Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rahul Gandhi elected unanimously; BJP President’s race gets murky….

The Congress has been chided a lot for its dynastic politics. True, Congress leaders have mostly been Gandhi family members. In contrast, the BJP has never had any major dynasties ruling the party. The BJP showcases this as a major strength, and it could well be that had it not been for the fact that the party’s top leadership is so riven with mutual distrust of each other.

On a day when the Congress unanimously appointed Rahul Gandhi as its Vice President (the number 2 in the party; with a clear plan to make him the President in the future), the BJP’s internal bickering was out in full public display. First there was Advani proposing Sushma Swaraj for the President’s post (I wrote about the Advani-Swaraj axis in my post just yesterday). And then there were “other” leaders proposing Rajnath Singh for President. Normally, 2-3 candidates for Party President would be considered a sign of strong internal democracy, except that in this case, these two last minute nominations appear more driven to thwart Gadkari’s chances of becoming President a second time. It’s not that Advani really wants Swaraj to become President, or that the other leaders want Rajnath Singh to come back for a second stint as President; its just that they simply don’t want Gadkari to be re-elected. Gadkari is accused of corruption charges, and the party’s rank and file cannot seem to agree with the RSS’s decision of propping Gadkari up for a second term. The rival candidates thus don’t represent strong internal democracy; but a fractured party.

In contrast, Rahul was appointed by a unanimous vote. In fact, newspaper reports indicate that there was a huge demand from the rank and file to anoint him the successor. Now, its true that Rahul has always been the chosen one; the prince in waiting as it were. It is also true that Rahul unanimous choice is indicative of the lack of democracy in the Congress. But look at the positives of this. A strong leader unites the party. Whether a fraction of the party likes it or not, the bonding that develops within the party is rock solid. Loyalty is much under-rated in the intellectually liberal media and society, but its advantages in a heterogeneous, fractious society are too powerful to be ignored.

It is for this reason that most political parties have seen dynastic politics, be in the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, or DMK in TN or the Akali Dal in Punjab or the SP in UP or the JD(S) in Karnataka….a dynastic leader succeeds where a democratically elected one would fail.

If one were to go by charisma, both Modi and Rahul Gandhi get high scores. It is for this reason that both make news whenever they do something. The Modi-Rahul G showdown has been the flavor of the political circuit for some reason. The advantage Rahul has is that he has age on his side; if he can leverage it well, he can swing the votes of the youth towards the Congress. Not that Modi is fuddy duddy either. He is no mean youth vote catcher himself, especially given his aptitude for new technology and an ability to conduct a youthful dialogue. However, I would like to believe that youngsters in general are more intolerant of religious dogmatism, as well as an illiberal social culture. This is where Rahul shows more promise than Modi. Modi is a hawk; he is anti-Muslim. In fact, he is anti-minorities. Rahul on the other hand is decidedly liberal. Rahul’s family itself is a motley mix of religions, with his grandmother (Indira Gandhi) having married a Parsi man, and his father a Christian woman (Sonia). Even prior to that, Jawaharlal Nehru was known for his liberal views. Will the youth swing towards a charismatic Modi or a charismatic Rahul G?

It’s the same when it comes to castes. All Gandhi family members have been accepted by the most downtrodden and underprivileged sections of India as saviors, while Modi, and even more the BJP, is a party catering to the privileged class, especially the Brahmins. The Congress’s top leadership shows great diversity – with Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, and upper and lower castes occupying positions of power. In contrast, with the exception of Modi, and a few others, most other senior leaders in the BJP, and its sister outfits, are Brahmins. In fact, Modi’s lower-caste reality may be the reason why the RSS doesn’t support his candidature as BJP President. Swaraj scores on that point.

Will Rahul’s elevation lead to a uniting of different sections of the Congress? Will he inspire his team to reach a newer height now? He’s never been shy of taking on a fight and a challenge. He fought in UP and Bihar knowing that his back was to the wall. To his credit, he chose not to run away. In contrast, what will the BJP now do? Who will it make its party President? Appoint a charismatic person like Modi or Swaraj as the President, or settle for a light-weight dummy like Gadkari? Given its severe factions, I think the party will settle for Gadkari. But even if that happens, the party is unlikely to be united as one. Yeddy’s departure took away any chances the party had of returning to power in Karnataka….if either Swaraj or Modi depart, the party would be fractured beyond repair.

The real truth is that Rahul Gandhi could catapult the Congress to a third successive term at the center. There are advantages in dynastic politics. The leader’s position is unchallenged. And if the leader is even half as smart as anyone else, he can pull off the role of leader better than a democratically elected one. The battle for 2014 just became a lot more exciting!

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