The Death of Ideology in Politics

The 15thLok Sabha elections left us with more than a few points to ponder about. The election was hailed by many as people’s deliberate choice for stability rather than ideology. The election saw Congress winning majority after almost two decades. The left party headed “Third Party alliance” was almost wiped off the parliament leaving them in complete disadvantage. BJP, which everybody believed has sufficient clout to create a hung-parliament, was also pushed to a decrepit state. Though the failure cannot be entirely attributed to ideology crisis, it had a major contribution in the collapse of these parties in the election. CPM’s pro-communist and anti-American ideology worked out to the party’s advantage when India was clawing its way to development in the 1970s and 80s. Unemployment was high and globalization looked like a monster which would gobble up the poor and working class. But things have changed since. The Left parties have not realized this. Amartya Sen, the faithful voice of sanity among the ‘left’ oriented academicians begged the Left parties to stop quibbling against USA and start focusing on more pressing issues like poverty. His advice was not heeded and he was criticized for joining hands with the Congress. But the truth was that the CPM was keeping too ‘left’ in the road that they are too near to the sewer now.

Another ideology which has threatened the inter-communal peace of our nation is BJP’s Hindutva policy. This ideology took root during the partition of the Indian sub-continent and caused wide spread communal riots. Hindutva went way too much with Babri Masjid demolition. Since then the middle class peace loving majority of India never trusted Advani and his allies. Sensing this, our former Prime Minister Vajpayee strayed away from the ideology and showed the coalition parties and the people that BJP was flexible with its ideology. He micro managed RSS, to align it with BJP’s aspirations. But when Advani took over again, he allowed RSS to dictate terms to BJP. Advani retrograded BJP, by allowing the tail wag the dog. But this alone cannot explain BJP’s dismal performance. The ugly power struggle among the top rung leaders like Advani, Rajnath Singh also contributed considerably.

Congress stood its course and focused on growth and development in its election campaign. It was well rewarded for its unity, while CPM and BJP was penalized by the people for labouring an outdated and largely mistimed ideology based campaign. The election proved that policy is more important than ideology.

Ideology and economy – the tacit relevance:

Ideology in politics is as old as Indian politics itself. Politicians have always used ideology to represent a collective identity for a group and thus using this identity as a sort of solidarity among party followers and members. When the allegiance of such “vote banks” is threatened, they create a sense of social or economic insecurity among their followers. Such disruptive strategies have caused communal, lingual or ethnic riots in the past. One such example is Shiv Sena’s ideology of “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians”. The ideology gained momentum mostly because of its relevance to economy. Shiv Sena successfully projected the notion that the burgeoning number of immigrant workers in Mumbai is responsible for unemployment prevalent among native Maharashtrians. The result, we all know well, was a disaster to the peace of working class people in Mumbai.

Ideology was not without its uses in the early post-independent period. The ideology of communism sprouted from the post-independence patriotic fever. The notions of fraternity, equality and revolution was in vogue; people tended to dream about an idealistic equal society. Communism thrived in patches in our nation. The most notable pocket of hard-core communist action was Kerala. Kerala, after the independence was reeling around aristocrat domination. Working class was suppressed and exploited. This provided the right impetus for communism to take root in God’s own country. Communism, the ideology, served its purpose then by uniting the oppressed people against the bureaucrats. The Communist party rose to power dramatically and turned the wheels in favour of the working class. The purpose stops there. Then on, Communism has only become a huge brunt on economy, without bringing any tangible benefits to the people. Today Kerala mostly lives on foreign exchange. Its working class is thus free to go on strike whenever they want and solely survive on the money wired across the ocean by their deep-pocketed kith and kin working in the Middle East. Kerala has now become a quagmire for entrepreneurship because of the high handedness of the workers union. But nobody is minding; nobody might mind till there is an economic compulsion to change from the old ways of the faithful communism.

Gujarat gives us a slightly contorted notion of how economic prosperity makes people indifferent to ideology. Modi has been fairly successful in state elections, literally making it his stronghold. The success of Modi can rather be attributed to his administrative skills rather than his ideology. Under Modi, Gujarat’s economy not only revived but also grew dramatically. Ideology was just a vote bank politics for Modi. If economy had flunked in Gujarat, Modi would have been chucked out long before. Gujarat is one of the proofs that people don’t care about ideology of the rulers as long as their livelihood is stable.

Why Ideology failed?

Ideology works only when it is timed well and is used conservatively. Ideology provides a sense of security and hope to people in desolate times. It creates camaraderie among people fighting for a cause. But when it is pushed beyond its purpose and when the ideology itself fades into a meaningless frill, people lose faith in it. Communism in Kerala, helped to uproot the bourgeoisie domination in the 1950s. But it has no relevance now. When India is witnessing one of the best of its times, ideology only seem to hinder our progress. The livelihood of the people is safely secured by the growing economy and they don’t want to risk it in the name of ideology. On this note, Left Parties’ hue and cry against the Indo-American Nuclear Deal, privatization and other reforms was only seen by people as cacophony. Left Parties were soon stuck up with their own self imposed image of growth deterrents.

Education and exposure to globalization has broadened the minds of many in our country. The number of young, first time precocious voters jumped in the 15thLok Sabha election (an estimated 10 million first-time voters). Gone are the days when ideology was considered as a statement of strength. Nowadays people have started branding ideology as hot-headedness. Tolerance is the new “cool attitude”. People have realized that lack of ideology is not akin to lack of character. Heroes emerged across the nation who showed people that real strength and character is flexibility, focus on essentials and tolerance rather than ideology. So to the new and younger India, a BJP without Vajpayee looked like a mob of hot headed fundamentalists. If only the top rung leaders have realized this before the election. Congress with its mix of youth and experience seems to be the only party which has figured out this paradigm shift correctly.

Is Ideology gone forever?

Ideology seems to be dying irrecoverably at least in the national political circuit. It might even slowly make its exit from national politics. The ailing opposition will soon realize that and hopefully change their strategy in future. Single party domination is never good for democracy; Congress needs a recovered BJP and CPM to keep it out of complacency. As for ideology, it will still be around for a while in rural India. How else can we explain the rapid rise of Naxalism all over our nation? Naxalism is feeding on the disgruntlement of working class in the rural areas, who have been unfairly ostracized from India’s development story. Shiv Sena is still growing strong in popularity among the working class in Mumbai. It might be argued that it is finally not ideology that works, but the economic and social insecurity of people that fuels the minds. Ideology is merely the weapon of the short-sighted leaders. If the gains of India’s growth story don’t trickle down to these people, odious social elements will use ideology to manipulate people for their own short-term benefits. Though India has matured into a democracy which can decide on national issues without being prejudiced by local situations, ideology will still have its say in the local politics. Credulous rural people will still be lured into the trap of ideology and exploited unless education and awareness is dispersed widely.

Nallasivan V

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