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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The end of ideology

How,by slow degrees,parties and leaders fall prey to vested interests....

Written by Arun Shourie |
July 15, 2009 1:51:05 am

Ideology recast

After the others on whom blame may be pinned are exhausted,the leader and his circle turn on the ideals on which,on the ‘ideology’ for the realisation of which the movement had commenced and the party had been founded. So,one day they lunge for a ‘hard’ formulation — to win back the ‘core constituency’,they reason. The next,they lunge for a ‘soft’ formulation; one day they are stressing ‘our religion’,the next ‘our culture’; one day it is ‘return to basics’,the next ‘changing with the times’; one day they are declaring their faith in our history castigating persecutors of the past and their current heirs and apparitions,the next they are swearing by inclusiveness and geography¿ One day it is ‘reforms’,the next ‘Reforms with a human face’… One day it is ‘peasants’,the next ‘workers’,the third the inclusive ‘toiling masses’. And they are never short of quotations from the original leaders to justify each twist.

What the leader and his speechwriters convince themselves are sparkling new formulations,are,in fact,just clichés. “The party stands for a strong and prosperous India” — but which party doesn’t? “The party will make the 21st century,India’s century” — but which party says it won’t? Can one not go on adding to that declaration,and it would be just as acceptable? “The party stands for a strong and prosperous India,an India at peace with itself and the world”? “The party stands for a strong and prosperous India,an India at peace with itself and the world,an India in which no one goes to bed hungry”? “The party stands for a strong and prosperous India,an India at peace with itself and the world,an India in which no one goes to bed hungry,one in which the benefits of growth are shared by all”?

The leader and his circle convince themselves that they are making their party current,that,by the new formulation,they are going to attract new chunks. In fact,they convince the people at large that they believe in nothing; that their proclamations have all along been just opportunism dressed up; that they have no core — there is nothing that they will desist from doing if they see some advantage to themselves in doing it,that there are several things that just must be done but which they will not do lest some slight,momentary disadvantage befall them.

The people put no store by the words of these persons. They want to know,“Can this lot bring these goals to fruition any better than the other lot? Is the leader,are members of his circle living these ideals?” The ideas and ideology of this lot,rather the ideas on which,the ideals for the attainment of which this lot was founded no longer permeate or radiate into those who are outside the party or organisation. Even when they accept those ideas and ideals,those outside strain to hide their original source. Recall the net effect of the innumerable gurus and organisations that have been speaking for Hinduism in the last fifty years,or Marxism-Leninism and social justice for that matter: how well the words of Toynbee fit those who,almost furtively,live Hinduism today or do their bit for a more just society — “Under these sinister auspices,such selective mimesis [imitation,adoption as occurs takes place on the barbarians’ own initiative [in our context,on that of those outside the party or organisation. They show their initiative in imitating those elements which they accept in a manner which will disguise the disgraceful source of what has been imitated.”*

Character changes,relations are transformed

By such twists and turns,the leader and his circle,far from inducting new adherents,discredit ideology itself; they turn people off even the talk of ideals. Another factor smothers ideals and ideology. The movement became a party. That party has since become a mere electoral machine. But as general standards deteriorate,the party has to ‘adjust’; it has to effect ‘compromises’. The sole object is to attain office. And the sole criterion for that is numbers. Hence,winnability is all. Whoever can win a seat,be he a criminal or blackguard who has just deserted from the rival camp,is the one whom the party fields. Three consequences follow at once and inevitably. First,the proclamations of the party — ideals,ideology — reek more and more of hypocrisy. Second,the people at large see that this party is no different from any other. Third,and this is what has the deepest consequences for the future,the character of the party changes forever. Everyone above and below comes to rely on the clever strategist,on the deceitful,for he leads them to victories. Either that clever person or someone even more deceitful rises to the top. Gandhiji’s warning comes true — “An organisation that relies on rogues to do its work shall soon have rogues at its helm.”

