Surfeit of Populism
Understanding the Ruler
There has been a change
in the parties in power in West
Bengal. The parties in alliance and especially the major party, the Trinamul Congress have come into power with a huge majority of votes. Within a short time, crises have emerged in the alliance. There is mistrust brewing among the partners. Though people have supported them, different sections of the voters are not unanimous about the reasons for their support. The frontal faces of the so-called 'civil society' have formed collaborative relations with the major party in power. The majority of the media are with the government. Those who were against the previous government are now supporting the present one. A member of the alliance, Congress is now in deep crisis at the Centre. As a result, the other member, the Trinamul Congress, has forged a relationship of both conflict and collaboration, that has created a sense of uncertainty in the understanding between the two.
The previous parties in power, especially the major party in the government, the CPI(M) had ruled through the Party. The Party was structured and disciplined. They ruled each and every part of the state through the all powerful 'Local Committee'. The rule through the Party was fine-lined, apparently non-visible and non-comprehensible, but highly effective. Thus they gave birth to a structure of Rule. A new structure. A party based, party dependent, powerful, organized, dominating structure. There were two basic elements of the Rule : to create a sense of fear among the ruled and to demand a sense of subjugation of the ruled. As a result the rule was un-democratic.
The Trinamul Congress (TMC) as a party and the Trinamul Congress and the Congress as an alliance, came to governmental power not by a positive response from the electorates but by a negation of the rule of the previous parties in power. The TMC has no specific political base. It has no written text on political, social and economic ideology. It has no long term objective, policy and programme. It can therefore be assumed that the party has come into power on the basis of Populism. As a corollary to this, the TMC government is trying just to keep the Populism alive. The immediate result is a two way correlation. As the TMC has no specific political base they do not have any political ideology. And it is also the other way round. As it has no political ideology it has no specific political base. This has resulted in a sense of uncertainty, instability, doubt, suspicion in the minds of the leadership of the TMC.
As the TMC does not have a well organized, disciplined and elected party structure, it is in essence a one person dependent party. This leadership instead of having a political and social base has geographical base. The geographical bases are controlled by the 'local chieftains'. The local chieftains of different geographical locales are not connected through political ideology. They function through their own agenda, but under a distant control of the supreme leader. The emergent structure consisting of the elements of a lack of party, ideology, long term policy, and the presence of non-positive responses from the electorates has resulted in an environment of intolerance, impatience, instability, lack of self-confidence and apprehensions. As a reaction to this, the TMC government has searched for a base for stability beyond the party. And they have got it. The two strong bases of providers of stability to the Government—the Bureaucracy and the Police. During the rule of the previous government these two institutions were under a strong party. The present government has placed them parallel to the party. They have been given the role of alternatives to the party. In effect, as the institutions of the bureaucracy and the police are undemocratic by character, the rule of the present government is becoming undemocratic.
The state of undemocraticness has attained a character of continuity over a long period of time in the governmental reign in West Bengal. The previous regimes have developed their own styles and structures for the demolition of Democracy. The present one is also in the process of construction of its own brand of undemocraticness.
A new economic structure has arrived in the country, popularly known as 'neo liberal'. The basic tenet of this economic structure is that each and everything is commodity, a marketable commodity. Everything should be placed in the market so that everyone should know what is being exchanged. Furthermore, the state is gradually leaving its areas of economic operations for private operators. The government is left with schemes, programmes and doles for distribution to the citizens.
With this set of backgrounds in mind we will now try to understand the resultant situations as prevailing in present day West Bengal.
The supreme authority of the party in power is unable to rely on the party, as there is no Party in the true sense of the term. Instead, the Authority has relied on the bureaucracy. At the same time the political authority does not completely trust the bureaucracy in totality. The reflection of this is well visible. In public meetings, the head of the government who is also the head of the party, is taking a brigade of bureaucrats including the head of the state bureaucracy, the chief secretary in the convoy, their marked presence in the dais, getting their nod to all declarations made by the Chief Minister related to governmental issues.
Reliance on police. Reliance on police strongly. All the actions by the police are getting total support from the head of the government. All the misactivities on the part of the police are being protected by the same source of power. This has gone to such an extent that facts, real facts, have been denied by the supreme authority. The recurring incidences of rape have been denied.
The ruler does not have complete faith in its own rule. On its own strength. The supreme authority has to project its presence regularly in some part or the other of the state. On each occasion, it needs to distribute promises, schemes, programmes, services, to the audience. Though the probable expenditures towards these do not have support from possible income in state exchequer. This action is simply for maintaining the level of popular support it got at the time of coming into power. At the same time, it reflects the anxiety and tension in the mind of the supreme authority. Reflection of uncertainty, instability. This point has been discussed earlier.
This is related to Situation Three stated above. The sense of uncertainty and instability as a related effect creates a sense of fear. Fear of losing control over the ruled. Fear of facing opposition from the ruled. In order to overcome this situation the ruler has taken recourse to aggression. Any kind of protest or criticism is being termed as the activities of Maobadis, an act of sedition.
Situation Three and Situation Four have led to Situation Five. A situation of undemocracy. Till today there is a stock of several examples. Not allowing meetings in previously earmarked places; rejection of applications for holding meetings in the auditoriums controlled by the government; bringing in changes in the earlier simple procedures of getting permission from the police for holding street meetings; not allowing any critical questions being addressed to the supreme authorities; steps being taken against a cartoonist, arresting protesters from assemblies and participants from processions, even though with no violations of law, intrusion of the police into the office of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), the premier rights organization in this state; latent steps taken against newspapers through the control of state governmental advertisements and governmental purchase of newspapers; not releasing political prisoners and not taking measures for withdrawing penal cases enforced during the previous regime (promised in the election manifesto); replacement of elected representatives by state - nominated members in universities; transfer of financial responsibilities from the panchayets to the district bureaucracy.
A party now in governmental power in the state is not a Party in true sense. The party was not formed through organizational elections. It is operated by local chieftains with overall control by a single supreme authority It has no written text of ideology—political, social, economic. It has no long-term policies and programmes. It has realised that it has come into governmental power just by the negation of the former rule. Thus its only objective is to maintain the level of Populism that had brought it into governmental power. The goal of a populist government is only to showcase itself to the common populace, the electorates. The party always suffers from the fear of losing its popularity as it has is no strong political, social, geographical and community bases. Instead it has decided to rely on the bureaucracy and the police. It suffers from apprehensions. Apprehension of losing power. Apprehension leads to aggression. Reflection of aggression is the denial of Democracy.
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
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