By Prafull Goradia
The concept of ideology was introduced by a philosopher named A.L.C. Destutt de Tracy at the time of the French Revolution which began in 1789. He believed that by introducing a science of ideas, he would be eliminating the role of religion in the running of polity.
Until the 16th century, religion was looked upon as a total system with the help of which the polity could be guided. Thereafter, the concept of secularism, or the separation of the church from the state, began to take hold of the ruling classes. Nevertheless, the vacuum caused by the separation was not filled until nationalism as a legitimate inspiration for a country began to emerge. Later, other ideologies were introduced; for example, Capitalism, Marxism and Fascism, etc.
The polity, which is not an absolute monarchy, needs political parties to form a government in the country. In the old days, most countries had absolute monarchies. Today, the outstanding examples are the Sheikhdoms of West Asia, Saudi Arabia being the largest. Ideology provides the intellectual content and the direction to a political party. Above all, it provides a binding factor to a party and can enable it to lead a popular movement. The need for ideology is felt less when the party is in government and much more when it is striving for power of attempting to recover it.
Ideology provides the intellectual content and the direction to a political party. Above all, it provides a binding factor to a party and can enable it to lead a popular movement. The need for ideology is felt less when the party is in government and much more when it is striving for power or attempting to recover it.
The ebb and flow of ideology for a political party is well illustrated by the history of the Bharatiya Janata Party since its inception in 1980. It began with the Gandhian Socialism as its ideological anchor. The concept did not inspire sufficient popularity but with the espousal of Hindutva on the advent of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation the Party was able to fire the people'simagination. In 1998, it came to power but in coalition with a number of parties which were not at ease with Hindutva. The result was a dilution of the BJP'sideological commitment. While in government until 2004, the dilution did not appear to do any great damage. The shocking defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004 was a reminder of how ideology was important. Unfortunately, the leadership felt that preserving the unity of the National Democratic Alliance was more important than the need for a return to Hindutva for the sake of safeguarding the party's integrity.
The outstanding example of ideological dominance in a party and through the party over the polity is the communist one. In the name of dictatorship of the proletariat, a number of communist parties acquired absolute power over their countries and ruled them until the movement collapsed in 1991 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. There were reasons for the debacle. One, that the Marxist ideology was unequal in delivering the socio-political goods. Two, the communist parties leaned excessively on ideology. Three, the party misused ideology and its pristine humanism to impose dictatorship in order to exploit the fruits of power.
All in all, the lesson of Marxism in practice was that it sent a message across the world that, no matter how poor a person was, he had his rights as a citizen of his country. The paradoxical consequence was that a poor man in a capitalist country become relatively prosperous. The other great contribution was that, to some extent, communism helped Josef Stalin in his struggle against Adolf Hitler. The ideology also did help Mao Zedong to reverse the tide of China'sdecline which had taken place during the19th century and the first half of the 20th century. For the rest, communism did more damage to human civilisation than probably any other ideology.
The shocking defeat of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004 was a reminder of how ideology was important. Unfortunately, the leadership felt that preserving the unity of the National Democratic Alliance was more important than the need for a return to Hindutva.
Fascism is another ideology which has not been studied sufficiently by political scientists. It represents class collaboration. It had its origin in the word fascio or a bundle implying unity in the Italian language. The idea of collaboration of all sections of the people was in contrast to Capitalism which was alleged to result in class exploitation or communism which represented class conflict. Unfortunately, the adoption of Fascism by Benito Mussolini, the pre-World War II leader of Italy, brought the ideology a great deal of disrepute. Then, Hitler'snational Socialism was alleged to be an offshoot of Fascism. This mix-up brought further infamy to Fascism and its being kept out of the halls of political science. Prejudice came in the way of class collaboration being studied in the context of what General Charles de Gaulle achieved in France between 1958 and 1968. He inspired most Frenchmen with his promise to redeem the glory of France. Symbolic of this glory was the country'sindependent nuclear power called force de frappe. Gaulle'sFrance progressed from the position of a conflict ridden country to being amongst one of the world'smodern economies.
In a somewhat different context, the ?New Deal? of President Franklin Roosevelt (1933-45) and the ?New Frontiers? of John F. Kennedy were also experiments in the direction of class collaboration which brought good result for the USA.
(The author is general secretary, Bharatiya Jan Sangh and can be contacted at 145, Sunder Nagar, New Delhi-110 003.)