If ever there existed a meter to measure political success, it would be calibrated with continuity. Successful leaders leave lasting legacies only by incubating successful successors. Since the dynamics of political parties are ideally fuelled by specific ideologies and not individuals, the survival of netas depends on an uninterrupted flow of new members to carry the flag forward. But the battle for Lok Sabha 2019 has exposed the ideological insolvency of almost all the national and regional parties.
Though they are helmed by leviathans, they are unable to find deserving candidates from their own cadres. Barring the Left, all outfits are shopping for individuals whose winnability quotient is guaranteed by muscle, money and community power instead of any affinity to their new ideological ecosystem. Both the BJP and the Congress have been spending more energy on poaching from other parties than canvassing on the ground. Ideology is dead. Long live individuals.
Ironically, the 135-year-old Congress and the world’s largest party, BJP, which has over 110 million members, seem unable to find even 542 candidates to fill the seats. Neither of them has announced their full list of candidates even after two out of seven phases are done. Evidently, mainstream national parties are insecure about winning on the basis of ideology or performance and instead depend only on alliances and candidates with clout and some community cachet.
Otherwise what is the explanation for both the BJP and the Congress not officially declaring the names of all the candidates in Delhi and Haryana? Once upon a time, Indira Gandhi’s stature was so powerful that if she chose a lamp post as a candidate, it would win. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have been addressing massive rallies, boasting of their track record in delivering on their 2014 promises.
The Congress doesn’t lose an opportunity to swear by NYAY if it is voted to power. Yet neither seem sure of their loyal and tested workers winning on their own individual acceptability and credibility. The BJP expediently welcomed even hardcore Marxists in Kerala to bolster its electoral prospects, while the Congress ignored the “poisonous” RSS background of BJP defectors to its ranks.
Over the past two decades, the colour of party flags may not have changed, but the human content of the political parties has dramatically altered. Come elections, the volume of political trading hits a high pitch. Last week, the BJP, which rules over two-thirds of the states, picked a Congress defector for the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat, which was represented five times by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Ravi Kisan, a fading Bhojpuri film star, is their answer to the SP-BSP Mahagathbandhan candidate. Kisan had left the Congress two years ago and was desperately seeking relevance.
The BJP also adopted Praveen Nishad, who had won in a by-election in 2017 as the joint Opposition candidate, and has fielded him from Sant Kabir Nagar. Eastern Uttar Pradesh is considered a Sangh stronghold. In terms of caste, its social composition is heavily tilted towards the ruling party. Yet the BJP couldn’t find anyone from its rank and file to retain the seat. It has chosen another entertainer, Niruhua, to challenge former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in Azamgarh. Its excessive obsession with cine stars was on display when it gave former Samajawadi leader Jaya Prada the Lok Sabha ticket for Rampur.
Even more shocking is its choice of fielding terror-acused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur to take on former chief minister Digvijaya Singh in Bhopal. The Congress had taken the fight to the BJP bastion by fielding the ex-raja. Bhopal is traditionally a Sangh stronghold. In the 16 Lok Sabha elections held since independence, the BJP or the Jan Sangh have won it ten times. Their candidates polled on an average over 50 per cent of the votes. Saffron roots here are so solid that even national cricket icon and local nawab Tiger Pataudi lost to a retired civil servant by over one lakh votes in 1991, when the Congress captured the Centre.
The constituency has been represented by ex-CMs such as Uma Bharati and Kailash Joshi. Former bureaucrat SC Verma won four times on the BJP platform with huge margins. In 2014, the relatively unknown Alok Sanjar garnered twice the votes polled by his Congress opponent. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath took the BJP by surprise by appealing to Singh to fulfil his ambition to beard the saffron lion in its strongest den.
Ignoring the claims of both senior and committed mid-level leaders, the BJP fell into the Congress trap by choosing terror-accused Sadhvi Pragya, which not only dented the BJP’s terror-fighting credentials but also exposed its organisational infirmity. Its blinkered strategy seems limited to taking revenge on Singh, whose viciously strident anti-Sangh voice has made him its formidable foe.
The Congress and other parties are not far behind in wooing outsiders. It has welcomed charismatic Bollywood actor Shatrughan Sinha, who had been in the BJP for over three decades. The Congress is fighting for survival in Bihar. Sinha has been its most acerbic critic since 1989. Before his saffron swing, Shotgun had campaigned extensively with former Prime Minister V P Singh to defeat the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress. The Samajawadi Party has invited Sinha’s wife Poonam Sinha to fight Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Lucknow.
The Congress also gave a ticket to a former BJP lawmaker from Maharashtra to engage Union minister Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur. No state or party is an exception to a personality cult obsession. The BJP’s phenomenal expansion in the north-east has been facilitated by Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. A veteran Congressman for 25 years, he joined the BJP in 2015. Since then, he has propelled the eviction of the Congress from all states in the region.
While the BJP’s primary membership may have swelled in Odisha and West Bengal, a large number of its prominent candidates are embittered defectors from local ruling organisations. Rahul, too, has perfected the art of mergers and acquisition. The strategy of national leaders to minimise and discourage local leaders has led to the birth of numerous caste and region-based parties. Of the 300 small outfits, over 200 have been floated by persons who left their national or regional political playing fields for greener pastures.
They are back in demand. It is worrisome that in 2019 even formidable leaders with pan-India appeal are unsure of a decisive win unless they make deals with professional party hoppers. In their lust for power sans principle, our leaders have forgotten the art of nurturing and building a new moral and ideologically led leadership for the future.