Political Line | How much party discipline is too much?

Here is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George

(The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week by Varghese K. George, senior editor at The Hindu. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)

How much discipline does a political party need? How much is too much? Roughly the same people that accuse the BJP of being authoritarian also lament the chaotic indiscipline in the Congress. The CPI (M), which is in power only in Kerala, has established such discipline in the party under CM Pinarayi Vijayan that critics call him ‘Modi in mundu’ — similar to Modi in style of operation, just dressed differently, in the State’s traditional attire.

The BJP is so disciplined these days that there are no noises from within the party. Not that there is no factionalism there, as we explained in last week’s edition of this newsletter; but no leader in the party can apparently whisper a word against the wishes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP national executive meeting recently was yet another occasion for the party and its leaders to shower praises on Mr. Modi. There was little self-reflection or analysis of the challenges before the country or the functioning of the party. The PM asked  the party to be the bridge between the government and the people, but then he embodies the party, government, and much more.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated with a garland by BJP leaders during party’s national executive meeting at NDMC Convention Centre in New Delhi.  | Photo Credit: PTI


The continuing spectacle of Congress State president Navjot Singh Sidhu running down the party CM in Punjab is the other extreme. With no clarity on leadership, ideology, or programme, the Congress is in chaos. Its lack of rigidity has been beneficial for the Congress historically, but its complete lack of a sense of direction or discipline at present is quite another matter. Bowing to pressure from Mr. Sidhu, the Punjab government led by Charanjit Singh Channi removed A.P.S. Deol as Advocate General. By undermining Mr. Channi, the Congress has lent credence to the accusation that it was only using his Dalit identity for political posturing while denying him authority. The picture of Mr. Channi and Mr. Sidhu together in this picture speaks a thousand words.

CPI (M) has a mechanism to take even the most senior leaders to task. For instance, the CPI(M) Kerala State committee publicly censured party veteran G. Sudhakaran recently for not cooperating with the candidate who replaced him in the recent Assembly election. But under Mr. Vijayan, the disciplinary mechanism has become less institutional and more personality driven. His decisions reign supreme and are unquestionable. The reach of the party goes far beyond organisational matters as it claims the right to control the social and even private lives of its cadres. A scholar who studied this phenomenon in West Bengal called it the ‘party society.’ In Kerala, the dominance of the CPI (M) is not as complete as it used to be in West Bengal. Still, the ongoing fight of a young woman to retrieve her newborn child, who was given away for adoption without her informed consent, reveals the extent of party control over personal lives.

Anupama S. Chandran and her partner Ajith Kumar B. protesting outside the Kerala Secretariat. File 


Going to back to our opening question: how much is too much when it comes to discipline in political parties? No clear answers here but any organisation, political or otherwise, will flourish only when it balances discipline and hierarchy with individual creativity and initiative. 

Biharis on the move

Bihar contributes a considerable portion of the inter-State migrants in India. It is estimated that during the intercensal period between 2001 and 2011, around 9.3 million Bihari people migrated to other States. Top destinations of migrants from Bihar are Delhi and Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai. This week’s Chhath Puja, a uniquely Bihari custom, brought to the fore the community’s increasing political and social presence in India’s biggest cities. As it happens, the BJP, which is part of the ruling coalition in Bihar, and the AAP traded barbs on who is friendlier towards the Biharis.

In Mumbai, Biharis, or the larger category of Hindi speakers, are a political force to reckon with. The community that used to be with the Congress in large numbers has now shifted loyalty to the BJP. Around 18% to 20% voters in Mumbai come from north India, largely from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Are human rights a stumbling block in effective policing?

There are many who think they are. But what does one make of it when it becomes the topic for a debate competition organised by, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)? That is exactly what happened this week. In October, addressing the 28th foundation day of the NHRC, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had cautioned against “the selective interpretation of human rights and using human rights to diminish the image of the country.”

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval during the Dikshat Parade (passing out parade) commanded by Darpan Ahluwalia (behind) at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy, Hyderabad.  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Another relevant point to this discussion was made by NSA Ajit Doval this week. “The people are most important. The new frontier of war — what we call fourth-generation warfare — is civil society. But it is the civil society that can be subverted, that can be suborned, that can be a divided idea, that can be manipulated to hurt the interest of a nation,” he told newly inducted IPS officers.

Federalism Tract

You would not have missed the attention that this newsletter gives to developments that have implications for Indian federalism. Starting this week, we will have this separate segment in Political Line that will keep track of federalism debates in India. 

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga has written to the Centre to send a Chief Secretary who knows the Mizo language. The Centre appoints CS in the State of Mizoram from the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre of IAS officers. The new CS does not know the local language, the CM, wrote. “The Mizo people by and large generally do not understand Hindi. None of my Cabinet Ministers understands Hindi. Some of them even have a problem with English. With such a background, a Chief Secretary without the knowledge of a working standard Mizo language will never be effective and efficient.”

A recent decision by the Centre to extend the jurisdiction of the BSF in West Bengal, Punjab and Assam is being opposed in the first two States, ruled by the TMC and the Congress respectively. In Punjab, the Assembly adopted a resolution against the Centre’s notification that extended the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force, calling it an “insult” to the State police and seeking its withdrawal. A similar resolution is in the making in West Bengal and will likely be adopted in the coming days.

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