By R. Balashankar
Ideology has a peculiar fascination for Indian politicians. ?We will not compromise on our ideology?-this is a qualifying statement with every leader. But much has changed after globalisation, the fall of communism across the globe and the end of single party dominance in Indian polity. In the twilight days of ideology, in the nineties the CPI (M) leader Shri E.M.S. Namboodiripad discovered political untouchability in the name of secularism as his new credo. This was convenient to court the decimating Congress and to keep the emerging BJP on the sidelines.
It works even today. And under the UPA, secularism was further diluted to make minorityism as its new existential ethics. Conversely, the BJP leader Shri L.K. Advani used to proudly proclaim that the BJP was the distinct ideological pole in Indian polity. And Shri A B Vajpayee often described the BJP's isolation honourable as that of the Himalayas. Yet he proved the most successful mastermind of coalition politics, sewing up as many as 22 parties to run the NDA government for six years. Such integration of the body politic through critical ?interest blocs? into major economic interests, as they say in the US, cannot be a long-term strategy. In a way the relevance that the Left gained after the 2004 general election has much to do with this phenomenon.
It was Mark Hanna in the last century according to Peter F Drucker who deflected American politics away from ideology, by laying the intellectual foundation to create the organisation needed to convert his ?political concepts into political performance.? He recreated the Republican Party. Respectable politics is ideological politics. Political scientists insist that respectable politics must deal with issues rather than with performance. ?But what ever has worked in American politics for almost a century has been based on Mark Hanna'seconomic interests and their political integration. They immediately gave victory and power,? says Drucker. By the turn of the century this trend got reversed and both in Europe and the US, as Drucker emphasised philosophical synthesis, common culture and nationalism began to dominate political discourse and ideology became fashionable.
Of late in India, there is a debate within the cadre parties that political integration through economic promise of prosperity, as against political ideology, can work better. Perhaps we have seen the apogee of this idea in the recent past. The communists standing with their ideological label have almost ceased to matter in most societies, while we have witnessed world over leaders claiming political successes through anti-ideological interest bloc integration. These leaders did not pay the slightest attention to the ideological manifestoes of their own parties. Unity based on common economic interests work in the short run. But the empowering of these groups changes the format of the political mosaic faster than one would expect. This creates the search for a more enduring adhesive. What works in the long run to give substance and mass involvement to political action is culture, as the more recent trends indicate.
Political parties, who won the elections have shown a tendency to sharpen their ideological appeal, in the 2005 elections both in the US and the UK. They highlighted again the role of ideology in canvassing for votes. Nationalism is another plank getting renewed currency in the West. This is the reverse of what is happening in India. In parties like Congress, RJD, Samajwadi Party, or even regional formations like AIADMK, TDP, Trinamul, BJD etc. the ideology is the position the leader takes. Be it Sonia Gandhi, Lalu Yadav or Jayalalitha, the policy is what the leader at a particular point of time finds convenient and politically rewarding.
Only the BJP and the Communist parties as of now can be qualified as ideology-driven political formations. Some leaders believe that ideology is dispensable and that it has nothing to do in practical politics. In cadre-based parties normally ideologies take precedence over political convenience. And the decision making is through collective inner party deliberations. In such a situation, the scope for cultivating personality cult is consciously avoided. The party president is only first among equals. This situation, however, slows down decision-making and limits manoeuverability for the leader. Some political practitioners say that for the party to grow, it has to move out of its traditional constituency. This feeling is backed by an analysis that the very purpose of the party is to grab power. In this pursuit, ideology is a hindrance.
The BJP cannot hope to become another Congress and carry the cadre along. The BJP constituency is essentially opposed to most of the common trends in today'spolity. Six years in power has invariably diluted some of the basic characteristics of the party.
The communists today are in a similar predicament. The party'sdeclared position on FDI and MNCs notwithstanding, it had to justify the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya'sextreme capitalist ideas. On every major issue, the compulsion of keeping the UPA in power has forced the comrades to compromise. The West Bengal comrades? revisionist capitalism has become acceptable to the ideologue general secretary Shri Prakash Karat. The Left Front'sshifting stand on FDI, labour, disinvestments and foreign relations, has already begun to baffle its own cadre. Both in Kerala and West Bengal, the CPM now presides over mind-boggling accumulated assets.
Even the BJP leadership has admitted that the NDA could not do much on the core concerns of the organisation. But that is not the only yardstick of a government'sperformance. Critics who talk of the decline of the BJP in 2004 elections ignore the advances the party made in the last two decades. The BJP is today the only other national party apart from the Congress. In the last two decades many national parties faced extinction, even the Congress shrank in its areas of influence and many regional parties came up capturing the space held by the national parties. All through this political cataclysm, only the BJP stood as a solid bloc, growing to new areas, widening its base, and making new allies. And this happened on the strength of its ideology, nursing the core constituency and calibrating its work with the wider Sangh family.
A political party grows by creating a constituency of its own. It has to establish its raison d?etre, it has to have a committed electoral base, and on top of that attract the floating vote in order to win an election. Regional personalised outfits are rather aberrations in democratic polity. But they are a classic reality.
In a democracy, a government by any party will look almost the same because in governance ideology takes a back seat. Governments differ in conduct not so much in content. Performance is rated good or satisfactory on account of its commitment to core issues or issues that affect its core constituency. The depth of this commitment is what makes a party with a difference.
For this Republic Day Special, the Organiser posed these questions to a number of eminent personalities to elicit their views and understand the unfolding face of Indian polity. The communist leaders refused to talk and a number of Congress leaders said they were busy with the preparations for the AICC session. But some cited their leader'sexpress command to avoid the press in the wake of the Quattrocchi controversy. Yet we have a representative spectrum sharing their views on the topic.