The Samajwadi Party has decided to create a new cadre and the process for selecting these “intelligence officers” has begun. The team of 403 persons, one each for every assembly constituency in the state, reporting directly and confidentially to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, will be assigned the responsibility of keeping an eye on party activities at ground level. It will have no association with local SP leaders or MLAs and will function independently of them. Its members will hold no official party post yet their inputs will help the high command decide who will and who won’t get the SP ticket for the next assembly polls. In other words, Akhilesh Yadav is setting up a cadre of informers within his own party, all the better for him to control it more completely. That is, SP MLAs are being told that though they have won the people’s trust and mandate, their own party leadership cannot take them at their word, and deems it necessary to set up a parallel force to keep tabs on them.
Akhilesh’s cadre may only be a formalisation of a mechanism and practice that exists, in varying degrees of openness, in political parties across the ideological spectrum. In many parties, especially those in which power is concentrated in one individual or family — a category that can be said to include most parties in India — a culture of obedience and submission to an all-monitoring and all-controlling high command is enforced in different ways. This speaks of the terrible absence of democracy in the internal regimes of institutions that play starring roles in our democratic system. In the SP’s case, Akhilesh’s cadre also points to the progressive shrinking of a party that holds aloft the banner of Lohia-style socialism — in the past, the socialist movement was home to a vibrant and often rumbustious tradition of debate and discussion, and Rammanohar Lohia himself fought fierce inner-party battles with those like Ashoka Mehta, Chandra Shekhar, N.G. Goray and Nath Pai.
The indignity and diminution that SP MLAs and leaders must suffer at the hands of the party leadership also speaks of the specific insecurities of Akhilesh Yadav. Mulayam’s son became chief minister in 2007, riding a mandate won in the name of hope and change. He is not seen to have delivered on that promise to the people, even as he continues to compete for control with an older generation in the family-run party. The next election will be a tough one for the SP, but it must know that the only way to strengthen itself is through the people’s representatives, not by by-passing them.