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Ring out the old,ring in the new

As the circle narrows,animosities within it become sharper. Rivalries become more intense: for now,all that each has to do is to do two or three in,and he has the top job.


As the circle narrows,animosities within it become sharper. Rivalries become more intense: for now,all that each has to do is to do two or three in,and he has the top job. Lust is rationalised: “But you have to have fire in the belly. Otherwise you shouldn’t be in this game.”

Insatiable ambition triggers unquenchable greed.

That greed incites unremitting jealousy.

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And that compels ruthless maneuvers.

As others play by the rules,the one who has shed all scruple triumphs. A vital resource turns out to be the rivals’ respective reach into cabals beyond the party. The one who can garner more money from prospectors; the ventriloquist who can malign through surrogates and thereby frighten others in the circle — as he has a mass-base among half a dozen journalists; this kind of reach proves decisive.

Two consequences follow. Cunning,jealousy,unscrupulousness at the top permeate to every pore of the organisation. The party becomes,to pluck Toynbee’s words,“a moral slum”. True,some young idealists still join it. But by the time they rise to any position of authority,their edges have been rounded off,they have been fully domesticated — look not just at our political parties,look at the civil services. And this is the character of the whole that the people see. The party is thus delegitimised.

The process is hastened if by chance the party is swept into office. For such a bunch cannot but be venal and corrupt in office. But there is a twofold difference. When some individual is picking pockets at a railway platform,little happens even if he is caught: he is an individual; the infamy is confined to him. But when,as member of a party and government,he is caught,the entire party and government are tarnished. Second,we are all judged by the ideals we proclaim. As this party and government have come out of a crusade,as they have come to office proclaiming that they will clean up the mess,the stain is that much deeper.

All this is brought to the attention of the leader. In fact,there is little need to bring it to his attention — the facts burst out day after day,even the cloistered leader cannot miss them. But as these concern his appointees,he is the indulgent father: “You may be right about him,” he says,“but many say that if one becomes a minister and does not do these things,then where was the point of becoming a minister?”

The example spreads. The exemplars become bold. The bold become brazen.


Seeing the party out of office — with its knifing and defaming of each other; seeing the party in office — venal and corrupt even if less than its rivals,the people conclude,“They are all the same. This party is no different.”

Its USP gone,the party continues to lose ground. The cries to stem the rot become shriller. They demand that responsibility be fixed. But the decision to fix responsibility is in the hands of the very ones who have brought the organisation to that pass.  


The leader steps forth. Told by his henchmen that,once the process starts,the clamour will reach up to him,he insists that no individual is responsible,that the tradition of the party has always been “collective responsibility” — but was the “collective” at all involved in decisions? the laity demand. The leader raises the ante: if any one person is responsible,I alone am responsible. That silences calls for accountability — for who can say that,as,on his own telling,he is responsible,he make way for others?


He and his circle have little difficulty. Each post at every level in the party has been packed with weak men or henchmen. When the voices for change become shrill,all that the leader has to do is to signal the office holders to “give their views”. Who can say that their opinion is worth less than of the deviants? After all,they are the ones who are general secretaries and secretaries,presidents and vice presidents of state units.

Nor is that “strength” confined to the immediate present. The leader and his coterie control the loaves for tomorrow too: who will get tickets for elections in the future,who will get inducted into posts within the party— All these are the prerogative of the leader and his circle. They proffer these,and thus buy prospective silence.

That he is in total control of the organisation dooms the leader and the organisation with him all the more certainly: precisely because Rajiv Gandhi so completely controlled the situation within Parliament,he did not see that the situation outside had slipped completely out of his hands.

The lay-members run from one mansabdaar in the inner circle to another. The latter are bitter rivals of each other,no doubt — and it is in this that the lay members rest their hopes. But those in the inner circle are one against the outsiders. Moreover,there is a certain naivety in that running: the followers are appealing to these worthies in the name of values and ideals which those in the circle have long abandoned. They listen politely. They insinuate that the other member is responsible. As the followers leave,they exhale,“The fools….”

In turn,the followers — steeped by now in the same deviousness and hypocrisy — also learn to just listen politely. And go on doing exactly what they were doing. Solely to advance their personal fortunes.


The real fools — the ones who still adhere to the original ideals — try once more to salvage the party. To no more effect than they would were they “to try and dam a river with their bare hands.”

The hangers-on in the inner circle have no difficulty in undermining the counsel and warnings of these fools: they smear them with motives. The challenge that has been mounted is to the culture of intrigue,of personal aggrandisement,of contracts and nepotism,of cabalism. But the henchmen drown it in smears: “He is saying all this only because he is frustrated…. Only because he has not been given the post that he thought is his by right….” Actually,the hangers-on have even less than no difficulty for the leader is only too eager to believe that the warnings are impelled by base motive. 



