Competitive politics refers to competition between different political ideologies and parties for getting a chance to implement their vision of growth and development. In a sense electoral politics is always competitive. The quality of electoral politics is, nevertheless, determined by the reason and values that drive the politicians. Basically politics is a means to change and progress. But it has fast turned into politicking, gaming and opportunism to retain power. Ideology no more guides politics, it is pragmatism and permissiveness that do; opportunism is in its full play in the name of real politics. Middle class is excessively obsessed with self interest and is confused while and intellectuals are either tired or afraid. The times are not only different, but dangerous as well.
Politics has many purposes. It is a means to give expression to and realize people’s aspirations. It is a means to fight against injustice and inequality. It is a means to give voice to the weak and voiceless. It is a means to get representation in the power structure and decision making process. It is a means to arbitrate between different interest groups. It is a means to be in power and authority. Politicians are sometimes driven by their own personal interest, i.e., protecting or expanding their own business interest by remaining a part of the power system.
Ideological Commitments are on burial path
When competitive politics becomes a battle for power and authority bereft of values, ideological commitment and a vision for unity and integrity, the goals of change and progress are relegated to the back seat. Today politics has become a power game without any firm commitment to ideology or values. Politics of convenience and populism instead of conviction and seriousness about socio-economic issues has become order of the day. The politicians are taking contradictory stands at various points of time and consistency is missing. Although they apparently display commitment to truth and values, they resort to propaganda and maneuver to achieve their immediate goal, i.e., remaining in power at any cost. They join hands in the name of secularism or removal of corruption, but very often change their stand on the issues according to convenience. Values become a vale and power game becomes the real underlying force in the politics of the day. This trend is visible from Uttarakhand to Arunachal Pradesh, from Goa to Bihar and further to Gujarat. The political parties have lost their credentials for such kind of inconsistent and incoherent behavior. Politicians forget their historic roles in these changing times and put priority to their own personal aspirations- winning elections and then remaining in power. If Lalau Prasead is an outstanding example of seeking personal rentals in politics, Nitish Kumanr is an outstanding example of opportunism absolving his historical responsibility regarding ideological battle.
The present government at the centre has a rightist ideology which is different from the leftist or centrist ideology embraced by the left parties or congress party respectively. In a democracy all the ideological strands should get a chance to be heard or elected through democratic means. However, in the wobbly and crowd led democracy of India, ideological debate and discussions are marred by emotive and divisive issues, often taking undemocratic and violent routes. Populism, fake news, social media led uneducated opinions and the mainstream media, with a penchant for sensationalisation and breaking news syndrome, have done disservice to the cause of democracy. Everything that is done for remaining in power is justified in the name of ideology, principles and values, but deep inside politics has become hostage to self interest and coalition of interests, authoritarian tendencies and populism.
Politics has become victim of strife of interests
Ambrose Bierce in “The Devil’s Dictionary” defines politics as strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage. That is what is seen today in India and many other parts of the world. Indian Political parties and leaders are using the two planks of corruption and development, to lure people for votes, but these tools are used selectively to bog down the political rivals on the one hand and allure the people in the name of clean governance. The claim of cleanliness is used as facades and so are principles to justify irrational or selfish actions or political vandetta.
