Politics Through Digital Footprints: How Parties See Themselves
The websites for political parties tell us a lot about them, especially if you read between the lines.
Politicians say a lot of things. There’s elections speeches, interviews and party spokespersons shouting themselves hoarse on television. In all the noise, it’s difficult to figure out what political parties stand for. Luckily for us, most of the major parties in India have moved with the times and have websites with ‘about us’ pages.
So instead of trying to decipher Indian politics through the public statements of politicians, we decided to take a look at how political parties describe themselves on their websites. A little bit of reading between the lines later, quite an accurate picture emerged.
1. Congress: The Grand Old Party a Bit Confused?
The father of the nation, the first Prime Minister and even BR Ambedkar (who later strongly opposed the party) were Congress members. On its website, the Congress seems aware of its history. Its values too, are constitutional ones – secularism, nationalism, social justice etc. The party’s present though seems a bit opaque and its page seems to be looking more to the past than the present and future. In trying to include the various people that represented the spectrum, they seem to have lost their identity.
The section on the party’s values features quotes from its greatest icons through history, from Gandhi and Nehru to Ambedkar and Dadabahi Naoroji. Apart from the fact that the page gives us little more than generic platitudes, the attempt to sneak in the party’s future leadership while making references to its past glory is jarring.That’s right ladies and gentlemen, somewhere amidst Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sardar Patel we get a quote from ‘young’ Rahul Gandhi. For now at least, he seems out of place among greats.
2. BJP: A Party With too Much Difference
The BJP’s ‘about us’ page seems pretty new-fangled compared to its rivals’. No simple prose here, but a slick graphic with a timeline of the party, going back to its RSS roots, and the Jan Sangh.
While the graphic looks good, it’s cluttered and lacks substance. The BJP is, after all, an ideological party. All we get here is a list of its leaders and some key events from history and a bit of Vajpayee. The website reflects the struggle between the party’s RSS roots and its contemporary avatar.
3. CPI(M): Ummm... What?
How much jargon can you pack into a sentence? Whatever the amount, you are unlikely to beat the India’s largest democratic Communist party at that game. Just check this out.
The CPI(M) was born in the struggle against revisionism and sectarianism in the communist movement at the international and national level, in order to defend the scientific and revolutionary tenets of Marxism-Leninism and its appropriate application in the concrete Indian conditions.Communist Party of India (Marxist) website
Why is the Indian Left movement dwindling? If the website is anything to go by, it’s probably because most people under the age of 65 have no idea what they are saying.
4. Lalu and Mulayam: The Other Socialists
Aside from the Commies, India’s other self-described socialists trace their origins to the JP movement and later to the Janta Party and Mandal. Lalu Prasad Yadav ruled Bihar through much of the 1990s and well into the new century. His Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) is now the senior partner in Bihar along with the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar. In UP, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party rules through his son Akhilesh. The websites of both parties talk about socialism, secularism and inclusiveness in almost identical words.
Rashtriya Janata Dal locates itself in the collective aspirations of people and communities striving to carve out a society based on the premises of social justice and secularism.RJD website
The Samajwadi Party believes in creating a socialist society, which works on the principle of equality and the party has a secular and democratic outlook.SP website
So why can’t two of the largest parties in the Hindi belt, whose leaders started out together, merge? Well, both websites may lay claim to lofty ideals, but the only leaders we see are family men. Lalu and Mulayam are plastered all over their party’s websites, as are their progeny. Clearly, there are some big egos preventing a united ‘Janta Parivaar’.
5. Karunanidhi and Amma: Inheritors of the Dravidian Movement
The Dravidian movement, based on anti-Brahminism and Tamil pride, began before independence. Today, the two biggest parties in Tamil Nadu are descendants of that movement. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK actually broke away from the DMK in 1972. Now, while the original party is as much a personality and family-run affair (Karunanidhi and his children dominate the party), they are still laying claim to the party’s history.
The Brahmin community dominated the only national party then, the Congress. EV Ramasamy, also called Thanthai Periyar, left the Congress party to form the Self-Respect Movement in 1925. The movement transformed into Dravida Kazhagam (DK). The principles of the movement attracted several revered personalities, such as Anna that spread the word across the state. However, over time, Anna separated from the movement due to difference of opinion with other leaders. In 1949, Anna floated the DMK.DMK website
The AIADMK website is an ode to MGR (the party’s founder) and more visibly, to Jayalalithaa.
This Dravidian party was founded by Puratchi Thalaivar, Ponmalaichemmal M.G. Ramachandran who was fondly called by the people of Tamilnadu as MGR, in 1972 as a breakaway faction of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The AIADMK has been under the watchful leadership of Puratchi Thalaivi Ms. J.Jayalalithaa who in turn was affectionately referred as “AMMA” by the people of Tamilnadu after the demise of MGR. The AIADMK’s General Secretary, Ms Jayalalithaa, assumed office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the third time after a landslide victory in 2011.AIADMK website
The websites of the two parties reflects the difference in their organisation as well. The DMK still has a stronger cadre and organisation, while the AIADMK depends more on the charisma of its leader.
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