Photograph of Anil Chawla


Author - Anil Chawla

Indian political parties love to talk of ideology in complex terms that no one can understand. However, their only ideology is unbridled pursuit of self-interest. They keep doing ideological somersaults that confuse everyone except their blind followers for whom - Boss is always right.

Political parties in India love to talk about ideology. Each political party is supposed to have an ideology. So even if a political party does not have any ideology, it will never say so. If you were to ask probing questions about a party's ideology to a staunch loyalist of the party, you would either be bombarded with a short, nebulous and high-sounding label or be told that the ideology is too complex for anyone to understand so quickly and one would need to spend a few years in the party to really understand the ideology of the party.

The mystification of ideology goes back in Indian history to Gandhi. From around 1920 to 1947, Gandhi ruled over Indian political scene through the ideological direction that he provided to Congress. Gandhian ideology was supposed to be very simple, based as it was on just two simple principles of truth and non-violence. Yet, it was not so simple. Nobody, during Gandhi's time (and even after his death), could claim to have understood Gandhian ideology completely. Followers of Gandhi would claim their degree of understanding of the ideology based on the years they had spent with Gandhi. Ideology of Gandhi consisted of all that he spoke over the years. If there was an internal inconsistency or contradiction in his utterances or actions, it was not for a Gandhian to question it. All that an ordinary mortal could do was to just look with reverence at all that Gandhi did. If Gandhi deviated from what he had said in the past, it was hailed as development of Gandhian thought and was acclaimed as an "experiment with truth". On the other hand, if anyone else moved a step beyond literal words of Gandhi, it was condemned.

Gandhi was surely a great leader. But his ideology did not live past him. Even his brightest follower, whom he liked most, did not follow his ideology. Nehru's dreams of modern India had nothing Gandhian about them. As long as Gandhi lived, for Congressmen, sole source of ideology was Gandhi. After Gandhi's death this position passed on to Nehru. After Nehru, there was a brief interlude when Lal Bahadur Shastri in his position as the sole fountainhead of Congress ideology proclaimed "Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan". Soon after the interlude, Indira Gandhi stepped in. Her vision of socialism was a departure from Gandhi, Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Such departures did not bother Congressmen who, by that time, knew only one ideology - Boss is always right.

Less than a decade after Indira Gandhi's death, a Congress Prime Minister initiated reforms and demolished licence-permit-quota-raj built assiduously by Indira Gandhi and Nehru. The same Congressmen, who had been declaring their unflinching loyalty to Nehru-Indira ideology, now were the champions of economic reforms, liberalization and globalization. Temples of modern India, built as part of Nehru's vision, were to be sold as part of disinvestment and Congress was applauding. The irony is that the author of economic reforms has now become the prime minister of India with support of socialist and communist parties. He continues to talk of reforms in the same breath as reservations for backward classes in private sector.

Ideological contradictions have never bothered Congress. The party has evolved through contradictions and probably that is its greatest strength. Irrespective of all that Congress leaders may shout from public platforms, the essential ideology of Congress is pragmatism. Cynics might say that pragmatism is a lofty word for collective unbridled pursuit of self-interest. But that is just another way of looking at Congress, which claims to be a party that knows how to rule. It is a party that knows how to mould itself to suit the circumstances. If it sees wide support for Hindutwa, it will jump to the Hindu bandwagon. One cannot forget that Rajiv Gandhi took the lead in production of TV serials like Ramayan and Mahabharat; and Sardar Patel took the initiative for reconstruction of Somnath temple. On the other hand if Muslim fundamentalism is the flavour of the month, Congress can even get parliament to pass a law that overrules a Supreme Court judgement.

Being on the right side of the ideological divide, in line with changing times, is a natural gift of the Congress. The party can be different things to different persons and no one can afford to make a categorical statement about the ideology of Congress. As they say, it is so profound and complex that you will need to devote a lifetime to understand it and may be even then you would still not have understood it. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to become President of All India Congress Committee and Prime Minister of India, every statement you make will be accorded the status of Biblical truth.