The cherry picking of some politically beneficial corruption cases of opposition camp and ignoring or even covering up corruption cases of the people close to power happened in the past, and it is happening even today. Panama papers and opaque accounts of Indian political parties tell the same story. Corruption should be despised, development should be embraced. Does any political party at any place differ in opinion? But in reality it is very difficult to understand why a series of cases are opened against opposition party leaders while many of the ruling party cases are covered or put into cold bag. Why advocates who are public figures as well, fight cases on arbitrarily high charges to save people who harmed public interest or violated the rule of the law. It is very superfluous argument that right to access to justice should be available to all (it is available to the rich and powerful already) and expertise should be rewarded (but public figure advocates should morally not take cases where public interest is seriously violated). Who are the people who pay public- figure advocates lakhs of rupees for pleading for an hour in the court of justice? Why they pay so much? Are they common man? Many public figures advocates appear for companies like union carbide and Sahara where serious public interest is involved. It is not just professional commitment, but big money that attracts such advocates. It is morally not justified for a public figure. Public figures are also seen closely with business interests, which would otherwise be welcome indicating that the policy makers are accessible to businesses that generate wealth and create employment. But there is a moral hazard and conflict of interest and it is not hidden how things move in the Indian democracy or for that matter even in case of other developed democracies like the US, South Korea, or socialist countries like Brazil. Corruption therefore is not what is apparent; there are many hidden forms of corruption. As long as somebody does not come into the legal net, s/he is not corrupt. Thus, it is the ability to manage the papers; images and proximity to power that save or wreck a leader. The prerequisites of becoming a political leader and funding of elections are such in India that everybody is in the same boat, i.e. opaque manner of mobilization of funds (and keeping it with political parties or in family accounts as a matter of convenience, choice and cleverish move). In fact it is a just a matter of chance that somebody is detected to have managed illegal funds successfully without allegation of corruption while others fail in doing so. Both of the cases are corruption, the difference is that some are detected and some remain undetected. Corruption is bad because it breaks the morale and self esteem of hard working citizens of the country.
Real politics: Naked Truths
Real politics has come to its naked best, not only in India but elsewhere as well. The Americal President is a living example how he is confused amidst his own people and promises, none of which has so far been effectively achieved. Appointments, sacking and reappointment are going on without any serious consideration to policies and implementation. People are getting fade up, even in the republican file and ranks. In the same way, politicians today seem to be devoid of any ideology or value even in India and are jumping like rats from seemingly sinking boats and joining the most prospective ships irrespective of ideological differences. India is a standing example of this phenomenon, more so since 2014, when a right wing government came to power with massive votes by reducing opposition to a level where it is not even technically qualified as an opposition party in the parliament. Today the ambitious politicians, seeing a better prospect to win elections, are curious to join the ruling party throwing away their ideological allegiance. Some of them like Nitish Kumar forgot their historic responsibility to nurture the alternative ideology which he claims to stand for. He is known as Mr. Clean and Vikas Purush (development man), it is hard to understand why at this crucial juncture of ideological struggle in the country, he scuttled the boat of opposition. Only reactive politics and politics of convenience explain this. That is an ideological betrayal. His name appears in this betrayal now, but he is not alone. There are many who have done it in past and there are many who are waiting. Should we celebrate the burial of ideology in the Indian politics?
Victory of political craft over ideology
A series of events in India exemplify victory of political craft over ideology- from Uttarakhand to Arunachal and further to Goa and Bihar, and now to Gujarat, it is abundantly clear that the only political ideology today is to remain in power by hook or crook. Nevertheless, this is not new and mother of all this has been the Indian National Congress post 1970. The politics of polarization, vote bank, nepotism and favouritism can be traced back to those years of political transition when the Indian National Congress lost its ethos of freedom struggle days. Finally in 2014 the other side of political ideology, i.e., the right wing defeated congress in the same game of cunningness and maneuver on the back of huge discontent with the way the Indian National Congress governed in recent past marked by corruption and cronyism and extremely orchestrated use of social media by right wing party for political propaganda.
Politics is not an end, but a means.
Politics is not an end, but a means. It is not a product, but a process. It is the art of government. Like other values it has its counterfeits. So much emphasis has been placed upon the false that the significance of the true has been obscured and politics has come to convey the meaning of crafty and cunning selfishness, instead of candid and sincere service (Calvin Coolidge, Have Faith in Massachusetts). In this light if we see the achievements of the new government, we are not enthused with confidence. The new government promised achhe din (good days). People voted them in with huge trust. Some new slogans, some rechristened old welfare policies, some claims and patchy reforms that have been delivered. But emphasis on propaganda rather than real work is visible every moment.; if at all this was meant by achhe din, this is only the repetition of the past, big promise, hollow delivery! After three years of rule of the new right wing government many people feel that they have fallen to fire from the frying pan.
