In search of Swaraj
Mass base movements create iconic leaders. Freedom fighter Jayaprakash Narayan, who turned the tables on then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the mid-1970s with the call of Sampoorna Kranti or total revolution had long retired from active politics. His best political shot, however, came through the anti-corruption and anti-authoritarian movement. His struggles during emergency turned him into an icon – he was christened as Lok Nayak, that is people’s leader.
The Jan Andolan (Mass Movement) of Lok Nayak also created a new generation of leaders like Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sushil Kumar Modi and Ravi Shankar Prasad. It also provided a new lease of life to many non-Congress veteran opposition stalwarts like Chaudhary Charan Singh, Morarji <g data-gr-id="171">Desai,<g data-gr-id="126">Karpoori</g></g> Thakur, Devi Lal and Biju Patnaik among others.
Referring to the fact that the evolution of leadership and such qualities is a gradual and rigorous process, a prominent Swaraj Abhiyan leader pointed out that it took 40 years even for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to emerge as a mass leader.
Swaraj Abhiyan leaders in the current context refer to the fact that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal became a well-known leader when he became part of India Against Corruption, a mass movement. <g data-gr-id="139">Prior to that</g> he was respected as another prominent RTI activist. They say that Swaraj Abhiyan that was launched on April 14 is full of leaders, who are product of mass base movements in different regions of the country, and hope that they will acquire national stature in due course of time.
“Mass base movements expose good qualities of a leader. Mass movements reveal and test leadership qualities of the activists. New leaders emerge out of <g data-gr-id="198">crucible</g> of politics committed to the betterment of society and nation,” said Ajit Jha, a prominent member of the Swaraj Abhiyan. The breakaway group of AAP, which is led by its expelled members – Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Ajit Jha and Anand Kumar – aim to take “the journey ahead that started three or four years ago from Ramlila Maidan of trying to cleanse the politics of the country” and build a nationwide political platform for political reform in the country.
“That journey must continue. Some of our co-travellers must have become tired and left us and may have given up, but we must continue the journey,” Yadav, also a political scientist told Millennium Post, referring to his parting of ways with Kejriwal and others over host of institutional issues within the party.
Yadav says that the movement aims to bring “together all like-minded idealists and those who have engaged themselves in mass mobilisations in their respective regions and places on one platform. “From Punjab, Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi, UP and Bihar we have lots of people who have engaged in mass movements,” he said.
On the question that the idea of mass base leaders throwing up challenge to the idea of Swaraj as happened in AAP, Yadav said, “Mass base leaders are important and they are necessary and politics depends upon mass leaders and the mass leaders need not be dictators. They should not be worshipped and they also must be leaders who are democratically accountable. There are many examples of mass leaders who are accountable in the country. They participated in the party and never tried to dominate the organisational structure.”
But, Indian polity is full of examples of mass base leaders turning dictatorial after electoral victory and rising popularity like the role of Indira Gandhi in turning the Congress dynastical or Lalu Yadav destroying the Janata Dal in early 1990s, Yogendra Yadav termed it one of the evils that we need to constantly fight against. “It is not easy to get rid of it. There are many evils of Indian politics that we need to fight upon like corruption being one of them and this is another kind of corruption in ourpolitical structure. If we can fight against financial corruption, why can’t we fight against this kind of corruption?”
To curb personality cult and check ambitious mass base leaders, Swaraj Abhiyan will not get into hero worship, will not use slogans and images of living human beings to represent the movement. A top leader feels that personality centric politics is inimical to democracy and said that this phenomenon is gradually coming up across the global politics.
“Due to rise of electronic media there is a sort of personality focus in some form or the other there due to dominance of electronic images. People want to look into the eyes of their leader. Certainly degree of personality focus has increased all over the world, but the hero worship and the kind of personality cult that we have created in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and unfortunately now in Delhi. It’s a peculiar pathology of Indian politics,” Yadav felt.
Yadav, who recently toured the country and visited Allahabad, Bangalore, Patna, Jammu, Karnal, Guwahati, Kolkata and Ludhiana among others to drum up support for the Swaraj Abhiyan, terms “a viable presence at the national level” the biggest challenge for the movement.
“Taking the scale of the country, viability is such a difficult thing. Any new organisation that lacks muscle power, money power and does not have governmental clout will face challenges of remaining in the public radar,” he said.
The leaders say that the aim of the new movement is to decentralise power and it will start from itself by becoming a decentralised organisation. The whole aim is that the state units will get considerable autonomy in organising their own affairs. The state units will be run by leaders in the state based on their assessment of local politics, and not governed from Delhi. The movement aims to create a model of democratic political organisation. “We need to create a set of new ideas and new agenda of India. Once these things are done we will review our progress and move to the next step. Till then we are not into contesting any elections,” Yadav said.
Yadav, a prominent political scientist, refused to divulge the model of the new political party and was not sure about it. On the question whether the Swaraj Abhiyan would act as a mentor to new political party based on the RSS-BJP model, Yadav was non-committal, saying he does not consider RSS-BJP as a model worth emulation, but that is the only model known in India.
“History is full of much better examples. The idea is that a political force must be enveloped by social movements. It must be surrounded and guided by the ideas outside the political party which tends to check it, guide it and prevents it from sliding it but does not necessarily control it. RSS-BJP is a very peculiar model,” he said.
Leaders of the Swaraj Abhiyan strongly feel the movement must not be reduced to one single party. They it seems have learnt a lot from the model of Indian Against Corruption. “The problem of the anti-corruption movement was not that it created a political party but the problem was that it created just one political party. Yes, we should learn from our freedom struggle and movements like African National Congress which created multiple organs and which tended to check each other. That is a worthy model to emulate, then just to create one political party. Parties have their own logic, and at times they are reduced to just that goal, which may be unethical also,” another prominent leader said.
On the question that which political and social institutions, the Swaraj Abhiyan looks for emulating and considers them as its predecessors, besides the AAP, Yadav talks about the experiments that preceded AAP in the last many decade like Lok Rajniti Manch, Samajwadi Jan Parishad, People’s Political Forum, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Lok Satta. “These are important efforts which are worth learning from. The reason they did not succeed was their viability, which was a very serious issue. AAP succeeded in creating that viability but it did not succeed in creating an alternative. That is where the real challenge is,” he said.
The leaders agreed that after having burnt their fingers with AAP once, volunteers will be reluctant to join a new movement. “There was a sense of unease. There are apprehensions and questions we address those questions. Having participated once people should be sure that the movement will reflect diversity, procedures will be more transparent and democratic, and the volunteers will have a say in the running of the organisation,” another prominent leader associated with the movement said.
Pitching for the involvement of rank and file in the internal decision making of the political party, the new movement will empower the volunteers.
“In Congress the dynasty and its coterie calls all the <g data-gr-id="211">shorts</g>, while in BJP there is as a set of 50 to 100 top leaders who are final <g data-gr-id="213">decision making</g> authority, and now we see how the triumvirate of PM Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley have not only hijacked the government but also the party, which is not a healthy sign for the country,” Ajit Jha said.
Swaraj Abhiyan leaders cautioned from blaming the Indian society as a feudal institution but agreed that caste poses a serious question. The way to respond is to address the caste and justice system and the concerns of diverse caste and community representations in the organisation itself, which the movement has begun.
“The entire idea that India is feudal draws from European parallels. There is striking difference between what happened in Europe and what happened with us. Let us understand Indian society in our own terms rather than someone else’s term,” he said. Thus, Swaraj Abhiyan aims to create a structure on how democracy and politics should be modelled.