By Udayan Namboodiri
Politics without ideology is like Diwali without Lakshmi Puja. Or Durga Puja without new clothes. Onam without jantraparam. Winter without Christmas.
For some years now, an argument making the rounds in some influential circles of intellectuals holds that politics based on conviction has reached a d?nouement. Francis Furukawa had stated in the early 1990s that the end of the Cold War was to be understood as the complete victory of capitalism over socialism. According to him, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in climax to the all-round collapse of Marxism-Leninism based societies in the late 1980s could be viewed as the end of human historical progression. Unlike Huntington'sClash of Civilisations theory that caused an uproar of dissent among intellectuals everywhere, Furukawa'sEnd of History thesis received more acceptance.
After history departs from the stage, what happens to ideology? I think the whole hypothesis is based on a surreal projection of man'spolitical dimension. Furukawa'sdoctrine was produced in the aftermath of terrific self-congratulation (some of it justified) after the fall of the ?evil empire?. He belongs to a generation which had ?isms? hanging like mill stones from the collective neck thanks to a mortal combat between the twin philosophies of Communism and Capitalism. December 1991 was liberation time to people in universities, think tanks and policy making chambers because no longer was it necessary to colour documents to either pole of thought. Furukawa and his ilk surmised?to some extent rightly?that henceforth there would no longer be conflicting obsessions because, quite simply, the conflict was over.
It was to their good fortune that the forces of liberalisation and globalization were unleashed through a more institutionalised process soon afterwards. Societies, even where materialism and over-consumption were unheard of, got caught in the whirlwind of activity focused on pursuing the good life. Furukawa predicted that the next 100 years or so would see the human consciousness detached from spiritualism and there would be resistance to any school of thought questioning the Gospel of St. Market.
Unlike Huntington'sClash of Civilisations theory that caused an uproar of dissent among intellectuals everywhere, Furukawa'sEnd of History thesis received more acceptance.
Has it really happened that way? Evidently not. Politics still thrives because of the nature of man. The divisions in human society which many at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century believed were transient, cannot yet be wished away. Politics exists because there are divisions. More than ever before, men and women are pinning for a spiritual underpinning to their lives. This is manifested in manifold forms of booms, whether in studying the Bhagavad Gita in the United States or mastering Pranayam in India. The Church, both Christian and Islamic, have made a comeback in societies where they were either suppressed or invisible. The ?Clash of Civilisations? must be understood in terms beyond the conflict between ?Bushism? and the burgeoning might of the new Left ? militant Islam. It stems from a quest for a better society and a purer future. As long as human beings are human beings, this quest will never cease.
In the Indian context, a slogan called ?Bijli, Sadak, Pani? seems to have overwhelmed the chattering classes of New Delhi. Its attractiveness has a lot to do with their disenchantment with the competition for various shades of socialism which have inundated the development track. There is optimism in these circles that, somehow, the political forces that dominate our lives would submerge their respective visions of a new India and focus entirely on building social and economic infrastructure.
But two wrongs cannot make a right. It would be cataclysmic if national politics comes to be marked by a competition for votes by parties obsessed with bridges and roads. This is not to say that such facilities are unimportant, but who has ever missed bridges and roads in an earlier age? The decision to build social and economic infrastructure should flow from a political party'sstrategy to make India rich and powerful. And that strategy should not be commercial or ?developmental?, but based on a spiritual core. The impetus must come from ideology because unless a political party has one, it can never dream. Without the ability to dream, one would wither away.
Even the most commercial societies are ideology driven. Ideology is that fuel which drives a person into the hurly burly of politics. Most people are content with leading narrow lives. They are the Bijli-Sadak-Pani types; obsessed with making a good living, producing children and dying in comfort. But among us there are a few who tremble with excitement at the thought of serving society through holding high office. The ?bee in the bonnet? is a basic dissatisfaction towards present conditions. Subhas Chandra Bose, who I consider the greatest Indian of the twentieth century, would have been content to live the life of a covenanted Indian Civil Service officer under the Raj. But he chucked it up in preference to the hard life of an ?Indian pilgrim? because of the ideological drive.
In 2004, BBC conducted a survey among young Indians to find out who their greatest icon was. The largest number of votes went to Netaji. This is proof of the enduring validity of ideology in national life. Politics should be considered as the purest pursuit provided men like Netaji are attracted to it. The ?end of ideology? would mean handing over the mantle to contractors and carpet baggers.