The party’s many faces

The suspension of Punjab's Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, a four-time MLA of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), and his subsequent resignation from the cabinet can be more clearly understood if we distinguish between the different faces of a political party. Studies have often disaggregated political parties into three different elements: the party in public office, the party on the ground and the party in central office. This organisational perspective not only situates a party in the wider political system but also helps us understand how these different facets interact with each other.

Each element serves a different purpose. While the office element deals with government and legislative aspects, the ground element deals with membership and the electorate. The party in central office is its leadership, which is usually representative of the party on the ground. This demarcation is only for heuristic purposes, and in reality these elements largely overlap with each other.

The current crisis in the SAD may therefore at one level be a Badal vs Badal succession and/or factional conflict. At another level, it also highlights the motivations and constraints of different organisational elements. While Manpreet Badal represents the party in office, his cousin Sukhbir Singh Badal, the deputy chief minister and anointed heir to the leader, represents the party on the ground.

The point of disagreement between the two leaders clearly corresponds to the demands of the different faces of the party they represent. The party on the ground, which represents the members at large, the activists, its financiers and core supporters, is involved in the mobilisation of voters and this face often assumes that electoral success is a result of its efforts. However, given that it's not in office, it would always want the party in office to use the government and make decisions to suit the interests of the ground.

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