Indian Democracy reached one of its lowest points on Thursday morning as a man who had resigned the previous night as Chief Minister was once again sworn in, only this time with a new partner.
Even for citizens of a nation used to seeing their “anything-goes” democracy throw up periodic surprises, this was grossly obscene. What, they asked themselves, as they finally switched off their televisions, was the ideology of this man?
At the dawn of India’s modern history, politics was all about ideology. Nehruvian socialism was a cleverly crafted offering that was designed to make the largely poor citizens of the time feel that they were part of a nation-building process that would not discriminate in the name of caste, creed or religion. Standing opposed to it was another major school of thought – the Hindutva of the RSS as represented by the Jan Sangh. And gaining momentum was a major ideology that was then sweeping the world – Communism. When citizens went into the voting booths they knew what they would be getting when they cast their votes.
Even in the 60s, the new political parties that entered the scene came with powerful ideological underpinning – the Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu being the prime example.
The first unraveling of ideology came in 1977 when a rag-tag bunch of diverse fronts joined forces to form the Janata Party. Their sole aim – to defeat Indira Gandhi. Included in the potpourri were socialist parties of all hues and the saffron Jan Sangh. It is a testimony to how important ideology still was to politicians and to citizens even then, that the Janata Party collapsed with the weight of its own ideological contradictions within three years.
But unfortunately politicians had learnt an important lesson with this experiment – you can grab power if you set aside your ideology. Thereafter, slowly in the 80s and with rapid regularity since the 90s, the debris from the Janata Party joined and rejoined in amazing coalitions to form a dizzying array of political fronts whose only quest was power. Ideology was truly, surely dead.
Some would argue that across the world ideology died with the collapse of Communism and today, the difference between Right and Left is marginal at best. With the biggest communist nation on the planet, China practicing a form of economic capitalism, what better would you expect?
So what do political parties in India stand for today?
Surely the BJP stands for Right-wing Hindutva? But it partners the dynastic Akali Dal in Punjab, the rabidly parochial Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the socialist(for want of a better word) JD(U) in Bihar and supports beef-eating in Kerala and the North-East.
The Congress is committed to Nehruvian Socialism? That went out of the window with Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.
The Samajwadi Party is staunchly secular? Recent reports show that the SP refused permission to prosecute Yogi Adityanath for his hate speeches even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
The Communists have a pure Leftist ideology? The Communists have partnered Jaya in Tamil Nadu and the Congress in WB and at the Centre. Only parts of the CPI(M), such as the Kerala and Tripura units are still Leftist in thought and action.
Perhaps the only person who started with an ideology and is today still continuing with it, without showing much signs of wavering is Arvind Kejriwal with his Anti-Corruption ideology.
But as for the rest, as the latest exponent of this power-politics, Nitish Kumar has demonstrated, the only ideology required today is a consuming hunger for the high office. Principles of anti-communalism, anti-corruption or even socialism can be sacrificed in the matter of a few tweets as long as you can go back home as the Chief Minister.