The defeats and setbacks about which these would-be reformers are wailing become tests of faith. Instead of instituting remedies,the leader proffers homilies: “Ups and downs are a part of life,” he intones. “We have gone down earlier also. But we have always risen again. Put what has happened behind you. Brace yourselves for the next battle.” That would be fine if,and only if,in the meanwhile the factors,the personnel and culture which had brought about the defeat have been changed. The fact,of course,is that these declamations are hurled at the members for the opposite purpose: to smother the demands for change,to kill every proposal for reform. For reform,the time is never right. When the party wins,there is obviously no need to change — after all,the leader,his team,the ideology have brought victory. When the party loses,casting blame is destructive,it is defeatist. One must unite,look ahead.

The declamations become sharper,they now aim not at the proposals but at the ones advancing the proposals. “We have seen days that were so much worse. But never did we lose heart. Never did we hear such voices of defeatism. Now we can see who has faith in the party and who does not.”


Nor is it just a question of faith in some abstraction,the so-called party. The point at issue is faith in the leader. This is tested not when the leader is triumphant and right — after all,everyone will hail the leader when he is triumphant and right. The real test is when the party has fallen into a ditch,when the leader has made a blunder. Only the one who stands by him at such times has faith in him!

That is the new thesis.

As a result,everyone who points to errors that need rectification has not just lost faith in the party,he is,by definition,personally disloyal to the leader. “What I have heard today,has pained me,” the leader tells the assembly — that is,the one who was making suggestions has inflicted pain on the exalted leader,the kul devta. 


It is most certainly not the case that the organisation,in this case the political party must inevitably descend and disintegrate. Nor is it “fate”,or some external “law of nature” on account of which the political party goes down.  Of course,external factors may accelerate its decline: we noticed,for instance,that the decline is made more likely and is hastened when the political culture itself has become such that all other political parties are also proceeding along the same sequence. But such facilitation,so to say,by external factors apart,the reasons on account of which the political party declines are internal to it. In particular,they concern the deterioration of the political party as an organisation.

And the reason why it becomes almost impossible to stem the deterioration of the party is that its organisation is at all times in the hands of persons who would be most inconvenienced,who would almost certainly be dislocated were the changes which are necessary for its survival to actually come about. The key to turning it around,to arresting its descent,therefore,lies in the organisation somehow getting liberated from this handful.

This can happen,it can be brought about in several ways:

n For instance,a leader may acquire control of the organisation by accident,but,having acquired control,may feel himself to be so hemmed in by the continuance of persons who have dominated the organization till then,that he or she throws them out and reconstitutes the top leadership of the party. Recall,as an instance,the way Mrs. Indira Gandhi  threw out the “Syndicate” in 1969.

n It may happen by control falling into the hands of a new princeling who has yet not been domesticated by the organisation,who still retains some of the idealism of youth,some of the ideals and goals that originally inspired the party and the movement out of which the party was born:  recall,for instance,Rajiv Gandhi at the time that he gives his speech in Bombay against the sway that “power brokers” have acquired over the Congress. But in such an instance,as Rajiv Gandhi’s own example shows,the princeling must persevere. In Rajiv’s case,the establishment soon domesticated him and his initial impulses for reform were successfully neutralised.

n Or it may be that the world moves so swiftly and so completely away from the party and its ethos and it becomes so totally irrelevant that the irrelevance bursts even upon those who have been blinded by its hierarchies,its rituals,who have remained hitherto in the thrall of the leader and his henchmen. They rise,“We have nothing more to lose. Let us make one final effort.”

Only when the ordinary members or at least a significant minority among them are prepared to risk being cast in the wilderness once again — a risk that will become easier for them to grasp if some catastrophe befalls the organisation and it loses so completely that there is no option than to begin again — it is only in such an eventuality that reconstruction can begin. In such a circumstance,it is almost as if a new organisation is being started.

One way or another,the organisation has to be liberated from the vice of the leader and his henchmen,and the organisation has to be rebuilt anew. And for that to commence,the entire leadership at the top,as well as every nominee of it at every level has to be thrown out and a new lot put in place. That is the first step.

It is the necessary step,of course. But,as we have seen,it is not a sufficient step. The cycle can commence again,and very soon,unless some novel ways are instituted by which the leadership is perpetually renewed; unless those little circles that are certain to form are broken again and again; unless ways are instituted so that advancement comes to depend on work,on competence and integrity,on dedication to the original goals of the party than on the new virtues — intrigue,cunning,unscrupulousness.


The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha

First published on: 17-07-2009 at 04:02:03 am
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