Originally Published 2004-03-31 05:03:51 Published on Mar 31, 2004
Elections-2004 has thrown up a question without addressing it, leave alone answering it. By drumming up on the Vajpayee leadership, the BJP-NDA may have kept the nation¿s focus away from the obvious question, but the latter does remain, however much in the background as they may deem fair: After Vajpayee, Who?
A Nation in Need of Leaders
Elections-2004 has thrown up a question without addressing it, leave alone answering it. By drumming up on the Vajpayee leadership, the BJP-NDA may have kept the nation's focus away from the obvious question, but the latter does remain, however much in the background as they may deem fair: After Vajpayee, Who?

True, the BJP and maybe the NDA too has an answer in Advani. Neither is Advani growing younger, nor can the nation's complexities and fate be linked to that of an individual. Those who believe in status quo or fatalists, as you may care to describe them, would readily refer to the Nehruvian era, when similar questions were thrown up in the latter's life-time, but ready answers found with his exit. There are those who would credit the short-lived Prime Ministerial tenure of the short-stature Shastri to be as tall, if not taller, than Jawaharlal's contributions to nation and institution-building.

True, it is the crisis that brings out the best in men and nations, as the shocking exit of Shastri and Indira Gandhi - separated though by 18 long years - showed. Also true, leaders are not made to order, or created by laws - the reverse of the 'blue-eyed baby syndrome', often mentioned in any treatise on British jurisprudence or common law practices. Instead, political leaders, like their respective nations, are products of circumstances, environment, and at times, 'accidents'. Not all heirs-apparent ascend to the throne, nor every discard of a time end up in the dustbin of history.

That way, Sanjay Gandhi, who was groomed to govern, reached nowhere despite all the props. Rajiv Gandhi, despite being tutored, was still ready for the job when Prime Ministership came his way. MGR, NTR and now Jayalalitha have all been products of a process but were not really a part of it. Yet, they readily re-adjusted themselves to change better than many experienced politicians. The two Yadavs and Mayawati up North have brought with them years of political experience at the grass-roots level, which only the likes of M Karunanidhi could claim credit for in the South. Yet, Rabri Devi stands apart, whoever or whatever be the power behind the throne, just as MGR was running Tamil Nadu from sick-bed for a couple of years at a stretch, with no marks of his ailment left to be argued out by future generations, for or against his decision-making capacity of the times.

It is not just India that worships its political heroes -- maybe we are a little too loud compared to some, maybe we are a little too muted compared to a few others. Maybe it has something to do with mono-theism in some nations, where they idolize one leader at a time, often during his lifetime. By the same token, India with its millions of deities, big and small, relevant and reverent, also has its own share of political leaders. These political leaders often require a political vehicle, and that is what their respective political parties end up becoming. The uncompromising personal egos with no real ideological divide between certain pairs of leaders, particularly at the regional and sub-regional levels may prove a point.

There are those who often lament the 'ever-falling' standards and standing of our political leaders, with every passing generation. Time was when a Gandhiji could unite the nation against a foreign ruler, but once that agenda was achieved, the 'percolation effect' of the socio-economic political agenda of a new-born nation had to necessarily take over. If there are those who hailed Gandhiji's leadership for taking the national movement to the masses others like R R Diwakar had their reservations about the long-term effect of mass movements on the intended structure of a prospective nation. Yet, neither could have been avoided, and that includes the advent of a Gandhiji on the national scene when he did.

Today, the 'percolation process' has thrown up leaderships that may not appeal to the elitist sections, but their presence and being are for real. They represent a section of the public sentiment that has not been heard in centuries, but that does not make them the best of political administrators. Rabri Devi should be a case in point, however much her natural motherly instinct could expect the officialdom to give the people what they deserved. In an emerging global village, where Chief Ministers like Chandrababu Naidu and Jayalalitha are seeking powers for States to do business directly with foreign governments and industries, lack of exposure, not necessarily formal education, should not deprive backward States and regions of their due share in development and growth. In a nation where coalition politics at the Centre may have become the emerging order of the day, and where a V P Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral have all become Prime Ministers, representing what were essentially regional and even sub-regional interests, the need for 'quality leadership' assumes even more significance and relevance.

