Photograph of VT Joshi

Photograph of Anil Chawla

Authors - VT Joshi & Anil Chawla

There was a vacancy of a dwarf in the circus. Applicants included a six foot tall young man whose claim to being a dwarf was based on his family history. His argument was that since he belonged to a family of dwarfs, he had a genuine right to call himself a dwarf. The manager of the circus had an hearty laugh. A similar joke is being enacted with all seriousness on the people of India. The country needs some towering personalities to lead her but all that she can get are some dwarfs who are trying desperately to prove that they are not dwarfs but are great men/women.

General Elections to the Parliament are critical for all political creatures in the Indian political circus. Even before the first vote is cast, selection of candidates is a difficult test that Indian political parties and leaders pass through. On one hand, selecting the right candidates is linked to the survival of the party as a political entity; on the other hand, selection as a candidate by a party is a matter of political life and death for any person. Given this sort of pressures, it would seem natural that the political parties adopt a systematic, democratic, transparent approach towards candidate selection. The reality is exactly opposite. All Indian political parties adopt a disorganized, opaque, ad-hoc approach which is based more on short-term internal group equations rather than on qualities and capabilities of the candidate.

Indian political circus is dominated by two national parties - Indian National Congress (called Congress) and Bharatiya Janata Party (called BJP). Congress has dominated the political scene during the past five decades, having been in power for more than four decades. Congress had the benefit of stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi whose towering personality overshadowed every other person in the party. During the Nehru-Indira era, the selection of candidates (also called ticket distribution) was centered in the hands of Nehru/Indira, who kept a vice-like grip on the party organization throughout the country and had a personal knowledge of the key persons in each region of the country. Nehru and Indira developed the ticket distribution exercise as an instrument to strengthen their grip on the party by rewarding the faithfuls and by punishing those whose loyalty was suspect. In the hands of exemplary politicians like Nehru and Indira, the instrument proved to be really effective in controlling the cadres. This led to development of a model for selection of candidates, which was adopted not only by Congress but also by all other political parties in India. However, in the absence of a strong personality like Nehru or Indira, the deft handling that characterized the selection of candidates by the Congress in Nehru-Indira era has been replaced by a mockery. It almost seems that a classic fascist drama is being enacted with comical actors.

Selection of candidates for the forthcoming general elections has stirred a hornet's nest in various parties. Congress seems to be the worst affected of the lot. Angry scenes have been witnessed at the Congress headquarters at Delhi, where a Congress worker tried to immolate himself. The rumours that some senior Congress leaders accepted bribes for helping in procurement of party tickets has added fuel to fire. In this atmosphere of dis-satisfaction, mutual distrust and cynicism, the immaturity of Congress President Sonia Gandhi has aggravated the problems. The suspense associated with her own constituency and the last minute mid-air drama of helicopter changing course and her going to Bellary, Karnataka instead of Cuddapah, Andhra Pradesh has only underscored her lack of confidence. Such a shaky leader trying to adopt the style of Nehru and Indira can be a sure recipe for problems.

BJP leadership finds itself in a different set of problems. Atalbihari Vajpayee, the present Prime Minister, seems to be riding on the crest of a popularity wave. This has led his party BJP to indulge in daydreaming of coming back to power with a thumping majority. A day-dreamer's level of confidence knows no bounds. BJP almost seems to believe that if it puts up even a lamp-post as a candidate, the lamp-post will win the elections hands down. With such a mindset, considerations of good-bad, capable-incapable, popular-unpopular etc. become irrelevant. Group equations and personal loyalties become the key considerations and intrigue becomes the order of the day. Talks of internal democracy and transparency are treated as futile chatter both in BJP and Congress. BJP is further plagued by its love for old faces that have long ago ceased to find favour with the people. BJP's internal structures are so organized that the new faces that come up are generally the ones that are firmly tied to the apron strings of this or that senior leader. An exit policy that recognizes death as the only possible reason for quitting politics coupled with a disregard of all claims based on talent and capabilities has often forced capable persons to leave BJP. It is no exaggeration to say that BJP (and Congress too) faces a severe crunch in terms of quality persons in its middle and junior level leadership.

It may well be asked - why should anyone bother about the internal structures of political parties. Some politicians have often taken the view that no one has a right to know anything about matters that are internal to their party. A political party is not a private club established for the benefit of its members. In a democracy the political parties collectively exercise a monopoly on the reins of power. It can be said that the political parties are the trustees of democracy. An erosion of democratic values in the internal functioning of political parties is an indicator of impending dangers to democracy. Society expects political parties to act as nurseries for the future rulers of the society. It is the duty of political parties to identify, nurture and develop talent for this purpose and to present the best possible alternatives to the people. If the political parties fail in this duty and present candidates who are incapable, dishonest, corrupt or unpopular, the political parties lose their credibility and their moral right to act as nurseries for future rulers of the country. Such a situation will naturally lead to the weakening of democracy. The fall in credibility of Indian political parties witnessed during the past few years should hence cause worries to all persons who are concerned about growth of democracy on the surface of earth.

In no other major democratic country in the world, the elected representatives are made puppets of the party bosses, the way that it is done in India. There exists legislation to grant statutory power to the whips issued by party bosses to party legislators and parliamentarians. In the absence of internal democracy within political parties, this reduces the democratic setup to a "whipocracy". Combining this with an ad-hoc and opaque system of selection of candidates by the political parties, "whipocracy" seems to be nothing but nascent fascism.

Selection of candidates by political parties is neither just an issue related to the political career of some aspirants nor is it an exercise to increase the intra-party strength of some political lords. It is an exercise that decides the future of the country as well as the future of democracy in the country. Hence, if democracy has to flourish in India, the political parties of India must change their ways and adopt selection procedures that are transparent and are based on objective assessment of capabilities. Indian political leaders must realize that their existence as well the existence of democracy in India depends on their shedding the Nehru-Indira mentality of treating the party as their personal fiefdom. It is essential that they start looking at political parties as social institutions created in the interest of society and nation.

Needless to say that this sort of outlook would require persons who can rise above petty self-interest and look at society, nation and the world at large. Isn't that what being great is all about? India needs such great leaders and not dwarfs who are using all sorts of props to convey an impression of greatness. The manager of the circus could laugh at the six foot dwarf but for the people of India, dwarfs masquerading as great leaders is no laughing matter. They must choose one of the alternatives presented.


25 August, 1999

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VT JOSHI (1925-2008) worked for more than fifty years as a journalist. He retired from THE TIMES OF INDIA in 1989. During 1985-89 he was the Special Correspondent of THE TIMES OF INDIA in Pakistan. His books "PAKISTAN: ZIA TO BENAZIR" and "INDIA AT CROSS ROADS" (co-author GG Puri) were widely reviewed in both India and Pakistan.

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

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