Hartosh Singh Bal in Open. More HerePoribarton is the word we will hear a lot of for a while. The defeat of the Left in West Bengal has been reduced to this single word, a desire for change so strong that even though most people do not seem to believe that Mamata will necessarily improve their situation, they still want to see the Left out of power. This slow defeat of the Left, long in coming, is the last whimper of ideology in Indian politics. The BJP had long renounced its pretensions to such a claim, the DMK, a party born on a rationalist, secessionist, anti-Brahminical platform, has long morphed into a local imitation of the Congress, with its own cult of family.
But ideology is a big word; ideas can be smaller and more focused—the promise of good governance, a programme for roads or education or health or even administrative accountability. Neither Mamata nor Jayalalithaa nor the winners in Kerala or Assam have won for these reasons.
Yet, the only thing that the elections in the four states have in common apart from their lack of ideas is a high voter turnout. How do we account for this paradox? If politics with its lack of ideas is so dispiriting that we need outsiders to inject ideas through fasts, why is it that the voter does not think so, and why is there such disconnect between the pontificating political discourse in Delhi and what actually unfolds in elections in this country?The voter votes not for an idea or an ideology but for the possibility of individual benefit. This possibility is not as straightforward as accounting for the money, a television or alcohol handed out even though each counts. If roads matter, they will be weighed in, it is just that the importance given to each factor varies from individual to individual. And since the individuals whose aggregated vote decides most elections are not from the middle class, this class feels left out because its own individual benefit is often discounted in such a result.
This is a simple conclusion but one that irritates the elite no end. It may be true that the CPM and the DMK were both embodiments of certain ideas, but the response was not to an idea, whether it be the Marxism of the CPM or the atheistic Dravidianism of the DMK, but to the possibility that the old structures would change for the better, that they would have some access to the institutions of power. In the case of the CPM, this possibility was real for more than a decade but that changed with the creation of a new elite that controlled power. Mamata is not an idea, she is a possibility as easily accepted as renounced if things do not work out.
It is easy to be cynical or sceptical about such a democracy but the fact remains it delivers in ways that the elite fails to anticipate. A Mayawati, Mulayam or Lalu are products of such a system, and for all the mockery made of them by the elite, they have changed the political landscape of the country. It is difficult to ascribe ideology or even ideas to the politics these three actually practice, but over the past 20 years, they have reshaped Bihar and UP by dismantling the hierarchy of caste.