Most of these new nations, the demarcation of especially India are characterized by a heterogeneous mosaic in terms of religion, caste, tribe, language and religion. The political arena in
these countries has not been divorced from the various social forces operating in their societies.
Changing Patterns of Political Leadership in India
For many centuries the pattern of political leadership in India was two-tiered. At the top was “the Government” — what I will call macro political leadership — surrounded with pomp and magnificence and all the trappings of wealth and power. Macro Political leadership changed hands with some frequency, and in modern times was often foreign, first Mughal and then British.
In general the macro political leadership impinged little on the lives of the ordinary Indian. It was remote from the village and interfered seldom in village affairs, except to raise revenue and maintain a relative law and order. Village India had its own ancient pattern of leadership — what I will call micro political leadership. The village was a highly traditional and rigid social and political unit. The higher castes within the village combined social, economic, political, and ritual pre-eminence, and the lower castes tended to be dependent on them to a greater or lesser degree. The Indian village was a complicated network of precedence and relationship, but political authority was concentrated in the leaders of the dominant castes. These men were concerned with settling disputes between communities in the village, protecting the village and its lands from outsiders, and gaining concessions for the village from the macro political leadership.
The nature of Indian electorate
All of us agree that when we try to understand how voters decide and leaders forge electoral support, the context matters. It is often believed that, although the levels of illiteracy and poverty are high in India, the political literacy of the Indian voters is high and they make politically mature judgments.
Patterns of leadership
Over the past few decades we are a witness to the phenomena of the rise of powerful leaders in various parties. What we see is not mere centralization of power, but concentration of power in one individual in the party. Most parties are leader centred, whether these parties are national or provincial, old or new. Reference to a party usually means reference to the supreme leader of the party. Thus, the terms party and leader have become coterminous.
Preference for a strong leader: Should have a strong leader who does not have to bother about elections.
How are leaders chosen?
The survey of parties done as part of the political parties project shows that the top leader in most parties are normally chosen by general consent, rather than contest. The top leader, called differently in different parties, assumes the position by virtue of his or her role in founding the party, or the popularity, reputation, image and appeal they have among the electorate or both.
How candidates in elections are chosen?
In most parties, the top leader has the final say in choosing party nominees in elections. But the nomination process is usually prolonged and crucial for the leadership. A small group of leaders nominated by the top leader – either in a formal body or informally – supervises this process.
Members and leaders
Most leaders in India preside over parties with huge membership. All parties in India are mass parties and are open to anyone who seeks entry. In terms of membership composition they are heterogeneous, secular and pluralistic, largely reflecting the character of the Indian society. Thus, most parties are catch-all types, and the leaders perceive their parties in such a manner. In parties that are oriented to a particular religion, caste or ethnicity membership would be mainly from that social category of people.
Three explanations for leader-centrism
Three plausible explanations could be offered for the emergence of single supreme leader who exercises rather untrammeled authority in the party and government – a cultural explanation, crisis of governability explanation, and a functional explanation. Firstly, such leaders could be the result of the cultural values prevalent in India, where people look for symbols of supreme power when they make voting decisions or decide on their political preferences.
Coupled with leader-centrism, the role of family and family members in building, sustaining and running a party is nearly ubiquitous in India’s political parties. What began with the Nehru family in the Congress party has become the rule now. It is now spreading to the district and sub-district levels. The mantle of leadership in most parties is routinely passed on to the son, daughter, brother, widow or some close blood relative of the supreme leader.
Crisis of Leadership
It is common place to say that India faces a crisis of leadership, The shortage of leadership is a result of the absence of social conditions and arrangements which would promote potential leaders.
Period of National Leadership
It is not an easy task to survey the developing leadership situation in a country like India, with vast population and cultural variations, in a few pages. Certain obvious limitations are there. What is attempted here is to view the leadership situation in the post-1947 period within its social setting.
There is no doubt that there is a tradition of renunciation in Indian culture. In the pre independence period, achievements in politics, education or any other national activity were possible only on a sacrifice basis and hence the national movement threw up men, organizations and traditions of this type.
Period of Consolidation
This period could be regarded as a period of consolidation in many senses of the term. The integration of States was achieved peacefully (except in case of Kashmir and Hyderabad). The Congress Socialists left the Congress to set up the Socialist Party in 1948. The initiative for the break came from the Congress which adopted stricter rules for membership which prevented dual membership.
Beginning of Nehru Era
The second period coincides roughly with the start of the First Five-Year Plan, the coming into force of the new Constitution, the death of Sardar Patel, the rise of the Jan Sangh, and the beginning of the ‘Nehru era’. The emergence of Pandit Nehru as ,the leader’ had certain implications for the Government, the party and the people.
Today it can be rightly said that India was fortunate enough to have at the start, a well-trained team of leaders under the able stewardship of Pandit Nehru. The role of Mahatma Gandhi as the friend, philosopher and guide of this team came to an abrupt end with his assassination in 1948.
The term ‘national movement’ is used here with a limited connotation of a struggle against the
The next phase in the developing leadership situation began with the inclusion of the ‘left forces’ in the Cabinet. Pandit Nehru’s leaning towards the left was tolerated by the rightists in the Congress. But the increasing importance of the leftists, since the Avadi Resolution on the Socialistic pattern of society, and the emphasis in the Second Plan on physical planning was not much to the liking of the rightists.
Power Shifts to the States
The pendulum of power started shifting from Delhi to the States in this period. The Chief Ministers began asserting their independence. This tendency gathered strength with the decline in the popularity of the central leadership and weakening of the party-organisation.
The Rise of Kamaraj
This leads us to the present phase which can be conveniently termed as the ‘Kamaraj era’. The era began with the ‘Kamaraj plan’ to revitalise the party by asking senior Congress leaders both from the Centre and the States to step down from the office and devote themselves to party work.
Indian electorate presents several paradoxes. Most people want democracy, but also many want a strong leader to govern the country. Political participation has been high but political awareness is low, especially among women and non-literates. Party and candidates are the most important considerations for many while they vote, but almost a majority says that one should vote the way one’s caste or community votes. Such is the context in which the political leaders function and build electoral support. Caste or community of the voter, on its own, is not a determining factor in determining the voting behaviour of most of the Indians.
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