BJP inducting outsiders in party, insiders in cultural institutions

Two contrary tactics are apparently guiding Narendra Modi. On the political front, he is willing to accommodate outsiders in senior positions even if it means breaking the rigid mould of a cadre-based party. Outside politics, however, he is filling crucial posts in what can be called cultural outfits with acknowledged saffronites.

Will Modi's new tactic in Delhi work?
Although such opposing trends can create problems in the future, for the present, the prime minister, who also virtually runs the party via his Man Friday, Amit Shah, is focussed on winning elections. And, for this purpose, he has discovered, as in Delhi, that the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) talent pool is somewhat lacklustre where impressing the voters is concerned.

Hence, the induction of the feisty, if somewhat overenthusiastic, Kiran Bedi, a rank outsider, into the BJP and that, too, as a chief ministerial candidate even if it creates a flutter among the party faithful.

Modi is evidently banking on the possibility that the BJP's organisational discipline will hold with some help from the party's ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As for Bedi herself, she has understandably lost no time to praise the RSS to secure her place in her new habitat.

The former police officer - or a "thanedaar", as a BJP member called her before being berated - is not alone in crossing the floor from a "secular" to a camp deemed to be its opposite by its critics.

Not long ago, Rao Birender Singh, a grandson of Sir Chhotu Ram, one of the foremost leaders of undivided Punjab in the pre-1947 period, broke his four-decade-long association with the Congress to become a member of the Modi cabinet.

More recently, a former minister of the Manmohan Singh government, Krishna Tirath, joined the BJP. So did Shazia Ilmi, a prominent member of the Aam Admi Party (AAP), along with Vinod Kumar Binny, also formerly of the AAP, who has been given a ticket to fight the Feb 7 elections.

Furthermore, there is speculation that Dinesh Trivedi, a former railway minister who belongs to the Trinamool Congress, may cross over.

There have been others, too, who have made a similar journey and made a success of it. Notable among them are Sushma Swaraj, who was a member of the Janata Party, and Maneka Gandhi, who is a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

It is too early to say whether these wild card entries will gradually turn the BJP from a cadre-based to a mass organisation. But Modi's immediate expectation is that electoral success will dissipate much of the unhappiness among the party members even though some amount of resentment is bound to remain.

From this standpoint, it is a high-risk gamble because no one can guarantee the foolproof nature of the tactic involving defectors in a lively democracy like India's.

It may be that as a shield against the charge of diluting the saffron ideology by taking in outsiders, the government is resolutely promoting insiders where institutions like the censor board or the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) are concerned.

In the process, however, it is courting the danger of earning opprobrium by nominating people whose credentials have been called into question. The reason for such selections is that, as in politics, the saffron brotherhood's cupboard is rather bare.

The argument that the Congress, too, indulged in such favouritism is tantamount to saying that one wrong justifies another.

Moreover, the Congress was lucky that its nominees were somewhat more circumspect in the sense that none of them sang the praises of Sonia Gandhi during a live telecast, as the new censor board chief has done about Modi.

For the BJP, however, it will not be easy to walk the tightrope in managing "opportunistic" outsiders while fending off the criticism which the seemingly undeserving entrants into institutions like the censor board and the ICHR will face.

It might have been advisable, therefore, for the party to demonstrate the same uninhibited eclecticism it has shown towards new members also in the matter of the composition of the established bodies.

Since belief in strict neutrality is a Utopian dream, few will deny a ruling party's prerogative to place its own men in positions of power, whether in Raj Bhavans or in educational and cultural institutions.

But spreading a wide net to include people of distinction in the various bodies in addition to members of the saffron brotherhood would have earned the government much praise.

The fear that the divergence of ideological views between the Left and the Right would have paralyzed the institutions is somewhat unreal at a time when Modi himself is steering the country on an economic course which is not favoured by some of the saffron outfits, like the anti-foreign investment Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

Such clashes of ideologies are a feature of all democracies. What is to be avoided is not so much the articulation of conflicting opinions as the need to ensure that merit and capability are rewarded and not organizational loyalty alone.


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