But the transformation doesn’t stop there. Indeed,it has just begun. For the character of the one who has wrested the top stamps itself on the entire organisation,on every level of the entire organisation. His very ‘success’ legitimises ambition,greed,intrigue,double-dealing. “If he doesn’t have what it takes to capture even a party,” the thesis runs,“if he doesn’t have enough fire in his belly to capture even a party,how in hell is he going to lead the party to capture the country?” Ambition,greed,intrigue legitimised,every one becomes every one’s rival. Every one comes to suspect every one. That irreplaceable adhesive — Ibn Khaldun’s ‘group spirit’ — is rent asunder.

Both relationships — the one of the leader with his circle,as well as that of members of the circle with each other — are transformed. Every relationship is now pure and simple barter. The leader seeks out not colleagues but clients,not partners but dependents,not associates but instruments. He uses the henchmen,of course. But they also use him. They are nobodies without him. But with him,even with the rumour that they are close to him,they can strut around,and rake in the perks. They strain to be useful to the leader: helping one relative of his out of a difficulty,helping another relative set up a business… The leader demurs,“Is this really right?” They say what he wants to hear: “But why should he suffer just because he is your son?” The leader allows himself to be persuaded,after making sure that everyone has seen him hesitate. They now have him entangled into those “interlocking webs of mutual complicity.” He is as dependent on them,as they on him. Recall the cow-and-calf symbol of the Congress[I,and what the then chief minister of Haryana,Bansi Lal said during the Emergency,after he had helped ram through Sanjay’s Maruti plant,“Jab bachchda mere haath mein hai,gayiyaa kahaan jaayegi?”

But,of course,henchmen don’t just work to ingratiate themselves with the leader. They use their proximity to him to seize spoils for themselves. Indeed,in the organisation — and the more ‘disciplined’ and hierarchical the organisation,the more certain this is — they are the ones who are liable to make a grab for the riches because,even if evidence were to erupt in the public domain,the leader is least likely to act against them. They are the ones he is certain to shield.

What had begun as a relationship of devotees who had gravitated to an idol,of persons who had gravitated to the leader because he was devoted to a mission,because he personified ideals,becomes a purely transactional relationship. The first to erode is reverence for the leader. Next,the fear of him. That has but to happen and anarchy breaks out in the organisation,a free-for-all. The leader lectures,he admonishes,he threatens ‘disciplinary action’. Members listen. They even make a show of cowering. And resume their skirmishes. The leader wrings his hands,“The party was never like this…Nobody listens… Indiscipline…” Even as he does so,he is externalising the state of affairs — as if he himself has nothing to do with what has come about.

The Zulu proverb

As relatives and henchmen acquire properties on the sly,as they run businesses benami,the party loses its ability to fight the rulers. The leader knows,the henchmen know that the rulers know. So,they take up ‘issues’,but never push them to the point where the rulers will be really inconvenienced. As the Zulu proverb has it,“A dog with a bone in its mouth,can’t bark”.

Indeed,they go farther. They cultivate links sub rosa with opponents,in particular with rulers. They say this is so as to give the country ‘a constructive alternative’. In fact,it is for getting a few crumbs from the rulers’ table,at the least to keep out of trouble. Rulers readily flatter them by making a show of paying attention,they readily steer a few contracts their way — and thereby gain control over the very party that was to watch over them. The sequence weakens the leader vis a vis the rulers. It weakens him as much within the party: no leader who is crooked can straighten others.

The henchmen

These henchmen become the leader’s eyes and ears. Indeed,his ‘reference group’,they function as the pliable conscience he now wants. They feast off him when he is in office. They dissuade him from quitting when he clearly should. Truth be told,that takes less doing than one might imagine: at such turns,the leader is only waiting to be ‘persuaded’. They pander to his vanity exactly as Ibn Khaldun describes: by heightening the pretences of authority around him,even as they rake up the fruits for themselves.

