There must be some substance to the fact that most political parties started off as people’s movements in particular situations among specific groups of people. When they became effective and began to gain the trust and confidence of the people, the need was felt to become a political party. The implicit understanding is that people’s power being expressed in the movements can be consolidated into political power when they assume the shape of a party. The emergence of Congress, BSP, Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, JMM in Jharkhand and lately AAP are standing proofs. To understand this dynamics it may be helpful to ask ourselves (1) what is a People’s Movement, (2) what is a Political Party, (3) what are the compulsions that make a Movement become a Political Party.
(1) What is a People’s Movement ?
A People's Movement is the process of growing awareness of a marginalized /deprived people with regard to the contradictions in the socio-political reality. It involves two factors: consciousness and action. Consciousness with regard to their marginalisation and powerlessness and the reasons for the same. This leads to the realisation that no one else (govt, upper class/caste sections) will not come to their rescue but rather they themselves will have to take their life into their hands. Strong motivation that they have to act and act decisively to assert themselves and their human/civic rights. This brings them to a level of action that they are presently capable of. Their action is characterised by a strong ideology which projects a goal to be achieved. Finally, every People's Movement paves the way for the emergence of a committed leadership. These leaders have certain charism which attracts people towards them, and their commitment to the movement and the struggle is unquestionable. Although there is an implicit organisation, it is flexible to respond to the nature of the struggles that are undertaken. These are the factors which make a People's Movement appealing and effective.
2) What is a Political Party ?
Political Parties are the deliberately constituted organisations by particular social classes/castes/social groups with the aim of capturing state power. Hence there are significant differences from social movements. Whereas People's Movements come into existence spontaneously, Political Parties are intentionally created. People's Movements are loosely knit bodies, Political Parties are institutional in character. The leadership in People's Movements emerge from within, whereas Political Parties bring in leaders from outside. There is a sense of equality among the participants in a Movement, Political Parties are hierarchical in their existence & functioning. The decision-making process is based on consensus in People's Movements whereas the top brass takes decisions in Political Parties. The happy relief is a political party like Aam Aadmi Party takes it before the people to get their opinion before taking decisions. Assertion of rights is the aim of People's Movements, capture of state power is the aim of Political Parties.
(3) The limitations of a social movement are obvious in the sense that whatever pressure it may bring on the ruling classes, it is finally forced to knock at the doors of the government to pass specific laws, policies in response to the demands raised by people’s movements. If we take the Jan Lokpal Bill advocated by India Against Corruption for example, it was finally asking the govt to pass it in the parliament and make it a law. And we know a govt is made up of specific political parties which are in power and in a position to accept or reject the proposal from people’s movement. As it turned out, the present govt decided to modify the proposed bill of the movement and pass its own version of Lokpal. It is clear therefore that people’s movements can only exert pressure on the ruling class and the govt to accept its demands. If the govt of the day accepts it, well and good. If it does not, people’s movements have to further intensify their struggle and exert more pressure on the rulers.
(4) The compulsions that make a Social Movement become a Political Party
When the issues taken up are real and the action taken are effective, the people participating in the Movement taste success and feel empowered. There is a newly born self-confidence in themselves. In other words, they feel they are capable of confronting any one who stand on their way. The charismatic leaders who have led the movement so far begin to feel that they need to break new paths in the process of asserting themselves even more clearly and forcefully. We have to keep in mind the insecure situation of People’s Movements in the present political scenario in India. People’s Movements necessarily have to undertake a series of struggles to assert their rights, and such struggles are not to the liking of the ruling class and of the govt. So the govt tends to crush such struggles through its law-and-order machinery. Even peaceful, non violent struggles are met with brutal repression leading to lathi charge, arresting the leaders, filing of penal cases and even opening fire on the crowd. Often survival is a question mark.
(5) The compromises a Social Movement has to make when it becomes a Political Party
We assume that this transformation is done in all sincerity and earnestness, and not with mala fide intentions. However, the sober fact is serious consequences follow such a transformation.
Let us spell out some of them:
(a) Spontaneity which characterised the Social Movement slowly disappears and party rules/ norms become the order of the day. (b) Collective, consensus decision making process which was the hall mark of the movement is replaced by unilateral dictates taken at the top levels of the party. (c) charism of the leaders which was the attracting element in the movement yields its place to position/rank of those leaders within the party. (d) Decentralised functioning of the movement becomes highly centralised in the day-to-day functioning of the party. (e) The sense of equality that prevailed among the participants of the movement is changed into a hierarchical position such as ‘the high command’, the central committee, state committee, party members etc. in the party. (f) whereas leadership emerging from within was the significant factor of the social movement, the party high command brings in leaders from outside in the party. (g) the social movement aims at assertion of a people’s legitimate rights and empowerment of marginalized people through systematic struggles, but the political party aims at capture of State power through electoral process with all that it involves.
Despite the above-mentioned limitations, it is necessary that genuine people’s movements which have taken up the cause of the exploited, oppressed, deprived sections of society, enter politics. If they continue to remain only as people’s movements, they will be either destroyed by the powers that be or they will gradually lose their relevance and die a slow death. - Stan Swamy