Nearly six decades ago, American political scientist Daniel Bell proposed in his seminal collection of essays, The End of Ideology, that grand belief systems –such as anarchism, absolutism and socialism – are exhausting gradually and more parochial and new persuasions will spring up with time, tailor-made for a particular country, region or class. He further stressed that rigidity of an ideology will be gone and politics and leaders in the future will be free to make adjustment, alteration or modification as per the needs.
So, are some political parties in India deliberately not confining themselves to a particular ideology and keeping space to manoeuvre? Is adopting more populist routes to appeal to voters in increasing political competitiveness a better strategy?
The Narendra Modi government’s move this month to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status provided under the Constitution and reorganise the state into two union territories saw several opposition lawmakers break ranks. While the Congress led by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in the Lok Sabha and Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha vehemently opposed the step, several of the party’s young leaders – Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Deependra Hooda, to name a few – welcomed the decision, calling it the “need of the times” and “respecting people’s sentiments”. This divergence of views against the party line is rarely seen in the Congress where challenging the high command’s diktat is considered the ultimate sin.
Also, three Rajya Sabha members belonging to the Samajwadi Party (SP) – Neeraj Shekhar, Surendra Nagar and Sanjay Seth – jumped the ideological fence to join the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) in “national interest” and after being inspired by “the working of PM Narendra Modi”. There seems to be nothing even remotely common between the followers of Ram Manohar Lohia and Syama Prasad Mukherjee. And yet, the migratory birds did not seem to have any scruples before taking the step.
And, all this happened in just 50 days of the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha that commenced from June 17 and ended on August 7.
This confusion or confrontation within a party over a key issue, reluctant compliance of the party stand by a leader, jumping the bandwagon to a party which is diametrically opposed to the politics of his or her parent party is shocking, if not outright disgusting. It not only shows a lack of commitment to the party’s ideology and social vision but also points at the prevailing opportunism in our politics. This also raises a very pertinent question about the ideological moorings of present day politicians and their politics. Are the parties bereft of any ideological commitment and pledge bound to suffer such humiliations at the hands of rivals genuinely committed to their respective core beliefs?
Apart from the Bhartiya Janta Party, which seems true to its core commitments of nationalism and Hindutva – modification of Article 370 of the Constitution, building a Ram temple in Ayodhya, implementing Universal Civil Code, etc – and the communists, none of the other parties appear to have any ideological anchor anymore. The BJP defanged Article 370 this month. But it was committed towards doing this even 50 years ago, or when it had just two lawmakers in Parliament. This is what ideological commitment is. But that is not the case for a majority of other parties.
Uttar Pradesh, a multiethnic society with various castes and religion, is the most populous state of the country and has the presence of two strong regional parties, SP and BSP, and two national parties, BJP and Congress, though the latter is on a precipitous decline. Why is the grand old party losing the plot?
The Congress is still carrying the burden of the past, when it took over the reins of power from the British. And as with all former colonies that have been economically drained by their colonisers, the masses have huge expectations from the state to pull them out of the miseries of poverty and make them rich. As a result, for whatever reasons – ideological or otherwise – since India is a relatively poor country, all political parties including the Congress concur that eradicating poverty should be the ‘holy mission’ of the state. But the Congress, which ruled the country for more than half a century, failed to eradicate poverty and has today lost the faith of the people. In fact, it is very difficult to say today what the party stands for and it has been wracked by an acute image crisis. It stands for everything and nothing – hyperbole like secularism, socialism, equality, liberty, reservation, eradication of poverty, etc. Clearly, the Congress has no clue as to how to respond to the ideological shift that is taking place in Indian politics. So much so that the-then party president Rahul Gandhi lost his Lok Sabha seat (Amethi) in UP in this year’s general elections.
Coming to the regional parties of UP, while the SP draws ideological nourishment from socialist ideal Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, it mainly caters to the desires and aspirations of the backward castes and minorities. The BSP is avowedly the party that fights for social justice and relies on Dr BR Ambedkar’s writing and speeches for all the twist, turns and U-turns it has to take. Neither party has a definite core agenda to achieve in the near future except the issue of reservation – the more the merrier. But while we may blame them for it, the truth is that their vote bank is poor and uneducated. It is also equally true that the poor and uneducated expect different things from the state than the privileged class. While the former wish for reservation, pension schemes, loan-waiver, scholarships, etc, the well-to-do would prefer tax holidays, trade relations, military solutions, etc. So, for these parties, catering to the basic and immediate requirements of their core voters is considered smart politics rather than sticking to a grand ideological vision. However, this politics is not paying any dividends anymore and there is a paramount need to reboot.
Apart from reservation, their stand on any issue – national or regional – depends upon the prevailing mood of their core vote bank. Nobody knew their stand on Article 370 until the issue stared them in the face. The BSP supported the government’s move on the grounds that Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar once opposed the constitutional provision. The Samajwadi Party opposed the step because it was done in an undemocratic manner without taking the people of Kashmir in confidence. For the SP, it seems the problem is with the method and not whether the step is in the right or wrong direction.
Thirty-five Bills were passed in the just-concluded session of the Lok Sabha and on most occasions the regional parties from various states did not have any inkling about the pros and cons of a particular legislation or the proposed amendments. Being absent during the discussion was their only option. Not a good sign at all in a healthy democracy.
(Author is a freelance writer. Views are personal.)