But the henchmen don’t try just to be useful to the leader. Their power,their indispensability depends on making the leader feel insecure. So,they are always conjuring up news of conspiracies. They are forever isolating the leader — sowing doubts in the leader’s mind about one and all,in particular about his former comrades.

It is not that the leader never sees the cost these henchmen are bringing upon him. From time to time,evidence bursts forth that makes the continuance of some one of the henchmen completely untenable. The clamour against him becomes so insistent that the leader is brought to the brink of sending him away. Quite apart from the danger that exiling one who knows so much may entail,the leader is easily persuaded to hold his hand: “But they are not after me. Their real target is you. The moment you show that you can be pressurised,they will come after you” — recall the time it took for Indira Gandhi to act against Antulay; recall how Rajiv hung on to Ottavio Quattrochi.

The ordinary members watch with dismay as the sway of these henchmen envelops the leader,and,just as much,as their pillage begins to discredit the party. But at this stage they shiver at doing anything: they do not speak out; they do not collect evidence. They wait for something to turn up. They wait for someone else to expose and nail the henchmen: Ibn Insha was right,Haq achcha,iske liye Koi aur mare,to aur achcha

They wait for the leader to do something — “At least in his own interest.” Of course,the leader does nothing. He is immersed in his interests of the moment,and,the henchmen are useful agents.

Precisely because his failure to act against the henchman who is causing him so much avoidable trouble makes him seem weak,the leader just has to act against others: to show that he is strong,that he will not tolerate “indiscipline”,that he can and will quell “insubordination”. He lashes out — naturally at persons outside his circle. What were mere suggestions from them are projected as criticism; what was criticism merely to arrest the decline is projected as disloyalty. Everyone sees through the vehemence: everyone sees that the leader has an elastic ruler — a long one for his cabal,his instruments,a much shorter one for others.

The transformation cannot be hidden from the people any more than a grating cough. The group begins to lose legitimacy. Constitution? What Constitution? One norm after another,one rule after another is set aside. The so-called constitution of the party provides that posts — every post at every level — be filled by elections. In fact,at each level,each gathering hails the leader,and ‘unanimously resolves’ to leave the choice of office-bearers to him.

The party hierarchy comes to consist entirely of nominees — of the leader,and of those who,for the moment,have managed to insinuate themselves into the good books of the leader. Tickets have to be distributed for the forthcoming elections? The ‘state leaders’ — nominees all — ‘recommend’ some names. Neither the leader nor his nominees in the central organs have any system of independent verification. Lobbying,insinuation,come to count more than analysis; collateral ‘persuasion’ more than evidence; bargaining more than deliberation. The nominees don’t do well? There was dhaandali in the selection of candidates,someone shouts. He is smeared with motives,drowned with innuendo.

Meetings follow meetings. In each,ritual replaces substance. But the rituals,the routine are not for nothing. The ritual — the same “state-wise” reporting — is a device: a device to dodge the issues that are on everyone’s mind. Abhiyaans follow abhiyaans. They too become just routine.

The losses mount. Calls for honest examination. For accountability. The leader and his circle swing into action. They galvanise their nominees in the states. “No,no. We can’t afford any witch-hunts,” these nominees of nominees declaim. “Elections are coming up in our state. Inquiry-shinquiry will cause all sorts of mud to be hurled. The media will be full of it. Our chances will be destroyed.”

As further losses occur,an inquiry to fix responsibility is at last instituted. But who is to inquire? The leader and his circle — who,after all,are responsible for all the decisions that have led the organisation to this pass — are the ones who alone can decide. They pick from among themselves,or,if the façade of ‘independence’,of ‘objectivity’ has to be maintained,their weak men and henchmen.

The inquiry never sees the light of day. In any case,no reform that may have resulted from the inquiry is ever visible. Perhaps for good reason: in all probability,each inquiry has concluded that no individual was responsible. The shortcomings were ‘systemic’!

(To be continued)

The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha.

* Arnold Toynbee,A Study of History,abridgement of Volumes VII-X,D.C. Somervell,OUP,London,1957,p. 123.

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