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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reclaiming the successful

The phrase "secession of the successful" has often been used to describe the non-involvement of India's professional classes--those who are the driving forces of a globalised economy--in politics. The reasons are well known and don't need to be repeated.

This Lok Sabha election, a section of the media, has been attempting to change things by at least forcing the young, the upper middle classes and the cynical classes to at least go out and vote. The assumption is that a substantial turnout may prompt political parties to may more heed to those they had earlier brushed aside as the non-voting classes.

I spent Saturday in Bangalore (I still can't get myself to writing or saying Bengaluru) with Arun Jaitley to see a group of young enthusiasts, who work under the banner of Friends of BJP, in action. A group from Mumbai, notably Rajesh Jain and Amit Malviya, had taken time off from work to help the BJP reach out to young PLUs--those who otherwise follow Barack Obama's campaign more enthusiastically than Indian politics.

The functions were also aimed to coincide with the entry into the party of R.K.Misra, the winner of last year's Lead India contest organised by Times of India. Earlier in the week, Devang Nanavati, the Ahmedabad-based advocate who was runner-up in the same contest, also joined the BJP in Gujarat. Many others haven't formally joined but feel emotionally committed to the BJP.

I see an initiative such as FOBJP in two ways. In this election season, it can play a role in bringing out the otherwise apathetic middle-class vote. The group can expose a small group of Indians to the delights of organising and interacting with other like-minded individuals. FOBJP, I feel, is not merely aimed at the young. It must target all those who feel for India but shy away from politics.

There is a second, post-election dimension to the FOBJP. If the initiative dies at the end of the campaign, only to be resurrected the next time a Lok Sabha is elected, it would be a lot of wasted energy.

I believe FOBJP should become a permanent forum for all those who see themselves as BJP voters. They should act as a permanent watchdog/pressure group to ensure that the party doesn't forget its supporters.

Hitherto, the party has emphasised its karyakartas, i.e. the activists. It has not demonstrated a similar willingness to either hear or explain things to those who vote for the party and identify with it.

The FOBJP must remain a ready-made forum for party. It must alert the party to possibilities, warn against stupidities and debate the issues. The constant interaction between a party and its social base will enrich democracy.

I hope some of those who are in the FOBJP take up and improve on my suggestion. Among all the political parties, the BJP is the most democratic. We must now use democracy to improve the quality of the party.

(By the way, I wrote a similar piece for The Pioneer before I attended the Bangalore meeting )


doubtinggaurav said...

Swapan Da,

I do not agree with you characterization of middle class as secession of the successful. To explain why middle class is uninvolved with democratic process will take a long post, but briefly (and to reiterate what 'Oldtimer' pointed out) that for most of us middle class politics is a hobby and not a profession. Unfortunately owing to centralization of power, politics in India is a full time job. For any meaningful intervention of middle class in politics (i.e that goes beyond ritual of voting and entails participation in formation of popular opinion), the power must be de-centralized.

Bhavananda said...

Very good post.I hope the BJP full-timers take care to rope in more part-timers. This BJP strategy to rope in the educated upper-middle class of urban voters is actually a very good strategy, especially after constituency delimitation. The number of seats for urban areas have gone up and it is no secret which party an informed citizen is going to vote for. This is also important in the light of success of LKA's website which actually touched top 5000 websites, worldwide. Given the few percent traffic from India, this is a significant milestone for a political website to attract urban voters. Friends4bjp needs to help BJP make sure that these net-surfers actually turn up when its time to vote, otherwise it is all useless.

ayush said...

friends of BJP is a unique initiative in Indian politics and I am sure in the years to come, Politics will be redefined becoming more participative and vibrant.

Its a great initiative and the momentum needs to be kept going even post elections where the FOBJP platform can be used for constructive debates and setting the agenda for governance from the perspective of Urban educated professionals

Maald said...

Some unsolicited advice from a well wisher on how to increase the number of hits to your blog:

Allowing a lot of discussions on the blog is the most effective way of increasing hits.

If you allow RSS feeds of other like-minded blogs, they may reciprocate. That will put you in a bigger network and increase hits.

Anonymous said...

Off topic,

What the hell is happening in UP and Bihar. The upa is fighting with each other in every constituency. Now SP is fighting against LJP in Bihar. LJP is fielding candidates in UP. COngress is fighting all of them. With so many fighting for the mulsim pie, is there a ray of hope for the BJP? Is Varun a cynical ploy to polarise voters? Is there a method in the metaphorical madness. I did not find anything objectionable in VGs statement, but the ongoing media onslaught is only going to help the BJP. I hope one of your future article covers this aspect of the enthralling elections.

Neelakantan said...

I was thinking along the same lines when I was at the session in Bangalore. The BJP is atleast trying to reach out to the "middle class", the Congress is not even trying. In K'taka where the BJP is now ruling, its MLAs are as invisible/inaccessible as any other. Why dont they put up websites, offices so that they can maintain this FOBJP contact on a more permanent basis?

