Thursday, February 22, 2024

Casteism poses danger to national polity


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By Indranil Banerjea

The CPM will continue to be the chief policy obstructionist at the Centre. The draft political resolution for the 19th party Congress acknowledged that anti-BJPism will continue to be the glue that will hold the CPM close to the Congress, but the Centre would have to pay a heavy price. This would mean a heightened attempt on the part of the CPM to get the government tailor economic and foreign policies to suit the whims and fancies of the Left.

The CPM, which holds the BJP as its enemy number one, considers the Congress as an ally in the immediate run. However, it said the situation could change if the non-Congress parties manage to float a credible alternative to the two poles in the national politics. This alternative, the CPM said, should have an agenda compatible with that of the Left. “It should be consistently anti-communal. We cannot have any party which has any softness towards the BJP. It should share our views on development and foreign policy. It should not be a mere electoral alliance.” The CPM also acknowledged that the BSP’s victory highlighted the challenges posed by Ms. Mayawati’s mobilisational techniques.

The mobilisation based on caste identities posed a major threat to other political formations. The BSP, by utilising its Dalit base, has sought to build wider caste alliances for electoral purposes. More and more rightist parties are banking on caste identities, and trying to build caste combinations. Such caste mobilisation poses serious problems for Indian democracy.

Surprisingly the CPM blamed the Congress party, the BJP and the BSP that these parties don’t have leaders of quality who could inspire people to fight for their legitimate rights. These political formations are serving sectarian interests to rule the country in Adolf Hitler style.

There is the tortuous relationship between the leader and the led. This happens largely because big ideas like the larger truth, morph with time, which leaders are often unable to fully fathom. In the current context, the leadership of the Congress, BJP, Left and emerging regional parties would do well to pay attention to lessons from history. Some of the greatest and most celebrated leaders in history have had to grapple with the constantly evolving nature of the very idea and vision that brought them and their followers together in the first place.

Alexander had seized his people’s imagination as one who wanted to create a global empire by conquering Asia. After years of expansionist campaign when Alexander crossed over to the Asian sub-continent, nearly half his army had virtually rebelled against his big vision of combining Europe and Asia into a single zone. Alexander was forced to retreat. Another greater leader, Julius Ceasar, fell out with his followers as he, and later Mark Antony were seen as having given too many concessions to Egypt and Cleopatra. Both had to face the fury of their followers.

The post nation-state phase of history is also replete with examples of how the original idea or vision that bound people to their leaders began to change and eventually caused serious differences between the people and the leadership. This dissonance develops in society when there is inadequate appreciation of the well known Hegelian dictum of history as ideas in motion. So the central idea that drives a polity or society constantly changes. But leaders are often unable to keep track. As witnessed both in the erstwhile Soviet Union and China through the decades after World War II, the Communist leadership did not show adequate understanding of what the people might have desired over a period of time. Typically, the leadership got stuck with a single and stagnant vision of collectivisation as a panacea for society. This may have had some relevance in its time, but progressively fell into a straitjacket of top down ideological governance framework that eventually caused a serious lack of compatibility between the people and the leadership.

Of course, more democratic polities create an institutionalised opportunity for the leadership to understand what sort of modifications are required in the big vision that the people might have endorsed in the initial phase of national development. However, despite such bottom up signalling mechanisms that democracies afford, leaderships often fail to grasp the subtler, more nuanced messages coming from below. This is particularly true of Indian polity in the way it has evolved in the recent decades. The fragmentation of politics and the emergence of competing groups staking their claim on the state’s resources have caused immense anxiety. Particularly contested has been the notion of secularism in recent decades. Consequently, some of the big ideas embraced in the post-Independence period and broadly endorsed by much of the political class are now being increasingly debated and questioned, whether it is fresh reservations for non-upper caste groups, preemptive claim by other disadvantaged sections over the state’s resources or the nature of socialism and secularism practised from Indira Gandhi’s time to the present.

The sheer confusion among the political class has been most evident in the past two decades, particularly on the question of what sort of development model should India adopt, which would appeal to the disempowered at large. The Congress party appears to be mindlessly repackaging old slogans which find little resonance with the people. There is yet no clear consensus over the nature of the state-market mix in powering broader economic development. Most politicians, whether ruling at the Centre or states, are implementing market-based reforms but find it difficult to openly talk about it before the people. All talk of reform ends once elections are announced.

The BJP too is trying hard to pull out of its hat some new vision for India, which might be acceptable across different castes and communities. Successive election results at the Centre have clearly made BJP aware of the limitations of its core ideology. After Modi’s stunning victory in Gujarat, the BJP appears to be showing signs of wanting to repackage national security concerns with development and good governance at the central level. How sincere this attempt will be, without slipping back to minority bashing, remains to be seen. INAV

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