There are structural reasons why we do not have intra-party democracy in India, but I think that cultural reasons are important too. Internal democracy is like nuclear disarmament – you can’t do it unilaterally.
In India, the cultural norm is that if you openly speak out against the leader of the party, you are not just disagreeing, but signalling a revolt. Reporters will breathlessly ask the critic if he is preparing to quit the party. News channels will quote sources close to the “two camps” which will talk of how the morale of the party rank and file has been affected by the events. If you try to claim that there really aren’t any plans to split the party and the disagreements were just that – disagreements, the papers will speculate that the two camps are on the way to a patch up.
I am not blaming the papers. Their reporting will be factual, because morale is, after all, a social reality. Because the norm is what it is, party cadre will view any criticism as revolt in the offing, and their morale will really go down. If you are the head of the party, you face a difficult choice. You may prefer open debate and discussion in your party. You may think, rightly, that open disagreements are in your interest, because it allows party workers let off steam and gives you notice of problems in your party. But if you allow any disagreement at all, your opponents will see you as a weak leader and there is a higher chance that they will revolt. So you must clamp down hard on any dissent. This means that the cultural norm reinforces itself. If everyone in your party knows that any disagreement will be treated as a revolt, they will not openly disagree unless they are planning to revolt. Which of course means that you are in fact justified in treating all disagreement as revolt and clamping down hard.
That is one problem, which relates to allowing open dissent. Allowing elections involves a similar Hobbesian choice. You may not mind losing the first election if you were confident that the next one would be held. But you can’t be sure. You fear that if you lose an election, you are faced with not just loss of office, but a purge that threatens your political career and the careers of all your supporters. When you are faced with such a grim choice, why would you allow intra-party democracy and internal elections?