Anshul said...

Hi Mr Dasgupta.. I am a regular reader of your columns and was delighted to discover your blog. An observation on a theme running through the last few posts is best done through an example. Mr Jaitley - the great hope of the "conservative" chattering classes - (amomgst whom I count myself a rueful member) has been cornered in the great crab pulls crab style of BJP politics post '04by his detractors in the recent controversy. Unfortunately for a credible conservative movement distinct from purely the RSS route right wing politics, there is a need for "our" representation in the BJP pantheon. Also for "legitmacy" in perception beyond the converted in the country at large, representation in the "lower house" is necessary -note the sniggers at MMS or the credibility of a Sushma Swaraj as a "mass leader". Compare it to the dismissive labels "strategist" / "backroom operator" etc used often for Mr Jaitley reinforced after his decision not to contest in 2009. Whatever be the workload on Mr Jaitley, that decision as well as your comment about him having a life beyond politics, can be tied in to an extent with the behavioral traits of his natural constituency - which too settles easily for less when they deserve more. So a message for him - followers can be enthused to break new ground ala say Obama followers even from the self absorbed Indian middle class if the once in years kind of talent like him would push the boundaries and not settle too easily for less when it could be more.

Anonymous said...

In the name of 'Friends of BJP' some people want to slowly enter the money making, powerful and fame earning world of politics. Mr. Devang Nanavati in Ahmedabad is such kind of a creature. There is no problem if anyone is ambitious politically. But the issue is that, some ideological background should be there. I would like if someone enters into the BJP via VHP or RSS but I would certainly not like is someone enters through FOBJP without ideological background of Dindayal Upadhyay's Ekatma Manavvad or Hedgevarji's Hindu Rashtra. VHP, RSS workers are simple people or say even most of the BJP workers are also simple middle class people, while FOBJP people are suited booted, highly educated and long car owner people. In the shine and chamak damak of these people, BJP's basic worker should not be forgotten. Page Three is fast becoming Page one. FOBJP should not just become page 3 of politics. Governance, wining or loosing elections are important aspects but depth of ideology should be at centre.


hey swapan how rya nice to read your blog, i regularly read your columns they are absolutely great
this post is good as well but i want to ask you why some journalists and particularly news anchors and editors blatantly side with ruling alliance on all issues and yet they are not criticised by media or people at large?
and i sincerly want to expose them as much as possible
we dont have to take them lying down cause if we do than we also become party to their crime .
we must call spade a spade and renounce this cliched politically correct lines and etiquettes.


Dear Swapan,

Probably you need to convince me. First off let me tell you that I very much admire you and your writing and had the opportunity to meet you in Calcutta Club recently (remember the card exchange and few e-mails sent).

Well, I am a BJP voter (national level - Lok Sabha), but this year I am mulling whether to vote for Congress. The reason is, I am not seeing any cohesion within BJP (not that I see it in Congress, but they have the Ministers in place). And Pranab, Chidambaram et al make a fine team. I like Modi, Jaitley too, but will they get good "posts" - I guess if some clarity came from BJP it will be good.

Not only for the PMs post - but for HOME / FIN / DEFENSE / EXTERNAL AFFAIRS post too.

And lastly a suggestion. To build up a base, let us have a committed base of BJP supporters on the net, who will pay to the BJP party for elections (Like Republicans / Democrats donations). Make a link on the BJP site, and link it to donation and I am sure there is a maximum limit for individuals too. Anyone giving the maximum amount, receives a BJP flag, a pendant etc, and a personal message (printed) from LK Advani.

I am willing to pay through such a medium and since BJP is running such a high decibel internet campaign - let it run another one - "YOUR DONATION COUNTS". Make us feel part of the process.


Porer baar Kolkata te ele, Cal Club e drinks on me.

iamfordemocracy said...

You write "warn against stupidities and debate the issues". That is what is almost impossible in BJP and any BJP-support forum.

Here is a case. I used to like rajeev srinivasan's columns. When he started a blog, I occasionally posted a few comments. Each of them was short and to the point, but often presenting a different take. One fine day, he decided to censor my comments. That was two years ago. I never gave up trying to post comments. He never allowed even one comment in last two years. I then started a blog to highlight this. I did use colourful (not uncivil or profane, but one designed to poke a little) language on my blog, but the comments I posted on his blog were always in proper spirit.

To date, nobody has raised objections to his censorship. Now, this is the case on a "Hindu Nationalist" blog where the owner or the group never have to face ground realities. Imagine what will happen in a BJP meeting where a leader's prestige is at stake if his views are questioned.

My sense is BJP fails because it does not allow vigorous debate. Debate on this issue is welcome on my site or here, wherever folks wish to discuss.