The situation should be no different at the national-level, where the present situation is no different, either. It may be difficult for the BJP to accept it, but the fact remains that it has taken the Vajpayee-Advani duo four decades and more to prop themselves up as an acceptable pair of national leaders. Prevailing circumstances, including the continuing in the Congress Opposition, and faltering re-adjustment in regional political parties, did help the process, but after them, even the BJP is being faced with a leadership vacuum. If left unfilled, it has the potential to reduce the BJP into one more regional party, possibly the largest one of the kind, surpassing the concentration-levels of the communists, but not as broad-based as an ever-depleting Congress. The less said about the Congress the better. The party lacks the will to fight, and has neither the patience, nor perseverance to produce a new-generation leader. Given the grinding-time that it took the BJP to produce a Vajpayee and an Advani, it would rather go back to the Nehru-Gandhi family just for the sake of the voter-familiarity rather than the individual capabilities and qualities of the individual concerned.

Nothing would describe the 'leadership vacuum' and its effect on the society than that in the Muslim community. With Muslims accounting for a substantial percentage of the population and voters, and their problems too being peculiar and prominent at times, it is sad that the community does not have a representative political voice worth the name at the national-level. It may have had something to do with Partition, when most of the respected and accepted leaders of the community went over to Pakistan, and those who stayed back in India were too cautious to be 'identified' as such.

So much so, it was a Brahmin in the late Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna at one time, and a Mulayam Yadav now, who are projected as the 'political standard-bearers' of a community, whose concerns are becoming ever more complex in the eternally-changing socio-political circumstances. With the result, be it on the vexed 'Ayodhya issue', or on the uniform civil code, or on any other issue of greater concern to the Muslim community, their existing leadership, if one could call it, is anything but representative. Most of them have not contested any elections at any level to call themselves representative. Many others who have contested elections have often lost, in the constituencies of their choice.

The situation may be no different when it comes to the emergence of the naxalite movement, which is fast spreading into many central and north Indian States, from the traditional bastion of Andhra Pradesh. If communism as a political ideology and election-based delivery mechanism for social change has taken roots in States like West Bengal and Kerala, where Leftist militancy had reared its head in the early days, it is the failure of the communist movement to similarly take roots elsewhere may have been the cause for the spread of naxalite movement. In Andhra Pradesh, the growth of communism was first stifled by the linguistic reorganization of States, which made the politico-electoral movement weaker in the Telugu-speaking parts of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, which after Independence had become the 'undivided Madras State'. Whatever roots of communism was left in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, even those were hijacked by the Dravidian electoral identity in the case of the former, and by NTR and the Telugu Desam, later.

It is no different in the emerging areas of naxalite influence in central and northern India. Thus, it may not be just a coincidence that Leftist militancy is fast spreading into States where there are no regional or sub-regional representative political forces, to take the 'percolation process' forward - or further down, as the case may be. Be it Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra, Chattisgarh or Jharkhand, it is the BJP and the Congress, as national political parties that are in the fray to the exclusion of more representative regional political forces. As national political parties, their agenda, priorities and processes are much different than the immediate needs and concerns of the local population would demand.

The situation is slightly different in Bihar, another naxalite-infested State. Here, the stranglehold of the RJD, representing the Yadav interests, and its continuing fight for political supremacy with the Kurmi-dominated Samata Party, since merged in the United Janata Dal, has stagnated the 'percolation process' at the level of the militant intermediary castes, denying a voice and space for the Daltis. It is the vacuum that the equally militant naxalite movement has sought to explore and exploit. In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh by comparison, the BJP under Mayawati may have filled that vacuum, thus denying scope and role for Leftist militancy, whose goals are much more than ensuring socio-economic equity, and political equality.
There is a lesson in all this. All political parties, particularly the major players, as the BJP and the Congress can rightfully call themselves, need to adapt themselves to the changing and evolving situation, before they themselves are overtaken by the changes. The Congress has had the opportunity to learn the hard lesson more than once - when it withdrew support to the Governments led by Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and Gujral. Its hopes and calculations to return to power have back-fired, at best. The BJP, despite claims to accepting coalition politics, and avowing to follow the 'coalition dharma', continues to speak about wanting 300-plus seats for itself in the Lok Sabha. It has also left the concept of 'coalition dharma' undefined, with the result, what was good for Bansi Lal was not good for Chautala. Or, what was good for the AIADMK was not necessary good for the DMK - or, vice versa.

Maybe, the two national parties can take lessons from the coalition model as it exists in southern Kerala State. Here, unlike in West Bengal, where coalition politics is totally one-sided, the partners' role are defined, and their respective coordination committees are active and attentive, unlike the one headed by George Fernandes for the BJP-NDA, which meets when the BJP wants it to meet, and decides what the BJP major wants it to decide, a sure-fire recipe for the collapse of any coalition, when on an inevitable down-swing in particular.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

Read More +