A study of ideology can hardly be divested from an enquiry into class, which is not undertaken here
The sub-title of this book, “Polarisation and the Growing Crisis of the Congress Party (2009-19)”, is addressed in fair measure — and with considerable attention to detail in some respects — in this volume. So, for those who lived through that time in India the sense of déjà vu is inescapable. As such, there is much here that should hold the interest of readers who may be only generally familiar with the political scene in the country.
However, the larger questions of ideology and political organisation in Indian politics, proclaimed in the book’s title, demands another study which may also see it fit to discuss ideology as a general proposition before tailoring it to Indian conditions.
The question of secularism and communalism, as represented by the Congress party and the BJP — on which a good deal of the discussion centres in this study — may be seen more profitably as mobilising principles in politics and offering a backdrop to public life — rather than being defining ideologies in themselves, even if they are aligned to the ideological beliefs of each party. A study of ideology can hardly be divested from an enquiry into class, which is not undertaken here.
What classes are represented by the key parties in India, in particular the Congress and the BJP, and whose interests do these parties pointedly serve? This question cannot be alienated from any understanding of ideology or organisation in India’s politics, the subject of the book. The principles of party organisation, the programmes or vision statements of parties, the slogans they employ, the nature of their day-to-day activity, are closely tied to the question of class interests.
For example, communist parties to this day organise themselves on the basis of cells in the Leninist fashion even if dictatorship of the proletariat is no longer a living goal. The BJP, with its embryonic link with the RSS, has a strong link with the RSS’s network of cells, and although its organisation pattern is not co-terminus with that of the RSS, the party has a senior RSS figure in key organsiational positions. On the other hand, the Congress party, like the erstwhile incarnations of the Socialists, are open parties with freewheeling discussions and open competing factions.
Keeping in view the record of the Congress party before and since Independence, it can be said to be a party of all the classes (and communities) that participated in the freedom movement, and their inheritors. These frequently show up as factions, and different factions may favour different class interests. Which faction set dominates at a given juncture comes to determine the nature of the policies that are advanced to serve the interests of divergent classes by different Congress governments.
The BJP, in contrast, is altogether different. The clearest manifestation of its character comes from the nine years of the two governments of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as these have been years of untrammeled BJP rule since the party has enjoyed a comfortable majority of its own in Parliament. In this period, the class interests of big industry have been served in pointed fashion, while the mobilisation of the poor and middle classes in government’s support have mostly been secured through religious slogans and motifs.
A look at questions such as these might have thrown up interesting insights from a political science perspective. But the present volume is intrinsically about moves and counter-moves of the Congress and the BJP in the years in question, which have seen the weakest moment in the Congress’ history as a parliamentary party. The Congress has rightly been upbraided for its emaciated organisational condition and its opportunist resiling from secular politics at key points. But the book does not attempt to show how such a weak party managed to wrest power from PM A.B. Vajpayee of the BJP, one of the most charismatic politicians of his generation, and then go on to retain it in the next election. This also opens new lines of enquiry.
Ideology and Organisation in Indian Politics
By Zoya Hasan
pp. 205, Rs.1,595