The party that promised value based politics, employment, growth, reforms and human development has not shown any big shift in the paradigm except for symbolism and some patch work or old wine in new bottle in the name of reforms. Some of the old institutions were destroyed without putting any better or at least comparable institution in place (planning commission was replaced by niti ayog) and those universities and professors have been hounded which do not favour right wing thinking. The situation further becomes accentuated by appointing right wing administrators who give irrational advices such as proposal to cut admission to advance courses, putting tanks inside universities for awakening patriotism and rewriting history on untenable facts and logic like saying that Dr. Ambedkar wrote the Indian constitution on dictation (meaning he was not qualified to think) of some other enlightened members of the constituent assembly. The loyalists and right leaning bureaucrats of the government have replaced Mahatma Gandhi in government calendars and other places, some even claiming that the present PM is a bigger mass leader than Mahatma in hideous connotations. An ideological battle is welcome, that is the beauty of democracy, but nasty tricks and degeneration in the level of debate and discussion is ominous. Vigilantism, intolerance and fabricated truths are as bad as pseudo secularism, appeasement and indifferent governance. People are utterly disappointed due to ominous signs of authoritarianism, political vendetta, vigilantism and attack on freedom of speech or different political ideologies. Some of the leaders are also trying to popularize superstition and myth, even at the stage of National Science Congress.
Politicking replacing politics is an ominous sign
Politics and politicking are different. Politics allows different stands of thinking and experiments with cooperation, tolerance or educated differences. Politicking is using dirty tricks to usurp power with hidden agenda. The quality of politics should be judged by its outcome- whether it delivers development with justice, whether it helps to unify a country or disintegrate it, whether it leads to peace and happiness etc. If politics leads to gaming, suppressing free voices, rewarding only the loyalists, promoting myths and superstitions, forcing propaganda and autocratic vision on people in the garb of principles, this is dangerous. Today, those who question the flawed or skewed visions are gagged by high handed and inappropriate use of law and power machinery, even sedition laws. The new brand of politicians has the cunningness to force their propaganda and autocratic vision on people in the garb of principles. Foxes are being described as Machiavelli and Chanakya. The times are really difficult!
The focus of politics today is on different ways of polarization- majority polarization by playing on emotive exhortations against the minorities, schedule caste and the OBC leaders. The total attention of political parties has shifted to propaganda and maneuver. Political craft and not ideology or value is driving politics in India more than any other time in the past except emergency years. The leaders have no iota of repentance even if their brand of politics leads into violence and bloodshed, even if they ditch their ideology and mentors, even if they tell lies to the people, even if they embezzle public money.
Cutting across the political parties, politicians have the audacity to demean rationality and intellectuals who speak critically. Laughing on Amartya Sen or relevance of redistribution is one example. In fact in the last two decades intellectuals have been banished by all the political parties, only the cliques and loyalists have got chances to interact with the top leaders for policy making or adorning places or posts that matter. The signs are dangerous. Intellectuals of different hue and colour should be allowed to articulate and express their alternative visions of progress and change. History has shown that is the only path, which modern and growing societies adopt.
Intellectuals still have a role to play and more than ever
While all the above mentioned ills are creeping into the political system, pseudo or coward intellectuals are either surrendered or seemingly have lost faith as if the end of history has come. Alas, there is no Socrates to say truth even if it amounts to sacrificing life or Jayaprakash Narayan, who can stand up and loudly cry for a “total revolution” to reject all what is unjust and anti people.
