Here’s a quiz question.
What’s the difference between a political party and a joint stock company? The logical, and common, answer is: lots. Both are structured differently, have different aims, mission statements, leadership structure, stakeholder involvement. The list can be expanded endlessly. But, that’s what is visible only on the surface. Increasingly, the distance seems to be shrinking, especially with politics becoming so competitive and political parties being forced to focus on core competencies.
Also, Mayawati’s “rainbow coalition” experiment in Uttar Pradesh seems to suggest a further convergence between the two organisational structures. Why her? According to elections observers and political experts, she used a caste combo that not only appealed to voters sick with identity politics but also capitalised on the anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Mulayam Singh government. This coalition itself constitutes a promise that she will now be duty-bound to deliver — an undertaking to put an end to identity politics and the beginning of inclusive development, irrespective of caste.
It’s here that she should look at some similar structures existing in the corporate world. In fact, to belabour the same point, politics may have something to learn from business. This newspaper has carried articles in the past about how political parties have a lot to learn from businesses, especially when it comes to handling succession planning, given that most political parties now resemble family-run enterprises. The only exception to this probably is the CPI(M). But to get back to Mayawati and her political party Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Her resounding victory in the UP Assembly polls now puts her squarely in a position that will require her to fulfil the glimmer of hope that she so tantalisingly displayed. Look at the challenges that she faces and the similarities with the corporate world.
First cut: Like a company draws up a strategy — which includes product, production, marketing, sales, distribution, finance — for delivering value to shareholders, Mayawati also has an umbrella agenda in place: A coalition of upper and lower castes. But it’s still not a strategy. There’s no clear, well-defined path that shows how the coalition will be achieved in its entirety. She needs to articulate a strategy that goes way beyond finding ministerial berths for upper caste representatives.
Second Stage: She now needs to put a team in place that will deliver the nuts and bolts of the strategy. She has an able Number Two who has helped bring in the votes. He has to now build a team of lieutenants who will be able to figure out what needs to be done to translate the over-arching agenda into a political reality. Only a dedicated team, with credibility at the grassroots level, will be able to make the connection between the back-rooms at party HQ and UP’s arid fields.
Third Tier: Most brilliant strategies flounder because of poor execution. Mayawati’s entire credibility quotient is currently very high and she must make sure she utilises this honeymoon period to make real, effective and sustainable changes on the ground. UP has become the dump heap in terms of development indices — it is at the bottom of the table in almost every category. If she manages to bring in some improvement, the dividends will be enormous. Therefore, key to her success will be effective execution, which also includes zero victimisation of OBCs or the other intermediate castes.
Fourth Principle: The BSP, like a smart marketing company, has understood the need for realignment of strategy and repositioning of its products. And while a good corporate always uses a combination of intuition and market research, Mayawati used only her innate sense and gut feel for analysis. All the opinion polls (supposedly scientific) — commissioned by TV channels — were wide off the mark. Mayawati has to be able to take the repositioning to its logical conclusion for her “rainbow coalition” to make any tangible sense. It’s not enough to just win this one election.
Finally, like all corporate organisations have to look after all their stakeholders, BSP also has to focus on the well-being and welfare of all its constituents.