Full disclosure: This column invites pieces from people across political parties. Please check the bio for the author’s political affiliations.
The primary purpose of a political party is to win elections. This has resulted in political parties embracing leaders with criminal histories and has led to previously unthinkable alliances such as the one forged between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh.
The primacy of winning elections beyond ideological moorings is also at full display in the ongoing Karnataka Assembly Elections where the Bharatiya Janta Party has chosen tainted leader and former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate and given tickets to Bellari Mining Scam accused Reddy brothers. BS Yeddyurappa has openly stated that he has no objection to taking help from the Reddy brothers if it helps the party achieve its target of winning over 150 seats.
Such instances are commonplace in India and stand in sharp contrast to why leaders claim they’ve entered politics.
Most politicians state that they’ve entered politics to serve the people, but, surprisingly, helping people hasn’t transformed itself into the major agenda of any political party. The party restricts itself to winning elections and the responsibility for better governance lies solely on the elected representatives. This isn’t ideal for the nation’s polity or for the party itself.
At its core, a political party is a social organisation. It has volunteers working towards a shared goal and it raises money from the public for a social cause—to provide better governance after winning elections. Most people in a party are karyakartas at the ground level and not politicians contesting elections. A large number of these karyakartas become disgruntled soon after an election is won because they’ve lost their utility to the party for the next five years. They complain that the party doesn’t listen to them. This is interpreted to mean that they’re being denied special favours and are therefore disgruntled, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Most karyakartas come into politics because they want to bring about a change in governance. But the current party systems deny them any chance of contributing towards development. This makes these karyakartas lose track of why they wanted to engage in politics. They start working for individual gains. Since everyone in a political party says they want to engage in politics to help people, political parties must provide an opportunity to their supporters to engage in nation-building. For the nation to progress, the very concept of how a political party operates needs a rethink.
A party has everything required to bring about extensive social transformation—volunteers, money, a voice in the media, influence over governance and access to individuals in society who are experts in a variety of fields. Yet all of this remains unutilised. Parties engage in token gestures of social work like cleaning streets during ‘Swachh Bharat’ drives but no party has made an attempt to integrate a mandate to work beyond politics in its very structure. With the massive volunteer force at the disposal of parties, the entire nation can be transformed if the energies are channelled in the right direction. In addition to helping the nation, this redirection of energy will also provide karyakartas with a sense of self-worth and help the party win elections.
The nation faces some basic problems that haven’t changed much since Independence. There have been regular reports of funds intended for public services and government schemes like Prime Minister Awas Yojana (PMAY) and Public Distribution System being siphoned off. The news is also flooded with reports of widespread corruption in public works that leads to poor quality construction and cost overruns costing the taxpayer lakhs of crores. Many of these issues can be addressed through a robustly designed system of utilising political volunteers. If a party in power creates a structure where its booth level workers oversee the delivery of government schemes, leakages can be plugged instantly.
Parties like BJP build a network of 10 to 15 volunteers at the booth level through initiatives like Panna Pramukh during elections. If these volunteers are retained after elections to report back on how schemes like PMAY and PDS are functioning in their villages, corruption will become impossible. The sheer number of karyakartas makes it unfeasible for anyone to pay them off.
These karyakartas can also be tasked with organising monthly clean-up drives, reporting back on the progress of construction activities, transporting the sick to hospitals when ambulance services are lacking, informing people of what government benefits they are eligible for and even ensuring specific households are brought out of poverty through the targeted delivery of governmental schemes.
In many states, food grains are still not procured at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) because the people in charge want a commission. Things like this would become impossible if there was a network of karyakartas willing to stand with farmers even when elections are not round the corner.
There are several reasons why this hasn’t happened yet, but there are also several ways of making it happen. The resources at the disposal of India’s political parties are more than enough to fix most problems that have plagued this nation for decades. The real constraint is the willingness of parties to move beyond electoral politics.