Political scientists generally agree that respectable politics is about ideology. The Right perhaps got a bad name because of Mark Hanna, who deflected American politics away from ideology in the 19th century by laying the intellectual foundation for the Republic Party to turn political concepts into political performance. Thus he recreated the organisation. Respectable politics must deal with issues rather than only performance. But, according to management guru Peter Drucker, whatever worked in American politics for almost a century was based on Hanna’s concepts of economic interests and their political integration, which “immediately gave victory and power”. This trend towards pure pragmatism-driven politics, though, got reversed in the 20th century, with philosophical synthesis, common culture and nationalism coming to dominate political discourse in Europe and the US. Ideology became fashionable.
In this age of expedient politics, to search for idealists is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Ideology, idealism and ideologue are intimately related terms and they came into vogue after the French revolution. But it was the Left that appropriated these terms in the high noon of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The fall of Communism not only exposed the sham the Left was, but even led to the efficacy of ideology in politics being questioned. There cannot be idealism without ideology and the post-globalisation world order shuns both. We live in an era of practical politics—an euphemism for the politics of opportunism. Ten years of the UPA government (2004-14) was the best example of this.
How to define an idealist? What are the attributes that distinguish an idealist from the rest of the political class? Can a politician be successful and idealist as well? Or is idealism an obstacle on the road to success? Successful politicians seem to be making big compromises, but closer observation would reveal that idealism is a precondition for great political victories. And in India today, the BJP and the Sangh parivar stand out as pillars of successful idealism, producing scores of idealists in public life.
On the other hand, going by the lasting impact an ideology has been able to make on India’s economic and social life, the Congress, the Communists, the socialists and the Maoists have all failed in India due to opportunistic politics and compromises on ideology for immediate political and personal gains. Many of the Narendra Modi government’s actions, including demonetisation and the selection of the new President, can be explained from an idealist perspective. Many of the failings of the Congress and the communists can also be explained on these scales.
An idealist must have a vision and a will to sacrifice, even to take up a challenge that might totally defeat him and his cause. Many years ago, I asked Modi the secret of his success. He said, “Mein swayam ko mitane ka kshamata rakhta hoon (I have the capacity to destroy myself).” You can hear an echo of this sentiment in all great lives, an uncanny faith in the righteousness of one’s intent, a sense that nature has bestowed it as a duty upon him. Mahatma Gandhi was a shining example. Nehru too was an idealist and that is why we have a functioning democracy, a great Constitution and institutions to protect and preserve our national moorings. In 1997, speaking at Deendayal Upadhyaya Research Institute in Delhi, Dattopant Thengadi, founder of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, tried to define the parameters and prerequisites of idealism in politics. “There are four categories of politicians. Of these, only one category is idealist,” he said. The first are “pure and simple politicians who are not burdened by the ideology baggage”. The second are “pure and simple idealists, who are not worried about success as long as they adhere to their ideology”. The third is “essentially a politician, incidentally an idealist”. This segment is the largest and uses ideology as a façade to hoodwink the masses. As long as it suits them, these politicians carry the ideological badge, but discard it the moment it becomes politically expedient to do so. In the coalition era, this variety has a field day. They talk loudly on ideology and idealism, but small temptations make them discard everything they preached so far to share power and pelf with whoever comes by.
(Clockwise from top left) BMS founder Dattopanth Thengadi, former RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar, former PM A.B. Vajpayee, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, former RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras, RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale
The fourth category comprises a rare breed of those whom Thengadi described as “essentially an idealist, incidentally a politician”. They are in politics not for its charm or out of mere greed for power, but to change the society and the system. They can wait, but not sacrifice their commitments. From A.B. Vajpayee to Modi, BJP leaders have been clear that politics is “a mission, not an end in itself”. Such politicians are not swayed by electoral success or failure. In 1984, the BJP was reduced to just two members in the Lok Sabha, but today it rules the Centre and two-thirds of the states. No wonder, even while predicting demonetisation would boomerang, everybody conceded no other politician would have dared to take up such a major challenge. When Indira Gandhi was advised such a course in the early 1980s to tackle black money and fake notes, she cited political expediency to reject it. Modi is no stranger to big risks. It was audacity of hope that Modi firmly believed the BJP would win a majority in 2014 on its own.
