ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

The New Political Vocabulary

The characterisation of politics as a positively corrupt enterprise, unworthy of and against the interests of the great Indian people in whose name such activities are carried on, is a sinister agenda of seeing politics and public affairs as infected isolates, which need to be and indeed can be dispensed with and eradicated.

Commentary

The New Political Vocabulary

The characterisation of politics as a positively corrupt enterprise, unworthy of and against the interests of the great Indian people in whose name such activities are carried on, is a sinister agenda of seeing politics and public affairs as infected isolates, which need to be and indeed can be dispensed with and eradicated.

M S PRABHAKARA

A
n expression that appears to have gained near universal currency in certain kinds of media reports and analyses is “political class”. The beginning of this peculiar usage, necessarily among a minority of persons using English, can perhaps be traced to the early 1990s, coinciding with significant changes in the direction of the economy that were also reflected in the broader political and social culture of the country, including the use of language. They continue to do so.

Taken together, these developments have since then led to a systematic and calculated campaign of diminishment and revilement in the popular perception, as reflected in much of the urban English language media, not merely of politicians across the political spectrum but of the very process and conduct of politics and public affairs. The invention of the expression, “political class”, is part of this process. The use of this expression is now widespread in, but not limited to, journalism, especially in opinion pieces and the opinionated comments.

The other side of this diminishment and demeaning of the political process and public affairs in general is the celebration of the supposedly “non-political man” (or woman) free of every kind of “ideological shackles and political shibboleths” (expressions like these flow with the fluency of a fast running stream in the weekly prescriptions), the very epitome of public and private virtues, truthful, honest, utterly free from every kind of venality.

This immaculate “non-political” and professionally neutral person, part of a new elite army of liberation out to end decades of post-independence stagnation and comprising those role-models in business, industry, bureaucracy and what is vaguely called the “professions”, is made to stand in sharp contrast to the world peopled by that axiomatic construct, the “dirty and corrupt politician”, the political class. Since those women and men engaged in politics and public affairs are, after all, the product of a particular kind of democratic political process, albeit flawed – elections, legislative government, Parliament and state legislatures, popular participation in the form of noisy debates and all that – the battle against the political class also necessarily means an unrelenting fight against democracy itself.

Language as always is a most powerful weapon in the propagation of this new ideology of what one may call “antipolitical politics”. For, even while reviling the political process, the new ideologues in inventing this strange concoction, political class, and investing it with legitimacy by repeated usage are advancing their own political agenda – the depoliticisation of the polity and its inseparable twin, the delegitimisation of the democratic process.

Here are a few random examples of recent use of the term, all but one of them culled from the comments and reports in the two prescriptive oracles that advice and exhort their readers, week after week, about what is right and what is wrong with Indian public affairs, indeed also with personal and private affairs: “Rampant sting operations have stunned the political class because the image is the message” (Outlook, January 9, 2006, p 176). “Vidyanagar [the O P Jindal group’s factory township near Hampi in Karnataka] is a model of urban design; it is what Indian towns and cities could look like if we had a political class with even minimal interest in the national good” (the syndicated column, “On the Spot – India That Is Bharat”, The Sentinel (Guwahati), January 16, 2006). “In the end, India, democracy’s most perseverant nation, once again survived the cumulative fallacies of its political class; but few politicians survived the year without moral or electoral scars” (India Today, special issue, January 9, 2006, p 18).

Extending the concept to cover not merely individual politicians but “political India” as a whole that is now besmirched with “dirty politics”, another commentator in an article on Lal Krishna Advani as newsmaker 2005 in another issue of the same journal (January 16, 2006, p 34) describes his subject as one who in the year in review “dared to argue with history and set off the most decisive churning in political India 2005”.

Indeed, this peculiar concept of class has invaded sports writing as well, as can be used in evocation of “Indian cricket’s consuming classes” in another issue of the same journal (January 30, 2006, p 44).

Besmirching of Politics

Even if one were to overcome the embarrassing squirms caused by expressions like the “image is the message”, or “daring to argue with history”, one cannot see anything even perversely comic in such resorting to “class analysis” that is now a routine feature of reports and analyses in the blatantly, indeed self-confessedly, anti-political urban media. The seemingly straightforward purport of all such analysis is simply that the image of the politicians is smirched beyond repair; that politicians do not have any interest in ensuring even the minimal good of the community; that politicians and political activity cumulatively amount to little more than fallacies; and it is to the credit of the Indian people that they have survived and indeed prospered despite their political leaders.

This is not to argue that the conduct of politics and individual politicians in their public life has not acquired a bad odour. But categorise the very process of public affairs in such a generally demeaning way, and create a uniquely besmirched and corrupted category, the political class, and go on to see in this “set-up top be knocked down” ugly caricature and monster the

Economic and Political Weekly February 18, 2006

root of all evil in public life is a most sinister enterprise that seeks to delegitimise every kind of democratic choice and indeed the very essence of democracy. However, no society can eschew political and public affairs in their essence and in their practice; the alternative would be the worst kind of populism, the precursor to fascism. There are several instances, near and far, of such “non-political” mobilisation inexorably leading to fascism.

Overriding such populist characterisation of politics as a positively corrupt enterprise entirely unworthy of and against the interests of the great Indian people in whose name such activities are carried on, is the more sinister agenda of seeing politics and public affairs as infected isolates, which need to be and indeed can be dispensed with and eradicated. So, the concept of the “political class”, a parasitical group far more corrupt than any historically identified exploiting and oppressing class.

This is truly class struggle with a vengeance, arising out of a most novel definition and conceptualisation of politicians and the politically conscious persons as constituting an entirely new class – the political class – in permanent conflict with the rest of society. The conflict can only be resolved by the defeat and overthrow of the oppressing class, the political class, and the thrust of the weekly prescriptions is how to implement this agenda of a new class struggle.

Let us leave aside such conventional things as historically and scientifically valid ideas about the evolution of classes in a society – any society – a long process whose material determinants are the means and relations of production of, in the broadest sense, the earthly goods. The material reality of antagonistic classes and class relations driven by well-defined class interests is evident even, perhaps especially, in the most prosperous of urban enclaves.

Depoliticisation Process

The acceptability of such ideas, as is evident in the wide currency of the expression in sections of the influential and resourceful media, bespeaks yet another advance in the depoliticisation process. It is true that the majority of the Indian people are not, indeed cannot be, appropriated into such a process of depoliticisation. But then the brave new world that is being constructed by and for the resourceful minority does not need this majority, except as docile servers of its needs; and its faith in machines and technology is such that it sees the possibility of dispensing even with this need. There have been other visions of such brave new worlds where the majority has been successfully marginalised for ever and ever, or at least for the foreseeable distant future. Eventually, anyway, we will all be dead.

Signs of such abusage, causally related to the calculated marginalisation of the majority of the people, are evident in other realms too, far removed from the use of language. Their superstructural manifestations are evident in any saunter through the market, the god of this brave new world, to anyone whose five senses are functioning, even if the sixth sense, the ability to make connections, has become benumbed due to this constant bombardment about the infallible virtues of the market. The normative argument to explain away or even defend such political illiteracy is that the media is merely reflecting existing reality. However, the reality is that the media, especially its resourceful and influential segment, being an implicated participant in pushing for the delegitimisation of democracy, is also an active propagator of such abusage. All for what it sees as a good cause.

EPW

Email: pmotnahalli@hotmail.com

Economic and Political Weekly February 18, 2006

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top