Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Have the objectives of Indian Political Parties altered over the years?

It is often proclaimed that a political party and its members desire to ‘serve’ the society. But of late, it has been analyzed that the trend is moving away from the popular notion of a party as an organization at the ‘service’ of people. The new notion implies that “party” in contemporary India is analogous to a business firm, which provides ‘service’ at a price, once it wins a contract to ‘manage’ the government for a term.

In the initial years of post-independence democratic India, political parties were expected to provide selfless ‘public service’ to the society. The process of winning elections as an instrument to enable a party to provide this ‘service’ is in the form of public policy. It was structured in a manner which ensured that the party leaders were not motivated by any personal ‘gains’ or ‘losses’ for this service.

But in contemporary times, a political party has merely become a vote wining product and the primary goal of a party is to win elections in a competitive struggle over political power. ‘Parties' in democratic politics are analogous to entrepreneurs in a profit-seeking economy. So as to attain their private ends, they formulate whatever policies they believe will gain the most votes’.

A political entrepreneur may have little interest in the end or goal of a product so long as it ensures victory, just like a shopkeeper may not care about the nature of product s/he is selling, as long as there is an assurance of profit. Political innovators—or Jugaad politicians—invent new solutions with their flexible approaches to reap maximum mileage out of politics. Caste or religion as the basis of political mobilization has not disappeared, but innovative political leaders use these identities as political resources to enhance their bargaining power in the political market. There are pay-offs even when one loses an election. Being in politics, a party activist has a distinct identity that could reap dividends in the form of prestige, status and accessibility. These could be converted to pecuniary benefits. 

It is not, therefore, a mere coincidence that politics in contemporary India has become primarily local with flexible solutions. It is due to this commercialization of Indian politics that even the seemingly general issues, such as violence against women,  environmental degradation, to name a few, do not find pan-Indian solutions in the form of homogenous public policies. 

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