I am writing this in the context of the totalitarian propensities of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which are much more visible today than they ever were. However, we must remember that the political trajectory of India, since the first General Elections in 1952, includes the rise and fall of the fortunes of different political parties. Political analysts write obituaries of certain political outfits in haste, and are then forced to eat their words because these parties come back with new energy and stature. The political centre in India was carved from a charged nationalist movement before people-based coalitions came to occupy an important part. There is great pressure on parties to accommodate diverse interests and, as British jurist and liberal politician James Bryce had said, political parties have to organise the chaotic public will. But the real nucleus can be found in the unofficial structures of these parties. The confidence of the public, which translates into electoral votes, is won by sustained political mobilisation. “Unofficial” party organisations play an important role in this, and in ensuring the primacy of grassroots democracy.
The primary functions of cadres include executing party goals at the local level and reporting to higher-ups in the party hierarchy, garnering support for the local candidate, and organising community events and organisations. When the party is out of power, cadres undertake the responsibility of activism and of disseminating information about their party at the grassroots. In India, cadres mostly work on an unpaid basis, and voluntarily devote time and energy to party work. An underlying quality of these workers is a close affinity to an ideology, and they associate themselves with one end of the political spectrum.