It is that time in Indian politics again when all that matters is a ticket from the party to fight elections. Denied their party’s nominations, old faithfuls and even leaders easily metamorphose into all kinds of rebels. But Jaswant Singh’s rebellion against the Bharatiya Janata Party on being denied a party ticket has a slightly different dimension. He has been one of the seniormost leaders of the party and has held important positions in the BJP-led governments at the Centre. Although he is a former officer of the Indian army, his revolt against his party shows that not all old soldiers know how to fade away. Few would be convinced by his claim that his rebellion was inspired by “principles”. Clearly, Mr Singh, like many others belonging to the party faction led by Lal Krishna Advani, is unhappy with the rise of Narendra Modi as the most popular face of the BJP. Personality clashes are common to all groups, especially in political parties. But the revolt of the veterans in the BJP reflects their rather pathetic inability to accept change and a new order. Worse, it shows that the rebellious old guard would not mind overstaying even at the cost of hurting the party and its own public image.
However, the rising dissent within the party should make the new BJP leadership rethink the ways in which it chooses candidates for elections. In most parties, the practice for the selection of candidates has little to do with the wishes of either the party workers or of the people in particular constituencies. Candidates are chosen by virtue of their loyalty to the party leader or to the reigning faction. Mr Singh’s revolt may have been prompted by nothing but his failure to secure the party ticket from Barmer in Rajasthan. But the BJP’s choice of a recent defector from the Congress for the seat has little political or moral justification. Mr Singh may have done his old party a service if his revolt inspired new thinking on the selection of party nominees. Ironically, the BJP may do well to look at the enemy camp of the Congress for a lesson on this. Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to select Congress candidates for these Lok Sabha elections on the basis of party “primaries” add a new element to electoral contests in India. He may not have succeeded wholly in eliminating old vices in party politics. But this is unquestionably a step in the right direction. It would be good for Indian democracy if other parties follow it.