By: B Shantanu
May 04, 2007
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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).
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
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
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
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
has written in depth about some of the critical issues facing India
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); 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
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
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.
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
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
As far as I know, none of these parties has a dedicated
resource person's) for this role - something that I think needs urgent
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
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.
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