Friday, June 14, 2024

Amend the constitution to make India


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By Anirudh Prakash

A post-ideological democratic state, in which this writer would include the US, the UK and India, among some others, is usually animated in its internal politics positively by values and negatively by opportunism. When in the aggregate values exceed opportunism, politics reaches a stability which is usually characterized by a stable two-party system. A good example would be the United States, where this formula has become so refined that it is currently producing a very close presidential contest.

Critics of this formulation would point to the heated moments in the presidential campaign; the name calling, which sometimes verged on the impolite; the virulent media attack mostly on one candidate; the public washing of dirty linen, although there wasn’t much of it. All true. This is to be expected in an election campaign for the most powerful office on Earth. But this proposition is about values and opportunism in the aggregate. In the aggregate, the negativity of the two powerful presidential candidates and their team has been countered by their positive contribution, which is why the result is so close.

In the UK, opportunism has exceeded values, which is why you had a clear and dishonest New Labour victory, followed by a confused two-party coalition government. In India, the case is extreme, with coalition politics gaining the ascendancy almost coinciding with the end of ideology with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the trajectory has been mostly downward since, with opportunism taking precedence over values.

You may wonder if India is a post-ideological state with its huge income disparities, a growing nation of tribals displaced by illegal and rapacious mining, the counter-maoist movement, and so on. It is. In terms of ideology as an organizing first principle, there is no competition after the failure of socialism. The Chinese model of socialism is scarcely socialism. The narrative of post-ideology has been firmly established in the Indian context after the post-1991 success of entrepreneurship with Indian characteristics.

A state becomes post-ideological when its dominant power structures, which include the mainstream political parties, are post-ideological. In varying degrees, the Congress, BJP, CPI-M, and so forth, are post-ideological. They may quarrel about the degree and extent of post-ideology, which is reflected in the present disagreement over FDI in multi-brand retail, reducing FDI caps in sensitive sectors of the economy, etc, but no one makes a case for a return to pre-1991 socialism.

The infrastructures of socialism in a slow moving country such as India cannot be dismantled overnight, but that India is irreversibly on the road of post-ideology is a fact.

The problem, however, lies in the balancing of post-ideological factors of values and opportunism. Because political opportunism has triumphed over values, the benefits of post-ideology are not available in plenty. Indeed, opportunism is endangering post-ideology, and since there is no other way, India is in danger of falling off the map.

The worst species of political opportunism is dynastic politics, which is coming in the way of democratised politics, and the resultant authoritarianism is preventing the growth and establishment of values. The frightful consequence of this process is political splintering, which is producing political fractionation, and the result is unwieldy coalition politics and instability. In this situation, India can never reach an advanced stage of a two-party system, where the vote shares of the opposing sides is not terribly skewed. It is telling that those few US presidents who captured more than the usual national average for presidents turned out to be more unpopular.

How can values be raised in Indian politics and opportunism minimised? Dynastic politics must be brought to an end first and foremost, and non-dynastic parties must lead by example. Values survive if they are located outside individuals in systems and institutions. By its very nature, a dynastic political party can never become as valuable as a non-dynastic institutional formation.

The major parties in Western democracies are institutions, never for long coming under the sway of individuals, even though individual vision is the seed for greatness. It is when India moves away from individuals to put its trust in institutions will values overtake opportunism in the aggregate, and the fruits of post-ideology to be enjoyed. India has a long way to go, if it can ever get there. This is dilemma of Indian brand of democracy totally different from others. It is time for introspection to either amend the constitution to make India two party democracy as regional parties are gaining ascendancy over two major national parties. INAV


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