Ideology is Overrated

It is the age of defiance. You can call it a state of chaos, or embrace the disruption, depending on how you perceive the break-down of status-quo. But what you cannot deny, is that electoral politics is undergoing a transformation like never before. Those tasked with the responsibility of understanding this change, are failing terribly. This is because while politics has changed, the political ones are still using age-old barometers, to understand voting behaviour. I have long held the belief that ideologies (especially the textbook ones) are nearing their expiry date, in mass politics. I have been chided for holding this opinion, all through my adult life. But I think the world has now seen enough, for this opinion to merit consideration.

To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that politics is now devoid of ideological content. That can never happen. What I, instead, wish to highlight is the irrelevancy of ideological consistency (from a voter’s point of view), and ideological loyalty (from a leader’s point of view), in today’s electoral politics. I believe this fundamental change in voting behaviour stems from the desire to liberate politics from the stranglehold of ideologues, and transfer the decision-making power to the wisdom of the ‘leader’ people believe in, subject to express approval from those he intends to govern. Aided by the rise of the people, the practitioner of politics has trumped the ideologue.

What the people want is not someone who attaches himself to a ‘label’, and promises to remain loyal to it, but rather someone who appears to be the best ‘solution-ist’. Just like a software engineer writes codes to fix bugs in an application, a politician (who is, first and foremost, an administrator) is expected to rise up to the occasion, and offer a direct solution. Sometimes, solutions sound erratic to those who are in the business of drawing ideologies, as they are used to factoring in consistent beliefs. And most of the times, circumstances don’t permit the implementation of those solutions. But the thing with solutions is, there will always be another set to choose from. What really matters to the voters is that someone is ready to think out of the box. The one who has the answer, or at least appears to have it, matters.

That the Aam Aadmi Party won 67 out of 70 Assembly seats in Delhi, months after the General Election- in which Narendra Modi swept the national capital, proves the point that ideology is no longer the determining factor. You cannot make the argument, for instance, that Delhi has become more Hindutva, or more populist. There can be no greater condemnation of ideology, than the average Delhi voter’s declaration of “Modi as PM, Kejriwal as CM”. On a similar footing, many voters who voted for Barack Obama have voted for Donald Trump in this election. And while you can attribute this change to a number of factors (including, but not limited to white supremacy), what you cannot ignore is the theme which unites the two campaigns. Yes We Can! and Make America Great Again were two very, very disruptive forces, which swept USA (with varying degrees of opposition of course). Hillary Clinton, who symbolised status-quo, competed with both Obama (in 2008 primaries), and Trump (in 2016 election). Both the times, she was rejected. This is because while she would tick every box in the ‘check-list’ of a typical politician, her competitors focused on being original. They took pride in being the underdogs they really were, and built a direct dialogue with their supporters. While Obama did so by using anecdotes from his history, Trump made his political incorrectness, a badge of honour. Truth is that experience in government is no longer an important part of the ‘package’. If anything, it is the ‘baggage’. It is okay to err. People will forgive you, as long as they ‘trust’ you. But the moment you appear unreal, or made-up, the trust withers away.

Ideology has been reduced to the practical necessity of canvassing ‘base’ votes. Rhetoric is used to secure the base, and then an effort is made to climb upwards, and sidewards. In India, all it will take a Narendra Modi, to secure the base is a Ram museum in Ayodhya, and a positive step in the direction of a Uniform Civil Code. In America, many news outlets have recorded voters saying that “he won’t do a lot of what he has said”, when quizzed on his racist rhetoric. This illustrates that the voters could ignore, forgive, or accept his directed electioneering, and still choose him, based on everything else he stood for. The number of people who chose him for the said rhetoric, will be miniscule- for this is the same electorate which voted for a Black President- twice in a row, and continues to give Obama one of the highest approval ratings ever.

Donald Trump could have been a candidate from either of the two parties (can be concluded from his previous statements). They say, a New York Republican is almost a Democrat (don’t fall for the posturing!). But he chose to be a Republican, and went on to win the nomination. The working class (which, ideologically speaking, should go to the Democrats), became his biggest support. Despite being an entrepreneur himself, he received next to nothing from the super PACs. A supporter of the right-wing ideology cannot exactly be expected to cringe at the mention of crony capitalism. But this was one Republican candidate who made crony capitalism one of the biggest issues, for American voters. What I am arriving at, is that no one really sought ideological loyalty from Trump. His dream of making America great again, and mention of issues that plagued their lives (deteriorating law and order, absence of infrastructural spending, slow growth rate, etc.), was enough for them to vote him in.

Politics is no longer a playground for ideologues. Voters want results, and are ready to experiment with anyone who promises them some, irrespective of the ideology they claims to represent. In choosing, they will no longer be dictated by the requirements, thrust upon them by the elites. They will determine their own agenda, and choose their own standards of acceptability. It is important to respect their wisdom. We live in a world with strong democratic institutions. No individual can subvert them, in mature democracies like India, and the United States. There are perfectly democratic ways of making your disagreement felt, as well as perfectly legal ways of defending your freedom. It is a result of this safety net that the people feel more empowered than ever. Their aspirations are endless and quest for solutions, never-ending. There is a greater probability of the solution being found in a political rally, than a hundred year old textbook. The solutions need not be as consistent in thought- as the ones promoted by closeted ideologies. What is more important, is that they should work.


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