Will India ever have a social democratic government? We can address this question in two ways, with optimism and with realism. Optimists would say nothing is impossible in life; anything could happen.
Updated January 17, 2020 | 07:33 IST | D.K. Giri
Will India ever have a social democratic government? We can address this question in two ways, with optimism and with realism. Optimists would say nothing is impossible in life; anything could happen. Future is difficult to predict. A good many optimistic people come to public life to win elections, secure power and positions. Also many people work in politics to pursue their convictions and aspirations, just to be a part of public life, not necessarily to win power. They have a rationale that they cannot win in present state of political mobilisation, so they feel content in being there. There are two more approaches to winning power, none should compromise with one’s fundamental beliefs to come to power, and the other, winner takes it all; what matters is who wins not how. Those believing in the first are idealists, and the second category of people is supposed to be pragmatists. This is a false dichotomy. The burden of my arguments in this article is to combine optimism and realism, idealism and pragmatism. It is not a truism to say that an optimist cannot be a realist, or that whoever adheres to ideals is not practical. In the light of these assumptions, let us explore two options; how a Social Democratic government can come to power in India and how can Akhilesh Yadav lead the charge by reclaiming the power in the largest state of India, Uttar Pradesh.
Learning from Mistakes
Why is a socialist party not being viable and victorious in India, although the social and political fabric is clearly conducive to socialism as well as democracy? In fact, both these political objectives are written into the Preamble of our Constitution. There may be several reasons for the failure of Socialists to build a formidable party to form the government. I will like to deal only with the organising principles. When the socialist party was formed in 1934, securing membership was not easy. One has to register as a member, undergo a probation period of 6 months before becoming a full member. It was easier to join the Communists. But, then, later on, the party decided to become a mass-based not a cadre-based party. That diluted the seriousness of recruitment, and sincerity of a member to the principles of the party. It was a mistake. A political party must have cadres who strongly believe and identify with the party ideology, and members who are supporters or sympathisers of the party. But, both cadres and members have to sign the membership. The second mistake was far more fatal from which socialists have not recovered yet. That is splitting the party, and showing horrible lack of unity among them. Each split has weakened the party and its new formations. The split and disunity have been caused by self-righteous attitude of some leaders, and later on, by the quest or even hunger for power. Madhu Dandavate a veteran socialist, who stood for principles all his life, writes in “Dialogue with Life”, one should not wreck the instrument one builds to fight for political causes or power. Professor Dandavate asserted that he and many of his colleagues were not part of any split, but some comrades “had acquired the mastery and finesse in the art of splitting”. This is the most important lesson from the past; splits sap the morale of the members and the image of the party.
Any political party ought to have members who sign the membership form and pledge to uphold the principles and policies of the party. Since the Socialist Party merged with Janata Party on 1st May 1977, there has not been any all India Socialist Party. Samajwadi Party, led by Mulayam Singh Yadav or Janata Dal (S) of Deva Gowda, were remnants of Janata Party, led by former members of Socialist/Janata Party. The point I am making here is the membership of the party should be through an honest and transparent recruitment drive. A socialist party has to be a “party with real difference”. If it sticks to its ideals and principles, it will succeed in the longer run, in electoral battles as well. Because, we do not have any political party in modern sense of the term, most parties have bogus membership drive- members are all in paper, and many parties have no membership drive or register at all. There is strong misperception that if one recruits members, the party base is limited, perhaps like that of the communist parties, and the party cannot be a mass-based party to win elections.
The socialist party also became a victim of this perception, although there was initially membership drive, study circles for members’ education, etc. I remember, after the formation of Janata Party, Piloo Mody went on hunger strike demanding membership forms to be printed. The Janata Party did not believe in a membership drive. Recently, when I was recruiting members for Association for Democratic Socialism (ADS), which is a non-party political ideological group engaged in research and advocacy, a Congress member, formerly in Socialist/Janata Party refused to sign the membership, although he has been and is an active participant in ADS activities. I have not discussed with him the reasons for his refusal, but my guess is that he is reluctant to identify himself with an ideological group whilst he is in the Congress, as Congress Party does not believe in any particular ideology; it has been, since Indira Gandhi became its leader, driven by power politics. On the other hand, one of the serious and valued socialist comrades, had a visiting card with a line that read, “a social democrat in search of a party”. This is both ridiculous as well as tragic that a committed social democrat cannot join a genuine socialist party. Another indication of the sorry state of socialists unattached to a party for want of membership recruitment drive is that most socialists are known by their membership of socialist party pre-1977. There was no new membership. Any socialist was introduced as “hamare purane samajwadi”, our old socialist. While I was in Yuva Janata in 1980, I was known to be a socialist for my admiration for and identification with leaders like Madhu Dandavate, Surendra Mohan, Samarendra Kundu, GG Parikh. But interestingly, when I was introduced by the old staff at 7- Jantar Mantar, then the headquarters of Janata Party, I was called an “old socialist”, when I was only 20 years old. This was again in reference to pre-1977 socialist party. I share these anecdotes to underscore the point that it is a terrible vacuum, not to give importance to membership by socialist parties, even those in existence today. An ideological party cannot survive without members who carry its messages, and no party can compete in elections without strongly organised cadres. These days the parties could set up call- centres for the people to apply for membership, and use various other mechanisms for recruitment. Those who think that it is being too idealistic to have genuine and trusted cadres they are not being practical.
