Politics is not a T20 match
It’s unfortunate that a refreshing experiment in the form of Loksatta Party has inflicted a self-termination on itself. The abortion of the experiment has serious implications for the political process in general and the Indian democracy. Instead of making an honest self-critical reappraisal, the leadership of the party decided to quit electoral politics.
The Loksatta has certainly contributed to the efforts to change people’s perception of politics. It could inspire and rally some of the finest political cadres. The fresh breeze the party brought in cannot be wished away just because it could not register electoral success.
Its exit from electoral politics would only result in further elimination of choice for the electorate. The admirers of this experiment want Loksatta‘s new version to be one with renewed vigour and restructured outlook. Its decision to exit from elections would certainly disappoint them
It’s unfortunate that a refreshing experiment in the form of Loksatta Party has inflicted a self-termination on itself. The abortion of the experiment has serious implications for the political process in general and the Indian democracy. Instead of making an honest self-critical reappraisal, the leadership of the party decided to quit electoral politics. Though the party did not bid a final adieu to elections, it is hard to believe that a political party could survive in its present form without participating in elections.
Loksatta started its journey as a civil society-led movement for political reforms. Its campaigns have made a significant impact on the process of institutional reforms in Indian democracy. But, motivated by civil society exuberance, its founder Jayaprakash Narayan made a foray into electoral politics by transforming the organisation into a political party in 2006.
The official statement issued by Loksatta entitled ‘Loksatta 2.0: The way Forward,’ asserts, “the party was founded to create a platform for new politics, and to bring the youth, middle classes and politically marginalised sections into the mainstream. When these classes yearn for new politics, will change be accelerated.” True to its doctrine, the Loksatta party has certainly succeeded in inspiring the middle classes, especially the educated, to a great extent.
But, the obsession with the middle class hangover itself proved to be a congenital disorder for the party. The party itself does not acknowledge the pre-eminent role of the socially and economically oppressed and the impoverished sections of society in its political organisation and programme. Thus, the Loksatta experiment remained a mirage of middle class idealism rather than a political striking force.
Mobilisation is the root cause of social or political change. Organised sections of society make the mobilisation easier. But, the Loksatta was ideologically averse to raising the concerns of organised sector which in fact constitutes a sizable chunk of the middle class it wants to represent.
The Loksatta 2.0 version statement further states, “once the disenfranchised classes become vocal and play creative role, established parties would be forced to change their ways and improve our democracy. In most societies, that is how change happens. But if these parties fail to respond to people’s urges, they would be eventually marginalised, and new political forces would replace them.”
This sounds like a lecture in modern political thought rather than a critical analysis of what went wrong. The frank self-appraisal clearly reveals that the Loksatta as a political party was primarily concerned with political disenfranchisement and improving the content and form of Indian political democracy. But, it failed to respond to the concerns of socially and economically disenfranchised sections of society.
Thus, the questions like land to the landless, the tribal land alienation, the wage demands of the agricultural labour and the industrial workers, etc. did not figure so prominently in its political and programmatic agenda and action. The Loksatta 2.0 statement says, “We have never treated politicians and parties as untouchables.” But working with other political parties on common demands like governance reforms is different from joining forces in elections. Until 2014, the Loksatta more or less took a stand that it would not tie up with what it called traditional parties.
But, suddenly that too after the attempts to ally with AAP failed, it decided to extend unconditional support to Narendra Modi. Remember, but not for the BJP. This confusion is beyond one’s comprehension and it eroded the credibility of the party. In a sudden somersault, the Loksatta teamed up with the Left parties in the elections to the GHMC. Though the party may try to give a philosophical explanation to this sudden change of friends, the common people could not comprehend the politics of convenience.
Loksatta assessment of the state of polity in contemporary India is incisive and any democratic spirited person cannot refrain from accepting it. The party media release said, “In the last two decades, Indian politics has become a spectator sport only during election time and it has moved far away from working for the nation and its people.” Stating that electoral politics have become an impediment in the journey to bring about a meaningful change, the statement further added, “Loksatta would step away from the electoral politics until the conditions are conducive for Loksatta brand of politics.”
But the question that haunts the admirers and critics alike is how the party can choose to remain an outside player till the conditions ripen for it. The conditions are never given. The party has the responsibility to create conditions for change. Elections are an opportunity to present the party before the people. They provide an occasion for the party to reveal to the people how different the party is, as compared to the conventional political parties.
Elections constitute a political audit for the party in terms of analysing the distance between the party and the people. In a parliamentary politics, democracy flows through electoral participation. Whom should the supporters of Loksatta party vote for in a given elections?
The Loksatta has certainly contributed to the efforts to change people’s perception of politics. It could inspire and rally some of the finest political cadres. The fresh breeze the party brought in cannot be wished away just because it could not register electoral success. Its exit from electoral politics would only result in further elimination of choice for the electorate. The admirers of this experiment want Loksatta‘s new version to be one with renewed vigour and restructured outlook. Its decision to exit from elections would certainly disappoint them.
In an article on ‘Where Loksatta failed to do AAP’ (The Hans India, Feb 11, 2015), this author analysed the reasons for the party‘s debacle. While Loksatta largely confined itself to idealism, AAP combined it with activism and symbolism. Philosophical discourse cannot win votes.
Loksatta did not believe in agitational politics and mainly adopted Western style advocacy politics. Street protests are part of long-held democratic traditions. An elitist approach of discarding such public action without suggesting a proper alternative has cost the Loksatta dearly, though the party has committed and honest cadres and leaders.
In a society plagued by humongous inequalities, people require relief. The process of development should provide both ‘transactional and protective’ freedom as Amartya Sen calls it in his thesis on ‘Development and Freedom.’ All such relief to the people cannot be dismissed as freebies. Arvind Kejriwal promised to reduce the prices of power and water. Jayaprakash Narayan has an ideological aversion towards such promises.
Private appropriation of public resources is defended in the name of reforms. The Loksatta should have differentiated between populism and safety nets to the poor. Loksatta never took a strong position against fringe elements inciting an obnoxious agenda.
All this is not to repudiate the significant contribution of Loksatta to politics. Loksatta has been an important influence in changing the attitude of our society towards politics and political participation. It could motivate many young men and women to come forward to enter politics and choose politics as the vehicle for change. The electoral pitch may be bad. It may swing the politics in unwanted direction. But, the solution cannot be vacating the pitch. If so, it would only mean a victory for those who are not fit for it.