The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- A managerial approach to politics makes it a cynical power chase

There is ample reason to be awestruck by the degree of “professionalism” that the Bharatiya Janata Party has brought to the selection of candidates and to campaign planning for the forthcoming general elections.

The computerized “war room” of the BJP general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, has been much written about. His “think tank” has details of voting intentions across age groups, occupations, ethnicity, religion and castes for every parliamentary constituency. The issues that agitate the people, their satisfaction levels, their attitude to governance and their preference for chief ministerial and prime ministerial candidates have all been collated and classified across local, regional and national levels and differentiated among social groups. For each constituency, major issues agitating the voters have been identified and lists of notables with influence over religious, ethnic and caste sub-groups prepared.

Pramod Mahajan is not alone in collating such information or conducting pre-poll surveys. In the BJP’s central election committee meetings, leaders bring their own independent poll surveys. Instead of relying on information from the party channels, they rely more readily on what market researchers tell them about selecting candidates, possible political alliances and electoral strategies.

Does a political party require a pollster to suggest political strategy' Let us assume that a pollster suggests to a party, which cannot hope to get the Muslim vote in the North-east, ways of spoiling the prospect of its rivals. Suppose it suggests that this can be done by either aggressively communalizing the election in select constituencies, or by splitting the Muslim community between immigrant Muslims and indigenous Muslims. And it suggests that floating a political front against “foreigners” can easily achieve this.

To what extent should democratic politicians solicit such suggestions from market researchers, leave alone accept them' Adopting their recommendations may provide certain tactical benefits to the party concerned in a few constituencies. However, the polity would have been damaged, perhaps permanently. This is likely to happen if the leadership of our political parties goes into the hands of those with blind faith in the corporatization of politics.

This trend is most evident in the BJP. There is no doubt that its party managers have been emboldened by their success in using such a paradigm in the assembly elections of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. A market research agency hired by the BJP for the Rajasthan polls suggested strategies of politically neutralizing rivals in specific constituencies. Nowhere was the strategy more successful than in the Jat dominated constituencies, the traditional turf of the Congress. The BJP made spectacular gains.

While there is no argument against careful planning of elections and electoral campaigns, there is a case against the wholesale managerialization of politics where “managing” the election becomes more important than contesting it on issues, ideology and programmes.

The BJP has always had faith in its backroom boys. Traditionally, they came from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. These former pracharaks saw themselves as strategists and thinkers. Although they themselves never contested elections, they worked the cadre network of the RSS in favour of the BJP.

However, today, managerialism is being encouraged by the BJP to a greater extent than before as a substitute for the political experience to be acquired from working as the people’s representative in Parliament. Today, almost the entire younger leadership of the party does not want to undergo this essential electoral internship. Instead these would-be prime ministers are cutting their teeth on a managerial apprenticeship — of “managing” elections scientifically — and expect to be rewarded with important political posts in the government and the party.

But the neglect of the political process damages democracy. In a democracy, the political parties serve as a bridge, a communication channel between the people and the state. Their mediation constitutes the self-correcting mechanism of democratic governance. Managerialization of politics removes this essential element of democracy and replaces it with manipulativeness.

In societies where institutions are still weak, managerialization threatens to damage democracy. In the democratic societies of the West, where social and economic development has reduced the role of the state and where institutions are strong, parties can essentially be run by managers. If people are certain that the bureaucracy, the police, the security apparatus and the judiciary will be impartial and responsive to their needs, the role of the state diminishes by itself. The mediatory role of political parties also goes down as a consequence. In the United States of America, for example, virtually the sole objective of the political parties is to throw up a presidential candidate every four years. For such limited political activity, the use of opinion polls or market research is understandable. The party infrastructure there does not have to be widespread and permanent.

As it is the information network that the market represents, the institutions of democracy and the state do not provide equal access to people even in the best of circumstances. This inequality gets further accentuated in developing countries like India where the market is not fully developed, where income disparities are phenomenal and where the state can still be persuaded to play a role to protect the vulnerable sections of society.

In such societies, the local politician or representative of the people assumes an importance different from that in developed democratic societies. Here, no representative of the state can be presumed to behave in a fair manner — a woman can be raped in a police station; legitimate passengers thrown out of running trains by Railway Protection Force personnel and bribes extracted from even those who are starving by a corrupt bureaucracy. Much as the urban elite may hate the political class, the mediatory and corrective role of political parties and politicians cannot be underestimated in societies such as ours.

Under such circumstances, the managerialization of politics contributes to making democratic politics cynical — merely the most efficient and effective way of grabbing power. In the long run, the managerialization of politics removes ideology from politics and celebrates the cynical pursuit of power. It knocks the political stuffing out of democracy. If coming into power requires dividing people instead of uniting them around an ideology, it would recommend such a course of action without any qualms. Managerialization of politics will use religion and caste to define and refine vote-banks rather than uniting and mobilizing people around issues and programmes.

Indeed, this is already happening in the BJP. Here was a party which was against Mandalization of politics because it saw V.P. Singh’s emphasis on backward and intermediate caste politics as dividing “Hindu society”. Today, its party managers have recommended an intensification of Mandalization.

Kalyan Singh was brought back to break the solidarity of castes controlled by Mulayam Singh Yadav by weaning away groups such as Lodhs, Gadariyas (shepherds), Malis (gardners and vegetable growers), Badais (carpenters) and Kevats and Mallahs (boatmen). Rajnath Singh, a former chief minister, similarly tried to create divisions within the backward castes by attempting to bring in a legislation for the most backward castes among the backward castes to deepen the caste divide among them. This kind of manipulation of backward caste solidarity indicates the triumph of a managerial manipulative strategy over an ideology of nation-building that the BJP swears by.

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