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  Bharat Punarnirman Dal  
 

 

By: B Shantanu
May 04, 2007
V
iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.

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The dogged persistence in the last few weeks seems to have paid off. By yesterday, I had spoken to four members of Bharat Punarnirman Dal  (BPD) and three members of Bharat Uday Mission (BM or Bhumi).

Sadly, no contact with their Presidents yet, but I now have a lot more clarity on what each of them are trying to achieve…

Attempts at contacting these groups over the last few days (see here  and here) and getting them to articulate their views on some important issues was an eye-opening exercise.

The discussions and the conversations that ensued led to a number of thoughts that I’ve briefly described below.

That led to a set of recommendations outlined here:
Learn to effectively manage your communications and be responsive;  Think hard about strategy and tactics – they are different for good reason; Resources don’t materialize from thin air; they need to be amassed carefully and over time;  Learn to cooperate and coordinate; the broader your coalition, the more sustainable it is likely to be;  Get some grey hairs around you, and finally , Develop your next level of leadership. 

I hope that a set of core ideas can emerge from this debate and discussion that could form the template for “Next Action's)for these parties. Here are the observations and thoughts in some more detail:

External Communications/ Responsiveness:
Almost all the groupings do a less than perfect job of articulating and (more importantly) communicating their views & vision. The best of the lot was Bharat Punarnirman Dal (BPD), the worst was Lok Paritrana (LP).

Loksatta was equally bad in terms of responsiveness but I am giving them the benefit of doubt because of Shri Jayaprakash Narayan – who has written in depth about some of the critical issues facing India today.

This is worrying because a point will soon be reached where would be members or sympathizers may be “turned off” simply because no one got in touch with them or shared the vision with them.

As I wrote in my previous post, it does not take much time and effort to respond to emails (one could create about half a dozen templates which would easily take care of 80% of the queries) and how hard would it be to find someone dedicated to “external communications”/public relations?

I am afraid that the groups are perhaps missing out on leveraging a very powerful tool that they have at their disposal – i.e. the Internet and the medium of mass communication (particularly TV/ radio). Thoughts/comments welcome.

Strategy and Tactics:
This is a hard one. On one hand, you have BPD and LP – both eagerly campaigning and contesting elections (see here and here); on the other hand you have Bharat Uday Mission (BM) which is concentrating its energies on what I would call “political activism”. BPD has also had electoral success while LP did get some votes in the TN Assembly elections last year.

It appears that both BPD as well as LP are focused more on making a statement (and create a buzz) than actually winning a seat.

Why do I say that? Simply because in the hinterlands of UP, where caste politics runs rife and emotive issues still dominate, “IITs” mean nothing (most of the electorate would not know about them) and the ideals of both these parties are far removed from ground realities.

If, however, the idea was to create a buzz, they have certainly succeeded. Both of them made national news headlines and BPD even got profiled by the Times in London. This is good news because it will generate more awareness and hopefully attract more members/volunteers.

But it is only partially good news…because such activities have a habit of raising expectations –which may be very hard to live up to…and we have seen far too many dreams crash to ground after what seemed to be a spectacular start.

Funding/ Financing/ Resources:
I am guessing that almost all the parties/groupings are struggling with the issues of funding/ financing and/or raising resources.

Although I only spoke personally with BPD and BM, I have no reason to believe that others are in any different situation. Is that a surprise? Not really. But what did surprise me a little bit is that this issue did not appear to have been thought through right at the beginning…

It felt as if the groups had come together and almost as an afterthought realized that they will need money (significant money) to carry forward their activities…and funding will be one of the key challenges of sustaining the momentum in the long run.

This point worries me the most. Funding and financing the activities of a political group is a far bigger challenge than funding an NGO or a charity – I would say it is more difficult by almost an order of magnitude or even more…

For one, donors who otherwise may readily open their purse strings for charities will usually think twice before donating to a political party…for another, the scale of the resources needed to fight even a single assembly election is significant and very large compared to even a mid-size charity.

Unfortunately I did not hear any creative ideas around this…I feel this should be priority #1 for all these groupings if they want to survive over the longer term and not be reduced to a watered-down NGO or political activist/interest group.

Coordination/ Cooperation:
A few words on coordination. Often during the course of the dozen or so calls I had, I got the feeling that these groups were operating fairly independently of each other – almost in a vacuum…

This is not strictly true as they all knew of each other – both as fellow travelers in a cause - as well as at a personal level. And yet, I did not see as much cooperation and coordination as I would have liked to see.

Having said that, I know BPD and YFE support each other and YFE and BM also cooperated in some areas/ (and more recently in the Delhi elections). Unfortunately this is not enough. As some of you know, LP and BPD are at loggerheads with each other in UP and this is a great pity.

Quite apart from the short-term benefits of cooperation, what these groupings have failed to do is to have some kind of a mechanism for coordination at a national level – a clearing house of ideas, opportunities and issues – which would help everyone come together on a common platform where need be – and yet retain their individual identities …

As far as I know, none of these parties has a dedicated resource person's) for this role - something that I think needs urgent attention..

Grey hairs and the follies of youth:

I was struck by the one common thread in almost all the conversations I had with people who were involved with these groupings: the energy, enthusiasm and huge optimism shone through…and yet, I often saw glimpses of naiveté which had the potential to unravel the whole vision pretty quickly.

Partly this is to be expected. I am guessing that the average age of members in these groups is less than 30. Certainly the people I spoke to were all younger than 30, the oldest was 28! (I am forty).

So it was not really surprising that they had all the enthusiasm, freshness, excitement of youth and the unshakeable belief that they can change the world…It was hugely invigorating and yet I was also a little worried that they did not seem to have around them any counsel's) with grey hairs, with wisdom born out of experience and mistakes, dashed hopes and failed expectations…

It would be good if the leadership of these groupings makes an active effort to surround itself with experienced people from a wide variety of backgrounds – they will not only be useful as counsels and sounding boards, but will add credibility, be a big asset when it comes to networking for resources/funding and finances and can be the voice of calm when things look like they are going awry.

2nd and 3rd tier of leadership:
One final point in conclusion. I did not get any sense during my discussions that the groups had thought about a model to develop the 2nd and 3rd tier of organization leadership. This is perhaps the weakest link. Why do I say that?

Most of these leaders are in their 20s or early 30s and over the next few years will increasingly face the challenge of balancing their families, careers and professional aspirations with this work…unless there is a 2nd generation (and 2nd tier) of leadership in place, the organizations might crumble more quickly than one can imagine…

This is probably something that I would put amongst the top 3 agenda items to work on for these parties…

So to conclude, below is a summary (and the implicit recommendations):Learn to effectively manage your communications and be responsive;  Think hard about strategy and tactics – they are different for good reason;  Resources don’t materialize from thin air; they need to be amassed carefully and over time;  Learn to cooperate and coordinate; the broader your coalition, the more sustainable it is likely to be;  Get some grey hairs around you, and finally , Develop your next level of leadership.

I look forward to readers’ views…this has been a very stimulating exercise and has given me hope that all is not (yet) lost.I eagerly look forward to all your comments, responses and thoughts. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat.

B Shantanu

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