M.L. Sondhi

The Hindustan Times, November 25, 1997

Indian politics appears to be pushing all political actors towards making challenges and threats which bear no relation to the underlying issues confronting the nation. In order to attain national goals large segments of the Indian public are no longer looking towards any ideological predispositions but are clearly in favour of building a consensus for clean politics and social conciliation. Many of those who write about the crisis of the political process and the need to reinvent the government fail to take into account the adverse effects of the manner in which reformist forces have been stymied in their operations by groups and parties wedded to doctrinaire postures which continue to occupy certain choke points in the intellectual and political establishment. They effectively interfere with the flow of major political realignments which are necessary if economic development and social integration are to be optimised.

Whenever a political crisis arises, only short-term responses are considered, thus providing a field day for the forces of 'infantile leftism' to weaken the legitimacy of organised political parties. The further aggravation of problems facing Indian society seems to have become an end in itself. Infantile leftism stands opposed to both structural change and to a greater openness in the political and economic system, and it has destabilised every attempt at coalition-building. It does not favour the emergence of policy-oriented national parties, and is also opposed to a pragmatic foreign policy. This is not surprising since it draws its own strength from existing privileges and partisanship, and is eminently comfortable with the prevailing bureaucratic system.

This phenomenon is by no means confined to India. As Paul Piccone has commented: "Although academic circles unwilling to break with those self-serving aspects of the Marxist legacy legitimating them as higher moral agents insist on reducing all conflicts to their more 'real' economic parameters, it is obvious now-a-days that the economic relations are far from being the only source of social conflict. The privileged status of economic conflictuality as an explanatory model within the social sciences deemphasises the growing relevance of the cultural-political split between managerial elite entrusted with cultural and political administration and the increasingly clientised mass of the rest of the people.

"The result has been the practically universal acceptance of a one-sided vision of history as an unrelenting class struggle between labour and capital, while intellectuals as the agents of an equally divisive and destructive cultural-political domination generating similar conflicts have managed to conceal their role, thus legitimating themselves as the new secular priesthood: the disinterested brain and conscience of an allegedly self-determining polity."

If, however, the Indian political system does not realign itself to take advantage of the new economic reform measures, we shall neither be able to achieve social equity and justice nor enhance India's standing in the comity of nations. The post-Marxian reform theorist Eugen Loebl posed the question of the optimisation of the whole economy as an organised integrated system, and his basic approach has relevance for creating the climate for engineering political realignments in India.

As he wrote, "…the question of whether our society and economy are our creations or part of the determined universe is not a mere search for truth. It is far more a philosophy which will guide our action. If we accept the philosophy of determinism, then our society will be governed by determined phenomena. On the other hand if we view society as our creation, then we will be able to control and create the future instead of only predicting it."

Infantile leftism and right-wing conservatism both encourage status-quoist politics which fail to promote a real and enduring alliance between civic leaders who are effective in the interspace of political institutions, and reformist elements who can renovate the political framework. The legitimacy and integrity of the political system can only be ensured by working for a dynamic centrism which promotes a sense of national community. There is no place in this scenario for war cries whether of the right or of the left variety. The need of the hour is social and cultural magnanimity, tolerance and a renewed sense of social order. Reducing mutual hostility and confrontational attitudes is a prerequisite for giving India a proper role in the international market-place. The way in which China has grasped its strategic opportunity should be an eye-opener to all centrists.

Infantile leftism is on the whole ambivalent about the crime situation in the country, and it often condones or even encourages activities of crime groups if they agree to function as an integral subsystem of the overall left oriented hegemonic social and political order. Dynamic centrism on the other hand has to be oriented towards substantial political and economic reform which in turn is predicated on strengthening political, economic, social and judicial processes which will shatter the criminal-politician nexus, bring reassurance to civic-minded citizens, and usher in an era of stable social peace. There is no short cut here. In the transition process difficult decisions have to be taken, and in the interim period crime may become more visible till proper legislation is finalised for its all-out eradication.

Dynamic centricism requires that a national vision and strategy should be developed for both immediate problem-solving and for the long-term future of the country in order to maintain India's territorial integrity while taking full advantage of the positive aspects of globalisation. Once centrist political elements come together they can invite the cooperation of autonomous civic organisations and work towards strengthening civil society. They have also to deliberately choose a new orientation for the socio-economic system which strengthens regional sentiments and brings them into harmony with the overall Indian ethos through both formal and informal networks while eschewing coercion as far as possible and practicable.

Once ideological prejudices are overcome and infantile leftism is forestalled from developing a stranglehold over the new paradigm, politics will begin to operate at the higher levels which the founding fathers of the Constitution had envisaged. To attain the goals set by the Constitution, realignment must be completed as soon as possible, and political competition be regulated through institutional frameworks.

The critical choice in 1997 represents an opportunity for assessing the significance and nature of the historical period we are entering, and for taking political steps which will strengthen the integration processes in Indian society. This is the rationale for political alignment which can only be brought about through pragmatic politics in which Indians do not see each other as "class enemies."

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