Ajay Vaishnav & Pankaj Sharma/Zee Research Group
Kalyan Singh’s return to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ignited the entry-exit reform debate.
While dissension and rapprochement are part and parcel of any political party’s internal functioning, political parties in general and the BJP in particular appears to promote a policy of ad-hocism in relation to the entry and exit of leaders.
The original poster-boy of Hindutva politics, Kalyan first left the BJP in 1999 following differences with the top brass and floated the Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP). Not only the RKP fought against the BJP in the Assembly polls, but it also supported arch-rival Mulayam to form the government in 2003.
Kalyan’s rapprochement with the senior BJP leadership and return to the party just before the 2004 Lok Sabha polls hardly made any difference to BJP’s performance at the hustings. It could just win 10 seats out of 80 seats in UP in 2004 polls. The worse came in 2007 Assembly polls when BJP managed just 51 seats with about 17 percent of the vote share.
On the eve of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Kalyan again left the BJP over personal differences in ticket distribution and joined Mulayam. The latter’s support helped Kalyan win from Etah. But the bonhomie between the two leaders was short-lived following which Kalyan floated Jan Kranti Party (JKP). In last year’s UP Assembly polls, JKP couldn’t even draw two percent of the total vote share.
Kalyan’s case is a study on how India’s party system has failed to create objective and transparent benchmarking to decide the point of no return for dissenting leaders. KN Govindacharya, a former BJP ideologue, couldn’t agree more.
“Barring the Communist parties, no other party is following any norms for entry and exit for their leaders. For BJP, Kalyan Singh may be a good resource. Yet Singh’s efficacy is being questioned because of loss of credibility,” he avers.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in New Delhi, however, sees it as BJP’s inability to blood fresh talent. “May be BJP doesn’t have much of young blood so they are brining an old guy like Kalyan Singh,” he says.
The trend pervades across parties. But BJP stands ahead in the pack. Congress being an exception is more to do with the nature grand old party is run. Dissent is synonymous to disloyalty towards the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Giving company to Kalyan is lawyer-turned politician Ram Jethmalani whose career in BJP has followed more or less a similar trajectory. He’s been in and out of the saffron camp multiple times. Uma Bharati and Jaswant Singh too have left the party eventually to return.
Excessive dissent and rapprochement highlights organisational weakness and succumbing to political expediency. Babulal Marandi, Jharkhand’s former chief minister and the president of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), who left the BJP in 2006 over differences, blames placing individuals above organization and views it as a disturbing trend.
“Gradually, internal democracy is weakening in all political parties as few individuals are acquiring larger than life image at the cost of organization, which is linked to parties’ inability to develop new leadership,” Marandi says.
Mehta at CPR laments and harks back to previous decades when political dissent was based on principles rather than expediency.
“The number of leaders entering and exiting among parties is very marginal today in comparison to 60s and 70s when a large number of leaders stood alone and created their own outfit. Take example of leaders like Charan Singh and Jagjivan who went out of the Congress and formed their own political party. But how many such leaders do we have today?” Mehta explains.
Given the decay that has set-in in the party system, what is the way forward? Govindacharya is of the view that time for a set of political reforms has come along with upholding high personal and ethical standards within parties.
“There is no question of ethics among politicians today as they are for an unhealthy competition for power. A set of political reforms are immediately needed,” he says.