In 1950, after the ban on the RSS was lifted, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel offered the RSS the option of merging with the Congress. A similar situation occurred in 1977 when the Janata Party was in power. It was idealism that made both Guruji M.S. Golwalkar and Balasaheb Deoras reject the proposal, thereby keeping the Sangh identity intact.
Idealism involves a great amount of sacrifice. RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar was an idealist. He held senior positions in the Congress and was close to leaders like B.S. Moonje. Hedgewar’s work impressed Gandhiji and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Later, in 1962, Nehru invited the RSS to take part in the Republic Day parade. The Communist leaders, who sided with the Chinese during the war, were still in jail. Similarly, the RSS fought against the Emergency and its leaders and cadres were in jail for 19 months, while the CPI supported the Emergency. The RSS always kept its distance from the Congress, the dominant party until 2014, while Communists ended up paying a big price for their long association with Congress.
The BJP scored on the performance front and was catapulted to its present stellar role. Compare Modi’s 12 years in Gujarat with the CPI(M)’s 34 years in West Bengal. A first-rate industrial state like Bengal was pushed into an endless night of agrarian unrest and industrial flight. Eventually, then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya declared himself a “capitalist” and caused the mayhem of Singur and Nandigram in the company of the Tatas. Where did the idealism go? The Left had no qualms about sharing power with the Congress, becoming its loyal apologists, particularly after the 1969 Congress split. The Left could have tried to improve the lives of the poor in Kerala and Bengal, but it failed. In 1975, a section of the Communists hailed the Emergency and justified the suppression of personal, press and political freedom. Today, the same Communists are crying hoarse that Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan is deviating from the ideology.
The socialists are now a bunch of casteist politicians singing paeans to Sonia Gandhi. Less said the better about Maoists, who are the worst exploiters of tribals, denying them education and development, reducing tribal children to criminals and making them run errands, while sexually exploiting the girls. That’s the decadent face of revolution in its last gasp. The BJP, in contrast, rose from being a small part of the Janata Party in 1977 to become a pillar of the V.P. Singh government in 1989, before ruling India as the largest party under Vajpayee from 1998 to 2004. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won a majority on its own for the first time in three decades. Growth has been steady and convincingly all-embracing. No other government has introduced as many schemes and projects to reach housing, sanitation, cooking gas and health insurance to the poorest families. This is idealism at work.
All BJP-ruled states boast of better administration, besides better agrarian and industrial growth than the rest of the country. After all, good ideology is that which brings maximum welfare to the largest number of people. The BJP has not let populist concerns stop it from implementing its core commitments, be it Antyodaya, cow protection, gender equality, complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India and justice to Hindu families from Kashmir. This is a corruption-free working model of idealism in politics, in which the PM is a yogi and a commissar rolled into one.
The Right in India has produced more selfless men in public life, contributed greatly to restoring pride and confidence about the country’s future. There are hundreds of men in the Sangh like Mohan Bhagwat, Bhaiyyaji Joshi, Dattatreya Hosabale and Krishna Gopal, who can take any position, but choose to be in the shadows and work for the country in the most hostile conditions, not expecting anything in return. Idealism, in fact, is a vision in action.
Left, Right And Centre
- The political usage of the ‘left’ and ‘right’ started during the French Revolution of 1789 when the king’s supporters stood to his right in the National Assembly, and supporters of the revolution to his left.
- The French revolutionaries wanted a more liberal democracy (in which liberalism and democracy are built upon the ideals of liberty and equality), but the aristocrats wanted a more authoritarian form of monarchy as they looked up to hierarchy, order and authority.
Dr R. Balashankar Former editor, Organiser