India’s leaderless democracy

Despite there being too many leaders in almost every domain, India suffers from the severe problem of being a leaderless country.

Though Manmohan Singh heads the government, as the Prime Minister for the second consecutive term, prospects of him being hailed as a national leader remain as low today as they were a decade ago. Sonia Gandhi has established herself as the Congress chief and head of the coalition, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), her foreign birth remain an obstacle to her ever heading the country as either the premier or as president of the republic. All eyes are set on her son Rahul Gandhi taking over the reins of government as the next prime minister, yet there still remains doubt on whether he is ready for the task or not. 

The leading opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is confronted with the same problem in a more taxing manner. Veteran L K Advani who probably still nurtures the ambition of heading India as its prime minister has been marginalised in his own party by the saffron brigade. The key decision making process in the BJP is now being controlled by the present party head Rajnath Singh, former party chief Nitin Gadkari, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha (Lower House) Sushma Swaraj and leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha (Upper House) Arun Jaitley.

Displeased at virtually being shown the door where the party’s strategic planning is concerned, Advani did not take long to express that the country’s voters were ‘disillusioned’ with Congress as well as the BJP. He also stated that he had been holding this impression for several years. Political sense probably guided Advani in not making this statement earlier as openly as he has a few days ago. Advani decided to fire out his disillusionment within his political ranks when he felt convinced that there isn’t any substantial political space for him in his own camp. 

Ironically, the very man who helped the BJP assume the importance of a national party is left without a say in the same body. Though several BJP leaders have tried to downplay Advani’s criticism and his being marginalised by saying that they still look up to him as their ‘guide’, the writing is clear. Formally, Rajnath Singh is the party president. The BJP, however, is at present is commanded by too many leaders, with practically none having any national image. While Rajnath has failed to help BJP gain importance in northern India, the appeal of Gadkari and Modi are confined to their regional linkages. There is nothing about Jaitley’s personality that can help him identify with the common Indian. The same can be said about Swaraj. 

The recent political history has witnessed a rise in self-acclaimed leaders identifying themselves with the common man. Arvind Kejriwal heads this list, who has also formed a political party called the Aam Indian Party (AAP). Kejriwal has certainly succeeded in gaining international attention, good media coverage and attracting crowds. His appeal, however, is still confined to a section of educated, urban class who hardly represent even 50 per cent of the common Indians from rural areas, who are either totally illiterate or semi-literate. 

The truly common Indian, from rural as well as urban areas, has little time for most political distractions, whether they are Rahul Gandhi’s speeches, Kejriwal’s demonstration or BJP’s rally. They can, of course, be ‘bribed’ to participate in these gatherings, which they usually agree to out of their material interest and not because of their political leanings.  

On one hand, numerous leaders as well as parties at national stage and at regional levels may be viewed as a very strong reflection of this country’s democratic political fabric. Yet the tragedy is that stretching in too many directions — regional, religious, caste and creed are weakening the same political fabric. The only relief is that these barriers are not stretched to violence and conflict at grassroots level. Thus, in essence, despite India being virtually a leaderless country, the Indian voters’ conscience has not let this weakness prove fatal.

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a India-based freelancer

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