By Aadya Sinha
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Politics, in its essence refers to the ‘power relations between two or more entities’. The earliest politicians were philosophers who hypothesized the normative relationship between the state and its subjects, and amongst subjects themselves. The formation of the state was left to the aristocracy, who performed the executive functions of the state. However, the actual power of political commentary and analysis were left to political philosophers, keeping the entity of the state, distinct from those that held positions of power. This near Machiavellian conception of state enabled what is now may be called ‘ACCOUNTABILITY‘.
This is not to say that the early state was free of corruption, or that it was an ideal mode of functioning. One has to glance through history to learn about the turbulence of the Macedonians guided by Plato and Aristotle at their apex. The empirically active aristocracy resented the interference of normative philosophers, and a power struggle inevitably ensued. Yet, what did not die, was the significance of this normative branch of politics, in the philosophical realm. While governance was limited to a class, politics was not.
Back home, both Krishna the essential archetypal politician and Chanakya, the guide of the Age of the Mauryas spoke of the need to be decisive in the art of ruling, but pure in the realm of thought. The invitation to dignitaries was thus divided into; an invitation to the court, to critique governance and invitation to country, to observe politics.
Following the Greeks, it was not until the Renaissance in the west, that normative political theory resumed its tradition, questioning the legitimacy of the state, reminding it the origin of its mandate.
Francis Bacon was perhaps the first modern philosopher, who commented on the need to mix governance and politics, in his heartfelt letter before choosing to embark on a political career. He spoke of how, in order to, truly overcome the dominance of the church and the misconception of the ‘divine right to rule’, philosophy would have to sacrifice its idealism at the altar of a legitimate state. He also expressed his hope that the clarity of philosophical thought would dilute the ruthlessness of politics to a more pragmatic approach. What followed was years of struggle to ensure mass participation in politics, to bring accountability to governance. In the form of various pressure groups, demands were put forth. Universal Adult Franchise and the conception of Human Rights are hallmarks of this era.
Flash forward, to the present day scenario, where we are legally empowered to seek participation in a largely democratic geo-political set up. For the masses that fought to partake in politics, now we conveniently restrict it to the government. For every individual who doesn’t want to “get his hands dirty” by involving in politics, the very act of shirking that responsibility falls into the arena of politics, albeit at the lowest level. The idea that politics is for the academia and the ruling class or that only facts make political analysis is conceived by the limitation of politics to governance.
Rhetoric is the use of politically charged language, while it does feature in many speeches, it does not have negative connotations. In fact it is a good grasp of the needs of citizens that allows rhetoric to be used successfully.
Society, civil or uncivilized is too permeable in its form for the internal political dynamic of every household and institution to remain distinct as governance sees it. While debate and disagreement may feed raging tempers in the parliament, rhetoric and delivery assuage the aspirations of the politically inclined masses.
The analysis of an election victory or a state’s performance, when done in an isolated studio or on a laptop screen by analyzing facts is an incomplete interpretation. More importantly, it’s not politics. It would be easy, to dissect a result by reporting the margin of victory as 5.71 lakh votes or seat share as 282, to point out the need for an Ahir face in Haryana, or the regional power of Apna Dal. What is relevant though is ideating on the reasons behind it. While the government may revel in the increase of GDP (inflated), and the growth in infrastructure (fated), the impact of the same may be opposites.
Take for example, the fate of the NDA government of 1999-2004, despite ‘India Shining’, as all facts and figures indicated, the disconnect between governance and politics led to an embarrassing defeat. Had rhetoric and politics, been incorporated, the predictions might have been different. No matter how detailed, all facts based researches are limited, unless opinion shines through. The tradition of political debate stems from the perennial process of theorizing, questioning and then investigating constantly, but not ad nauseum.
To alter Karl Marx’s iconic quote, “Politics is the opiate of the masses” and the masses are short sighted, unless made to understand differently. It is important to understand that politics is in every culture; in fact politics is human culture and human nature. Being non-partisan, does not make one apolitical, it makes one more political than the average. To understand politics, is to understand human psychology and instinct, and to observe as it translates into behavior. When it comes to politics, facts are supplementary; they become auxiliaries to opinions and hypothesis.
The maintenance of this distinction is timelessly relevant to ensure the all important connect to masses. The moment we limit politics to the government, we overlook the origin of its mandate. In an apt parable made by paraphrasing Will Durant’s work, Governance as the science tells us how to heal and how to kill. It might reduce the death rate in retail and then kills us in wholesale in war; but only wisdom-desire coordinated in the light of all experience, that the tradition of politics offers – can tell us when to heal and when to kill. In the analysis of politics it is a common, but fatal mistake to overlook the source that it originates from.
Aadya is your textbook bibliophile, as redundant as that statement sounds out loud. She finds solace in all that is and all that can be written. She is also utterly obsessed with politics, as a’pol’ing as it might get.