from the various Congress frontal units including the Sewa Dal, the NSUI, the Mahila Congress, as well as, MPS, AICC members and a potpourri of other notables all took part in this polling process. There were multiple aspirants, but Rawat made the cut. No surprise considering he was the party’s Vadodara city unit chief.
However, when the BJP announced that their Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi would be contesting from Vadodara, the Congress chose to junk the sanctity of the primaries and replaced flyweight Rawat with a lightweight and the then General Secretary of the party, Madhusudan Mistry. Mistry got over two and a lakh votes, but that one move to para drop him demolished the sanctity of the primaries in the state.
If this was farcical, then what happened hundreds of miles away in Assam at the heart of the then Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s primaries experiment - was worse. The state’s established leadership balked at the idea of going through the rigours of first seeking the ticket before contesting the polls. But the then chief minister Tarun Gogoi chose to back Rahul to the hilt considering that his own son, Gaurav, who was entering politics had to make the cut.
The state became an internecine battleground amongst squabbling factions. All this in January-February 2014, months before the national polls. Even while the primaries pot was boiling, out of the blue, the party para dropped the Raja of Amethi, Sanjay Singh, to be their Raya Sabha candidate from a state that had already sent an 'outsider' Manmohan Singh to the Rajya Sabha. They wanted to mollycoddle someone who could have been a spoiler in Amethi. In one fell stroke, the sanctity of choosing candidates through primaries evaporated. All because things had to be made easy for Rahul Gandhi in Amethi during the parliamentary polls.
Contrast this with what is happening in two other countries - the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s most powerful - both in the midst of a withering campaign on who will lead two of its main political parties, both out of power and desperate to get back into the spotlight. The most Congress like situation.
In the UK, the Labour Party is still grappling to find a replacement for Jermy Corbyn who decided to step down post the general election loss to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. After multiple ballots, three candidates - Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Keir Starer - have made it to the final round. Voting by party members will now open on February 21 and close on April 2 with the results being declared on April 4. It’s been a bruising, no hold barred fight for the leadership, but it renews the institution and enthuses the grassroots.
Across the Atlantic, in the US, the primaries that will throw up a democratic contender to take on US President Donald Trump in the Presidential elections in November is even more debilitating. There are seven candidates still in the fray with the oldest, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, having joined the fray just recently. 21 candidates dropped out of the race before the first primaries - the ubiquitous American system to choose a contender - was even flagged off.
But the candidates who have the stomach and the stamina have to go through the grind of flagging their agenda, fending off the opposition and measuring up to what can only be described as the equivalent of a PET scan to assess their character, their background, their position and policy on a spectrum of issues and subjects. It can be debilitating and soul-crushing, but obviously many have the stomach to face up to it and are going through the rigours of the primaries.
And, mind you this jamboree will move state after state till it reaches a grand finale sometime in June-July when the democrats will have a leader and a candidate. The consequence of the elections, though, both in the UK and the US, is that the party rank and file get right behind the leader who has the unquestioned mandate to decide which way the party shall move. And you know your leaders like the back of your palm - his or her positions, ideological predilections and world view. Most important, it gives the rank and file an opportunity to choose who their leader will be.
So why is it that the world’s largest democracy that celebrates elections as a festival of democracy is so averse to institutional and organisational democracy. Organisational elections that are compeller as mandated by the Election Commission are comical and farcical by turns. Leaders are nominated and there is 'guidance' from what has now euphemistically come to be called as the 'high Command'. The wonder of wonders, the BJP that at one time slammed the Congress party for what it termed its 'high command culture' now has its own high command that directs the affairs of the party from the top to the bottom. Since its ascendancy to power in 2014, not one single chief minister or party president has been elected well, they have elected 'unopposed' with guidance being the leitmotif of the process.
The recent Ghar Wapsi ( homecoming) of Babulal Marandi in Jharkhand is a classic case of the High Command culture going wrong. The unquestioned leader of the BJP in that state, Marandi has pushed aside in 2005 in favour of Arjun Munda. Disillusioned Marandi left the party and set up his own outfit. Now a decade and a half later, Marandi has come home to the BJP after the party realised that its tallest leader in the state had been wronged thanks to misguided guidance from the top and they lost the last elections in the state for want of a leader who can arouse the grassroots.
It is understandable that parties weaned in the dynastic principle abhor any organisational election where the dynast will have to get into the ring and muddy his or her hands. Nonetheless, Rahul Gandhi has been the only one who has made some attempt - now sadly in cold storage - at a democratic evolution of leaders at the grassroots. It was an ill-structured, ill-planned and poorly executed exercise that stuttered to a standstill. He can claim credit, though, for having tried, where others have done nothing.
It is another matter though that he himself is elected 'unopposed' as it happened when he became Congress President. But that has been the state of almost every party in the country including the party with a difference—BJP. When the present Home Minister Amit Shah became the BJP President in 2014, he was nominated and now last month J P Nadda was elected unopposed as Shah’s successor. He was nominated by the party’s supreme decision-making body - the Parliamentary Board that provides 'guidance' in the running of the organisation.
It is this guidance that has seen parties big and small atrophy across the sub-continent. It is a lesson clearly most of them continue not to learn. The BJP has chosen to follow in their undistinguished footsteps.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)