Socialists have been accused of a lot of personal bickering and jealousy leading to deep disunity in the party. This may have sprung from the tendency of the members and leaders that “I am a greater socialist than others, the “holier-than-though” attitude. The new culture should be that members talk to each other, not about each other. Socialist party should be bound by a spirit of solidarity and camaraderie. Members must have consideration for each other. If all members adhere to a set of party tenets, there will be no room for self-righteousness. The party must follow internal democracy. This does not mean that there is always an election for each position. There has to be a process of consultation to ascertain each member’s view, before taking a decision. Late Surendra Mohan coined a word to avoid polling in the party in order to preclude tensions and divisions. That was called, “uncontested election”.
Even a century-old political party like the SAP of Sweden, never had party elections; so the party did not split. It requires great political sagacity to stomach a defeat in the party. In India, a veteran socialist always split the party whenever he lost a party election. Along with modern and rational organising principles, the party needs to imbibe an ideology and announce its principles.
Party with an Ideology
To quote a veteran social democrat Member of British Parliament, and a renowned professor of politics, David Marquand who said, “The values of Social Democracy are perennial, timeless. They are liberty, equality, and solidarity, but the method to achieve them could be context-specific”. The praxis will then require reformism. For instance, socialist parties’ initial objective across the world was to look after the workers’ welfare as they began to be exploited by post-industrial revolution capitalism. But the current emphasis should be `general welfare’, catering to all classes of people with of course a focus on backwards and marginalised.
Finally, in order to win power, the socialist party has to stand out as a “party with difference”. It has to implement its idealism into practical action. We have had varieties of socialism “Scientific socialism” of Karl Marx, Evolutionary socialism of Fabians, Democratic socialism of Europeans, Revolutionary socialism in Latin America. Now it is time for Practical socialism that combines democracy and socialism while creating a new political culture with high standards.
The second option to weigh is the leadership of this new political instrument to form the government. This instrument has to be embodied in a leader as all modern politics is leadership based. Even a political party, certainly in the developing world reflects the personality and charisma of the leader.
To be sure, all the existing leaders have tried and failed, so have their parties. BJP’s popularity and ascendancy are inversely proportional to Congress Party’s unpopularity and decline. Other regional socialist parties are small, representing smaller states and lesser number of MPs and MLAs.
It is the former Chief Minister of the biggest state of the country, Akhilesh Yadav who has the promise, and the potential. He is younger and educated, having the political sophistication and growth and developmental mindset.
Notably, he stood up to the old guard in his Samajwadi Party, unlike Rahul Gandhi who failed to do so in his own party, rose above the caste and religion fixation, denied tickets to candidates with questionable backgrounds, changed the anti-English image of the state.
Unlike the current crop of politicians, Akhilesh maintains dignity in his political behaviour and utterances. Since Mayawati ditched the alliance, having benefitted from it, from zero to winning 10 Parliament seats Akhileshji till date has not uttered any disrespectful or condemnatory word against her.
The contractors and builders of UP I met in my network nostalgically talk about Akhilesh regime when development projects were in full swing. Under the current dispensation, it is sloganeering and all religious activities, hardly developmental.
From the mood of the people in UP and the country it is quite probable that Akhilesh will bounce back in the next election, provided he continues the good work and the leadership style. The above small blueprint of Socialist Party/government may contribute to his efforts.
One must add, the country is desperately looking for a national leader. Akhileshji foots that bill, without any doubt. But, he has to pitch his tent high, aim for the vacant space at the Centre, tour the country and build up strong SP units. His national stature will help him in the state too. He should learn from Mayawati who had the sympathy as a potential national leader, but failed to meet that expectation for her inherent limitations. Akhileshji has none such, he will just have to make up his mind and embark on a new journey.