Sunday, December 08, 2013

Party is dead, long live the Nation

I have a confession to make.

Whenever I find following terms being used by mainstream media in India - such as unprecedented, historical, never before, apocalyptic, generational etc , I have this incorrigible habit of going back in time and testing my hypothesis - has this happened before? And further more if it has - what were the consequences and what does it tell us in terms of what will happen next.

Current hyperbole on TV and Newspapers is no different. Following is my critique on "decimation" of Indian National Congress.

The Beginnings

Ever since the exclusion crises and Glorious Revolution unfolded in Great Britain, one aspect of democracy has remained constant - that of Political Parties.Jefferson in 1798 captured this in perhaps the most articulate and almost twitter ready form:

"In every free and deliberating society, there must, from the nature of man, be opposite parties, and violent dissensions and discords; and one of these, for the most part, must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time."

We are as a nation indebted to a motley crowd of Britisher civil servants and an enlightened group of Parsi, Bengali and Marathi though leaders who gave us our first Political Party. Early years saw it as a countervailing force in British India to Viceroy's authority in order to improve the governance and was marked by benign appeals to British Parliamentarians mostly in the areas of taxation. What happened later has been captured quite adequately in our NCERT textbooks. I do no want to attempt a revisit.

It is sufficient to say that it evolved (note that I have not used the term transformed here) into a centre left political force that tried a mix of socialism without Communist underpinnings and with its own school of nation building. Whether it worked or not is a subject of debate - one that would involve comparative data from other democracies in their first decades. Again, this is a side topic that I do not attempt to get into at this juncture.

The Spiral

Political Parties are conceived, aborted, born, mature, age and eventually die. INC is and will not be an exception to this truth. However it is important to theorize what leads to death of a political party.

One prominent reason is divergence of the national aspiration from the central thought of that party - Whig Party is a case in point. When the general mood in the US wanted state to expand - wily old foxes of this once very prominent party were against the idea. They misread the situation and paid with the demise of Whig political thought itself. INC of the day firmly believes in entitlement economy - which is a direct spawn of the socialist thought its leaders very romantically advocated in 50s. Whether mood of the nation is infact vehemently opposed to such a state is perhaps subject of another discussion. 

Another reason of demise can rampant factionalism. Unionists in commonwealth countries saw early demise owing to this. Offshoots emerge and gradually take over the mantle of the parent's political discourse. Interestingly this has happened to INC and it has been seeing departures since 1969.

Yet another reason is fall of the cult or father figure. This can be both biological and political. Regional parties are a prime example. However INC has survived and in fact thrived after deaths of tallest leaders before independence. 

Endgame

From a pantheon of democracy, INC has regressed into a franchise that is now run by a Family. Note the usage of term franchise here - I dont think the term political party can be any longer used for INC in the absence of any internal democracy.  

I have drawn out few endgame scenarios for INC:
  • Continued downward spiral till the time it truly becomes a cult party that dies with the death of its leader
  • It transforms itself by aligning itself with nation's aspirations and improves it internal functioning through party democracy, dissolution of the idea of whips and institutionalizing accountability to all and exception to none 
  • Breaks into several factions - one of the factions takes the national stage and occupies INC's current center left stature
  • Thrives with its current leadership and structure. It may continue to appeal to some sections of society that truly believe in therapeutic benefits of entitlements. 
These are indeed interesting times for us.


Footnote
For those who have an open mind should re - read this note after "find and replace" of the term INC with BJP with few exceptions. And for those who are interested - my political affiliation is to that mythical party that advocates centre right libertarian rule. I would have voted for Swantantra Party had I been alive in 50s.



  



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