There are a large number of Indian parties, which are just clones of Congress. Most of them are regional parties. They have failed to become national parties because (a) they are unable to match the brand goodwill that Congress enjoys and (b) they do not have the resources that Congress commands. Many of them are successful in their region because their leaders are able to maintain a closer (compared to Congress and other national parties) contact with local aspirations and are able to better satisfy the "collective unbridled pursuit of self-interest" of the breed that is known in today's India as political workers.

The importance of this breed cannot be overemphasized. Socialist thinkers (Ram Manohar Lohia and others) drew from this breed and created a sub-breed called socialists. This sub-segment is characterized by extreme individualism. For socialists, the pursuit of self-interest is hardly collective. Socialists get together and separate at such a quick pace that one loses track of who is in which party. Their individualism gets a collective tinge in the form of catering to family ties and caste interests. India is probably the only country where all socialist parties are casteist. There are also caste-based parties whose only ideological commitment is catering to the interests of one or more set of castes. Such caste-based parties also often paint themselves with socialist colours.

Caste as a reality of Indian politics has not spared even the communists. Yet, it must be admitted that communists remain the only group in Indian political jungle with a fairly well defined ideology. Of course, having an ideology is different from following it. Communism, as propounded by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin or Mao Tse Tung, is a dictatorship of the proletariat. Its existence in a free democracy with mixed economy is an anachronism. For the past five decades, Indian communist parties have been trying to come to terms with existence in a democratic society. Till the collapse of Soviet Union, at least one of the Communist parties received indirect financial and moral support from Soviet Union. The fall of Soviet Union was a big blow for Indian communists in more ways than one. To survive, almost all communist parties have turned lobbyists for organized labour. Most public sector units and a few large private sector industries have communist trade unions. These trade unions provide the funds for running of communist parties in India. "Dictatorship of the proletariat" has, hence, turned into pressure tactics and lobbying for more and more benefits for the pampered unproductive workers of unprofitable public sector industries. If providing these benefits makes it necessary to impose higher taxes on the proletariat, the communists do not mind it. According to Marx, industrialization was a necessary perquisite for communism. Indian communists have, however, led to a virtual stoppage of industrialization in the two states of Kerala and West Bengal where they have ruled for a long time.

The communist political worker is not much different from the general breed of self-interest driven political workers. A few years back, an erstwhile close friend moved from being a full time worker of a communist trade union to Bharatiya Janata Party via Hindujas (a well-known business family). He was welcomed with open arms by the top brass of BJP. Today, he is part of the topmost echelons of BJP. Most people are surprised by, what they see as, his ideological somersault. The fact is that in the ideology-less world of Indian politics, there is a good demand for expert players who can play this game with aplomb without any pangs of conscience.

Till a few years back, BJP did not recruit from the floating pool of such expert players. RSS used to provide BJP with all the manpower that it needed. Even today bulk of BJP's manpower needs are met by supplies from RSS. For past seven decades or so, the organizational structure of RSS with its roots spread across the length and breadth of the country has been inspiring a new and different set of volunteers to step into public life. This set did not come into public life for the gains of power or for amassing wealth. Before BJP's rise to power in some states, they used to endure great hardships. The zeal and commitment of RSS workers was praised by even their adversaries and critics. RSS workers were fired by an ideology, often called as Hindu nationalism, that could best be described as a mix of nationalism and strong religious sentiments.

