Quality over quantity in politics and government
Once again an Indian election is taking place without any clear dividing line between the Left and Right. Following Rahul Gandhi’s famous suit boot ki sarkar jibe, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has gone out of its way to create an image of being pro-poor. This has always been the image the Congress has presented to the electorate. So there is no professedly Rightist party in the field. At the same time, neither the BJP nor the Congress are advocating radical socialism.
This lack of radicalism runs counter to the trend elsewhere in the world. Take America. On the one hand, there is Donald Trump with his business-friendly policies and opposition to Obama’s healthcare plan. But there is also the committed socialist, Bernie Sanders, who entered the last race for the Democrat’s presidential candidate as a complete outsider and won 23 states and 47% pledged party delegates. He is in the race again, and this time, he is definitely not an outsider. In Britain, the leading Brexiteers who have been making life so miserable for prime minister Theresa May with their insistence that she makes a clean break with the European Union are on the right of the right-wing Conservative party . On the left, you have the Labour party captured by Jeremy Corbyn, who stands for a return to old fashioned socialism, including nationalisation and high taxes for the rich and for businesses.
The newly-elected democrat Congresswomen and prominent Sanders supporter, Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez, has accused those who stand on the safe middle ground in her party of cynicism. “We’ve become so cynical that we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude and we view ambition as youthful naivety when the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of vision,” she said.
Cynicism abounds in Indian politics. Politicians cynically put personal careers before principles, abandoning any pretence of ideological commitment. When 15 disgruntled Uttar Pradesh leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) joined the BJP, its state general secretary indicated that all party hoppers were welcome. “We have kept our doors open to new leaders. This will add new votes to the party,” he said. The former Congress spokesman, Tom Vadakkan, who has now joined the BJP must be suffering severe indigestion after eating all the words he has spoken against that party on TV.
Voters are cynical too. I still keep in mind the agricultural worker. Way back in the 1974 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, an agricultural worker asked me, “What does it matter who I vote for when whoever I chose will put my vote in his stomach?” Time and time again, I have been told by voters that their only interest is in electing someone who will do their work.
So does India need a committed socialist or a committed capitalist with an ambitious vision? Most readers of this column would probably say India has had more than enough of committed socialism. In my lifetime, I have twice seen ambitious visions being taken too far in Britain. Clement Atlee, Britain’s first post-war prime minister, was a socialist visionary but his vision was taken too far, making governments local as well as national and the trade unions too powerful. The crisis that eventually resulted led to the backlash of Margaret Thatcher’s radical capitalist vision. The unfortunate results of that being taken too far are all too obvious in today’s income inequality and environmental degradation.
Perhaps India should listen to her ancient sages who taught the importance of balance. I have always taken this to mean that you should be careful not to take anything too far, not to be too radical. In ancient Greece, the oracle at Delphi used to advise medan agan, which means nothing in excess. But if a dose of radicalism, socialist or capitalist, is not the cure for India’s cyncism, what is? I would say committed politicians dedicated to improving governance so that they can implement the promises they make during elections. The question should not be about the quantity of government, should there be more or less of it, but about the quality of government.
The views expressed are personal