Professor Krugman once remarked that politics determine who has the power, not who has the truth (The Australian Financial Review, September 6, 2010). This is a reality in confusing times which puzzles the contemporary youth who want to seek what is right and what is wrong, whom to follow and emulate and whom to reject. The youth seems to have surrendered to fabricated truths and social engineering of the political parties instead of nurturing the spirit of enquiry, questioning and resisting the lure of retrograde ideas. They have in fact become victims of the conspiracy of the political parties. If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power. (Dwight D Eisenhower, speech, March 6, 1956). This must be brought to the people. Intellectuals today seem to be tired or afraid. They act as the beacons of light to guide the generations to right path. When they become greedy and fearsome, the society is bound to be confused because it derives its wisdom from trash and lies of the social media. The intellectuals must have the elements of a sage (philosopher)- free from the mundane and full of courage to bring out reality and truth among the confused and the misguided, come what may. No price is big to pay for truth and light.
Hypocritical and directionless aspirational middle class
Middle class has become a fence sitter and it conveniently changes sides according to the wind blowing. This is contrary to the notion of middle class as the source of leadership- the leadership factory. Middle class is educate, economical independent and it has the wisdom to understand right or wrong. However, in these dark and difficult times, the middle class has chosen either to be vulgarly self conscious and selfish and to “look away” from the bitter facts of life in which the common man has been thrown. Middle class has become increasingly compromising, permissive and self seeking and chosen to be closer to the powerful and remaining a ardent supporter of a very skewed, heartless and brazen growth narrative without thinking for those Indians for whom every moment is a moment of uncertainty and battle for survival. People are afraid of talking about redistribution, secularism and freedom of speech. Oligarchy based on loyalty rather than talent is the choice of the leaders for governance. Some people wonder why only 3-4 leaders seem to govern a big country like India, others just being in the cabinet for name sake or singing psalms that pleases the chief.
The middle class is silently observing the misdemeanors of the so called grass root leaders. What happened recently in Bihar or in the past in Uttarakhand, Arunachal or Goa and what is happening in Gujarat now indicate that democracy has degenerated into winning elections or seats of power. Manufacturing of mandate by social engineering, playing on the fault lines of Indian nation on divisive and extremist planks (jingoism) against the spirit of India will be a costly proposition.
It must be remembered that for some leaders in both the sides of political spectrum, it is the question of winning or losing 2019 election; however, more important issue is the destiny of India and the fate of the very idea of India. And it looks to be in danger. A right wing answer to excessive use of caste politics or over play of the idea of secularism by erstwhile ruling parties was a part of the process of democratization. But the idea of positive discrimination, socialistic and egalitarian goals, and secularism and redistribution policies were not premised on bad motives. True, they were over played for vote bank while governance got the back seat. So the previous government lost its credibility. Today a counter narrative is being perpetrated in the name of narrow and skewed vision of nationalism, terrorism, majoritarianism, tradition and culture. This is equally despicable and dangerous. Will the middle class muster the courage for self examination and search for a more balanced narrative? It is pertinent to quote here Barak Obama (interview, MSNBC, September 25, 2006) – “I always believe that ultimately, if people are paying attention, then we get good government and good leadership. And when we get lazy, as a democracy and civically start taking shortcuts, then it results in bad government and politics.” That is what the Indian middle class is doing!
Often there are claims that since we have people’s mandate and majority in the democratic institutions, all our acts should be taken as right. The middle class falls into the trap of this justification. This is a flawed logic, which Plato pointed out way back. Even today the chances of democracy turning into “mobocracy” are not remote. See what is happening day in and day out in the name of people’s mandate and majority. Henrik Ibsen in his well known “An Enemy of the People” goes on to say- “ The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools?” Does the intelligent middle class understand that!
What is the answer?
The answer is using modern democratizing tools than promoting majoritarianism and retrograde divisive and flawed ideological assault on institutions. Three year versus 70 years is a propaganda based on lies and revenge. Growth and change are continuous processes and every new government comes to power mainly due to the failure of the previous governments in the expectations that they would take forward the idea of change and progress by consolidating the achievements of the past and building on them and not by discrediting them altogether. Idea of India should live and prosper. That is the only benchmark of success or failure and nothing else. The only motive that can keep politics pure is the motive of doing good for one’s country and its people (Henry Ford, “Party Politics”, Ford Ideals).