Party Hopping & The Irrelevance Of Ideology: Welcome Ideas Please

As leaders perform the amazing political trapeze act, leaping from the party they vociferously defended to the one they slandered in full public glare, the obvious question hits home: is ideology relevant anymore? A pertinent extension of this question could be: must politics be anchored in ideology?


For individual leaders the urgency of political survival has overtaken the commitment to ideology. India has reached a point where ideology is a matter of convenience, to be flaunted or discarded depending on the dynamics and demands of the immediate. Earlier, the movement happened within secular parties, thus the element of ideological infidelity didn’t attract much attention. The current trend of the shift to the BJP, which is assertive about its religious inclination, is interesting. The ideological switch is more pronounced now.

Let’s not get into judging the leaders shifting loyalties. Most of them have chosen politics as a career, unlike the idealistic decade after India’s independence when politics was more about serving people. They stay relevant to the people they represent so long as they are in a position to be of use to them. They also, as all professionals, need responsibilities and career growth. If they are stagnating in one party, or see no possibility of the party moving out of stagnation, they would look for better options. The BJP is the bright option right now.

Then politics at the practical level is ideology-neutral. It needs to respond to varied situations, and all responses cannot follow ideological lines. The BJP-led ideological Right, we find, is in some ways more Leftist than the ideological Left. The Congress was not centrist all the time. Those shifting to the BJP see no big discomfort zone at that level. The party also has no qualms in inviting people from other ideological backgrounds in. During elections we find all kinds of alliances.

Our political parties have a dubious history of sacrificing politics of ideology for the politics of expedience. Ideology is expendable. Political pragmatism is not. Everyone realises that. It should be treated as normal now.

Coming to the other question whether politics must be anchored in ideology, we need to understand the many limitations of ideology.

Politics worldwide is caught in the Left-Right binary. There’s something inherently silly about this. None of these offers a complete solution to the entire range of human issues, which are in a state of flux all the time. None can provide a definite roadmap to a wholesome, happy world.

The Left refuses to acknowledge that people no longer stay in the bracketed socio-economic environs of the early industrialisation days, a condition which sharpened its class conflict argument. More than a century-and-a-half people have matured to seek out what is best for them.

The political processes and institutions all these years have been about continuous conversation and negotiations between conflicting interests and insular worlds. The world has changed in terms of scope for social and economic mobility and the individual’s awareness of the fact, making the logic of the Left tenuous in the contemporary world. The same applies to the Right, which is more of a reaction to the Left than anything distinctly original.

Strangely, being Left or Right has turned out to be a compulsive obsessive disorder among our thinking class. It’s lost on them that reality is too unwieldy to fit into these theoretical formulations.

The intellectuals have traditionally been the voice of reason anywhere and protectors of the tradition of discussions and arguments. They shape perspectives with knowledgeable intervention. But this description has changed.

Their obsession with ideology or the inability to look beyond it has shrunk them. Looking at it dispassionately, such alignments militate against the idea of intellect in the first place.

Intellect must be free, unfettered. Why cannot we have more free thinkers around? The world needs ideas more than ideology. Why cannot we let our politics be anchored in ideas?

(By arrangement with Perspective Bytes)

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