RSS did not invent Hindu nationalism. The ideology is more than a century old. Towards the end of nineteenth century, Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Swami Vivekanand, working independently, built a religious-political movement that in due course became the foundation of India's freedom struggle. Both of them were bitterly opposed by the orthodox elements of Hinduism at that time. They espoused a version of Hinduism, which was progressive and reformist. This was unacceptable to Shankaracharyas and other authorities of Hindu community. In a way, Dayanand-Vivekanand combine represented one ideology and Shankaracharyas represented quite an opposite ideology. In the initial years, RSS represented the former, but it never spelled its ideology in explicit terms. To an extent, RSS felt that ideological confusion would help it attract all sections of Hindu society, so all ideological debates were forbidden. Its aim to become an omnibus diluted its ideological focus. RSS chose to replace ideology with emotion. Senior leaders of RSS preached that organizations are built on the basis of bonds of heart and not on the basis of intellectual debate.

Bonds of heart are useful for building a large voluntary organization, but they are of no use when one has to govern or take key decisions in fields of economic or strategic policy. This explains the floundering of BJP as a party of governance. RSS was built to be a fighting machine. The operating software of this machine does not have the capability to deliberate on profound complicated issues. Action rather than thought is the key focus of RSS as well as BJP. It is hence not surprising that RSS, as well as BJP, lacks clarity on all ideological issues.

As an example, let us take the case of Common Civil Code. For more than five decades, RSS and all its offshoots have been demanding a common civil code. In this long period it has never occurred to them to prepare a draft of the proposed common civil code. I have asked senior leaders of Sangh clan about what they want in the common civil code. Their stock reply is that as and when they are in a position to pass such legislation, they will appoint a group to prepare such a draft. In other words they acknowledge that they do not even know what should be the broad contours of the code for which they have been shouting for half a century.

Lack of depth marks every single ideological plank that RSS and BJP claim as their essential identity. Of course, I have not spent a lifetime working with the Sangh clan and Sangh loyalists would be quick to shout that I lack the essential qualification to comment on their ideology. Have we heard that before? Yes, Congressmen say the same. In a way, BJP has just become a clone of Congress. What Gandhi is to Congress, Guru Golwalkar and Dr. Hedgewar are to BJP. BJP officially claims to follow the ideology of EKATM MANAVWAD (translated by them as Integrated Humanism), propounded by Deendayal Upadhyay. I have yet to meet a BJP leader who can explain the ideology in some depth. You may, of course, try to work as an apprentice with some BJP leaders and hopefully before the end of your life you would know what integrated humanism is all about.

The ideological vacuum in BJP is filled by one universal ideology - Boss is always right. So, just as Congressmen look up to Sonia Gandhi as the fountainhead of ideology, BJP cadres look up to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. RSS, which claims to be the mother organization of BJP, has lost its moral high ground. RSS still supplies bulk of manpower for BJP. But, for a BJP leader, utterances of Atal-Advani are more important than the noises coming from RSS headquarters at Nagpur. Ideological somersaults committed by Atal-Advani have often confused laymen. Diehard BJP loyalists have, however, been quick to change tacks as and when the bosses jumped. These loyalists have risen in BJP hierarchy and live a life of luxury with all the trappings of power.

As BJP leaders have got used to a life of luxury, a major change has come about. Word has gone around that the right channel to get into BJP goes via RSS. As a result, the profile of volunteers entering RSS has undergone a sea change. Emotionally charged, ideologically inspired zeal and commitment are now history. Career-oriented would-be politicians with dreams of power and luxury are entering RSS en route to BJP. They ask no questions and are too willing to jump with every somersault of the leadership.

The conversion of BJP into a Congress-clone or a club for "collective unbridled pursuit of self-interest" signals a national crisis. A decade back, BJP (and Sangh clan) was seen to be the great hope for India. Today, BJP is just another party of petty politicians. India has lost all hopes from her political class, which is intellectually, morally and ideologically bankrupt.

A country without hope is in a danger zone. India cannot remain in this zone for long. A new ideology and a new political party, which will be the torchbearer of the new ideology, is the need of the hour. As the new ideology and party take shape, we can either curse our luck for living in this hour of crisis of ideology or we can work for heralding the new sunrise.

Anil Chawla
26 July 2004

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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