Outsiders in party, insiders in institutions
Two contrary tactics are apparently guiding Narendra Modi. On the political front, he is willing to accommodate outsiders in senior positions even if it means breaking the rigid mould of a cadre-based party. Outside politics, however, he is filling crucial posts in what can be deemed as cultural outfits with acknowledged saffronites.
Although such opposing trends can create problems in the future, for the present, the prime minister, who also virtually runs the party via his Man Friday, Amit Shah, is focussed on winning elections. And, for this purpose, he has discovered, as in Delhi, that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) talent pool is rather shallow.
Hence, the induction of the feisty, if somewhat overenthusiastic, Kiran Bedi, a rank outsider, into the BJP and that, too, as a chief ministerial candidate even if it creates a flutter among the party faithful.
Modi is evidently banking on the possibility that the BJP’s organisational discipline will hold with some help from the party’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As for Bedi herself, she has understandably lost no time praising the RSS to secure a place in her new habitat.
The former police officer - or a “thanedaar”, as a BJP member called her before being berated - is not alone in crossing the floor from one end of the political spectrum to the other, according to some political commentators.
Not long ago, Rao Birender Singh, a grandson of Sir Chhotu Ram, one of the foremost leaders of undivided Punjab in the pre-1947 period, broke his four-decade-long association with the Congress to become a member of the Modi cabinet.
More recently, a former minister of the Manmohan Singh government, Krishna Tirath, joined the BJP. So did Shazia Ilmi, a prominent member of the Aam Admi Party (AAP), besides Vinod Kumar Binny, who has been given a ticket to fight the February 7 elections.
Furthermore, there is speculation that Dinesh Trivedi, a former railway minister who belongs to the Trinamool Congress, may cross over.
There have been others, too, who have made a similar journey and made a success of it. Notable among them are Sushma Swaraj, who was a member of the Janata Party. Maneka Gandhi has also made the journey, despite being a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
It is too early to say whether these wild card entries will gradually turn the BJP from a cadre-based to a mass organisation. But Modi’s immediate expectation is that electoral success will dissipate much of the unhappiness among party members, even though some amount of resentment is bound to remain.
From this standpoint, it is a high-risk gamble because no one can guarantee the foolproof nature of the tactic involving defectors in a lively democracy like ours.
We could speculate that the current dispensation is resolutely promoting insiders, where institutions like the censor board or the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) are concerned, as a shield against the charge that the BJP has diluted its saffron ideology by taking in outsiders.
In the process, however, it is courting the danger of earning opprobrium by nominating people, whose credentials have been called into question. The reason for such selections is because the saffron brotherhood’s cupboard does not contain substantial talent.
The argument that the Congress, too, indulged in such favouritism is tantamount to saying that one wrong justifies another. Moreover, the Congress was lucky that its nominees were somewhat more circumspect in the sense that none of them sang praises of Sonia Gandhi during a live telecast, as the new censor board chief has done about Modi.
For the BJP, however, it will not be easy to walk the tightrope in managing “opportunistic” outsiders, while fending off the criticism of inducting seemingly undeserving entrants into institutions like the censor board and the ICHR.
It might have been advisable, therefore, for the party to demonstrate the same uninhibited eclecticism it has shown towards new members and in the composition of established bodies.
Since belief in strict neutrality is a Utopian dream, few will deny a ruling party’s prerogative to place its own men in positions of power, whether in Raj Bhavans or educational and cultural institutions.
But spreading a wide net to include people of distinction in various bodies, besides adding members of the saffron brotherhood would have earned the government much praise. The fear that divergence of ideological views between the Left and the Right would have paralysed institutions is somewhat unreasonable, at a time when Modi himself is steering the country on an economic course not favoured by some in the saffron brotherhood. An example of such a body is the anti-foreign investment Swadeshi Jagran Manch. Such clashes of ideologies are a feature in all democracies.
What is to be avoided is not so much the articulation of conflicting opinions as the need to ensure that merit and capability are rewarded and not organizational loyalty alone.