Is a scientific outlook helpful?

M.L. Sondhi

Political & Business Times, August 1975

For any thoughtful Indian concerned with the present political and constitutional crisis in the country, a book which would provide a conceptual stimulus would certainly be Anatol Rapoport’s Fights, Games and Debates (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 1960).  It is a skilful and at the same time a comprehensible introduction to the contribution made by “game theory” to social science problems.  What will surely interest the reader today are the types of situations analysed by game theory where harmful consequences of conflict ensue although wholly unintended by either side in a conflict.  The classic case of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is a warning that in-spite of good intentions of both the sides, an outcome gravely harmful to their mutual interest may be produced.  For the future it suggests that mutually beneficial choices can be made by both Government and Opposition to achieve the highest good of the Indian people.

How useful is it still to speak of an Indian political system after the recent traumatic experience?  Taking into account the four well known functions of the Parsonian system we can offer the following brief comments:  First there is scope to revive and strengthen interaction between government and opposition and thereby ensure “Pattern Maintenance”.  This would, however, require genuine opportunity to direct attention to the areas of “independent functioning” of both government and opposition through rational thought rather than pathological thinking.

Second, it is possible to argue that the environment is conducive to overcoming the breakdown because a one-party structure is not seriously predicted.  If authoritarian concepts are specifically ruled out and accepted neither in a tentative nor in a qualified way, the process of “Adaptation” can be initiated.  Adaptation can be strengthened by the adoption of non-coercive strategies by both Government and Opposition.

Third, while there is an ever present possibility of higher levels of domestic conflict, yet there are clearly visible opportunities for limiting public violence and state coercion.  The essential trait of the Indian political system is that it provides several ways to achieve conflict resolution between Government and Opposition and for reducing the incidence of violence in public life.  This central trait should help decision-making toward the achievement of a common “Goal Attainment” by both Government and Opposition for reducing the incidence of violence by both sides.

Finally, in broader terms the question of Integration in the Indian Political System has to be studied to find out the factors which are vitiating the national consensus.  There is groundwork for precise investigation which has not been undertaken so far, and provides scope for scholarly inquiry.  The question may legitimately be put whether a clear cut recognition that the ability to influence policy decisions should not be the monopoly of one party and the de-politicisation of certain issues which can be dealt with by technical methods and concepts may not generate a new political wisdom from which both Government and Opposition may profit.  The result may not be integration of the highest quality but it may at least provide a way clear of the dangerous over-simplifications which are destroying the natural linkages between Government and Opposition in democratic India.

In having a second look at the relationship between Government and Opposition in India and in developing a scenario for de-escalation between the two sides, it may be suggested that the framework of what is called the ‘Cybernetic Model” may have considerable utility.  What is the extent and kind of interaction between Government and Opposition in India?  What are the goal-changing options for both Opposition and Government decision-makers in the national and state-level politics?  Can feed-back processes create mutual respect and regard in the judgements which opposition and Government decision-makers make about each other?

The Founding Fathers of the Indian constitution were convinced that a well-informed and energetic Opposition would enhance the capacity and efficiency of Government to attain the goals of prosperity and security of the Indian people.

This basic orientation of the Indian political system i.e. its non-authoritarian behaviour model must be maintained and strengthened.  India can steer clear of both anarchy and authoritarianism by concentrating upon the Theory of Conflict Resolution which is available in the broader India.  In place of bizarre speculation on the applicability of the models of Hitler, Stalin and Mao, it would be highly opportune for Government and Opposition decision-makers to actively concern themselves with restoring “mutual responsiveness” first of all by avoiding loud over-statements.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been familiar with terms like “steering mechanisms”, “communication” and “feedback” used as central ideas of cybernetics, but he certainly knew how to develop bargaining options with the help of the still small voice within him.
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