Mind games or endgames?
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is searching for a change in the ruling political narrative about itself. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has finally chosen the ‘face’ that would launch its campaign for 2014 general elections and the state polls leading up to it. Politics as practiced by politicians competes to acquire the mind-space of people, with the politics that is social and cultural as in the form of cricket betting and the BCCI. At the end as we all know, or if not know, perceive, politics is about ‘Power.’
But what is power? Power is an ability to influence the lives, livelihood and liberty of those who are at the receiving end, and often change the mores of all that is familiar to the people. So naturally it has to be taken seriously if it challenges the ability of nature to be the driving force of our lives. And, we need to understand it in the perspective of this great force that it is.
For example, the end of the Cold War and decimation of the politics of singularity, witnessed the birth of this great force in the benign attire of ‘liberal democracy’ that could be pushed through the gullet on the back of market (perfect competition) economics and the military power of the winners, the US and allied NATO. That was high politics at its most powerful, and severest best. Or, take the case of this country’s change of course 1991, from the ‘mixed-up economy’ (to borrow a phrase) of a mixed economic system of the public sector and the private sector!
It is politics that created the crisis of the external sector, leading to the pledge of the portion of country’s gold reserve – a highly symbolic act.
It is again politics, that in the name of this ignominy, allowed a new regime of rulers to upend, Constitutionally mandated ‘socialism’ of the State, to an economy where the market forces, unfettered or nominally controlled by government regulations, decided upon the future of millions. That is the extent of political power.
The advocates of ‘liberal democracy’ sometimes tend to argue that it is the people who are the repositories of power. They are the ones who bring change in the power equations through the process of ballot. They are the ones who by participating directly in the process of shift of power, control the government, or more broadly the State.
What this exposition fail to state is that be it in a ‘liberal democracy’ or ‘guided democracy’ or ‘dictatorships’ there exist a permanent elite, who enjoy a kind of immunity from the power-shift that the votaries of ‘liberal democracy’ tend to espouse.
Even a Samuel Huntington could unmask these elites, when in 1968, he wrote: ‘Popular participation in politics does not mean popular control of government.’ Or, in other words, the ‘will’ of the people that is supposedly expressed in the periodic elections actually upholds the continuity of the elite, while creating an illusion that ‘change’ has been addressed.
A classic example of this is found in the evident result of what is described by the Western media, the ‘Arab Spring.’ The more the things changed, the more they remained the same.
Come 2014, the people of this country will go through the same motions of seeking a change from the current kleptocratic UPA II regime. But there is no guarantee that those the people would seek to embrace will be the real harbingers of ‘change.’ The founders of this country were probably aware about most of these manifestations of power and were conscious of immutability of the Congress Party, or its Hindu revivalist clone, the BJP (Jan Sangh then).
That was the reason they had sought to give the power of the ballot to all, despite the abiding illiteracy and ignorance of the majority population of the country. Of course, the ‘legitimate’ reason for providing a supposed political franchise to all was believed to be a product of a notion to keep the vastly diverse country together. But clearly the political had been the overarching motivation, over the basic necessity.
While Marx has significantly remained silent on the fact of ‘power’ being the primary motive force for change, he has only at best used the term in conjunction with something that is more productive i.e. ‘labour power.’ But Aditya Nigam, in a paper for the Social Scientist in the post-Soviet era has quoted a series of Marxist thinkers like Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Anthony Giddens et al to iterate the power of collective action as the marker for the genesis of power.
In other words, the power we witness now of, say, waging violence by the State against those it wants to disfranchise or dispossess, is the power that devolves in the hands of a few. On the other hand, the possibility of collective action that situates itself within a space carved up, can act as the true transformative force, which can snatch away the devolved power of representation.
The author is a senior journalist.