This article has been submitted by Osho Chhel for the CLATGyan Blog Post Writing Competition. If you think this article is a good read, ‘Like’ this article on Facebook (the button is at the bottom of this piece) or post a comment using the ‘comments’ section below.
In July 64 AD, Rome was set ablaze and what was left were the black ground and the open sky. They say that the then Emperor, Nero, gave his commands to char his own capital, so that he could build a new city from scratch.
That is exactly what happened. The Emperor wished he would escape responsibility, and thankfully more than half of his subjects were dead. The new Rome was the most marvelous city of ancient times. Does that reduce the culpability of Nero? Does it make him a lesser criminal? The jury is out on that one.
But what we need to ask ourselves here, as a part of the larger rhetoric, is that can a political entity disconnect from its past and seek to start afresh, while still selectively reminiscing about its glory days to score brownie points? What is also to be asked is whether Nero can actually claim to be the creator of the new Rome and bask in that glory, while taking to the pyre millions of his citizens?
Some political entities of today, strangely so, even come to the forefront because of such massacres. While in the long run, these people who lie ashen on the ground, comatose, rise up and be the phoenix that will burn down Nero.
The focal point here is that political behavior-be it of the powerful or the subaltern-is highly unpredictable. How people react to social trends, and how individuals themselves desire something and yet when it is a collective want, there emerges a Frankenstein.
This glaring contrast in the reactions of a polity brings us to think whether you can actually call it political ‘science’ and whether psephologists and political analysts can actually predict the trends of the voters in today’s day and age.
History is only abundant with anomalies and contradictions, where political behavior has been surprising, riveting and even whimsical at times. It is shocking how the aspirations of the people are so often forgotten, even when the people in power know exactly how sanctimonious the dreams of the poor man are. They also tend to be selectively amnesic when it comes to their promises or ideologies.
With the Renaissance, the Glorious Revolution, the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, Indian freedom struggle, and all these heroic narratives of the medieval-modern era, one might feel that the world is largely ‘democratised’. Are we?
In another narrative that emerged from the early Marxists was that through Communism and other left-of-centre ideologies, the ‘proletariat’ or the working class will have a voice and will be powerful. They envisioned a tomorrow where the world would be without the oppressors or the oppressed. They usually emphasized on the power of revolution to bring about socio-political change.
These two phenomena, which rose to the mainstream in the second half of the 20th century, have been both a thumping success and a farce at the same time.
Democracy, sold to the world to be the messiah of the people, the end to all qualms, has of course not matched the expectations generated by its advertising, but has to an extent given people the hope. Although there may be cynics who say that the party in power is controlling the state, and that the dreams and aspirations of the people have been forgotten, one might also turn around and say that since these parties turn to their electorate (which isn’t as naïve as you think) from time-to-time, they do act for the betterment of society, to an extent. Not to for a moment dismiss the authoritarian tendency of these powerful functionaries.
When the idea of a democratic state was in its formative years, the core of it was that people give away some of their rights to the state (their representatives) so that they are socially secure. Now once we have given them our rights, it is in their hands to use them at their will, may it be that they turn my army against us in the forests, or that they don’t give us the right to speak against our own ‘representatives’.
Communism, on the other hand, after their revolution would bestow the powers of governance and statecraft in the hands of a committee who led the revolution, and in would be the committee’s responsibility that they establish equality in the society. In theory, this seems to be a brilliant proposition, with nobody being superior and us being a people without disparity. But the challenge that any human institution faces is that of overcoming human instincts for the greater good of humanity. The first main problem with a communist regime that we have witnessed is that this committee that calls the shots will actually look to fulfill the wants of its own members, before the needs and wants of the proletariat. This might lead to anything from large-scale graft to a society so blinded by the portrayed greatness of its leader that it doesn’t see the grave hunger prevailing.
The second problem with communist regimes we saw was that of these very human instincts, those of the common people who were promised equality were not fulfilled. We know for a fact that in the Soviet Union you had the stifling of civil liberties to such an extent that you would have to drink only a single type of coffee, all this in the name of ‘equality’. Since the manifestations of Marx’s extraordinarily meticulous theory have actually been quite the contrary to his expectations, we witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union, and of Communism at-large in the world.
With these two examples of modern-day political streams of thought, I have attempted to create a picture of how grossly inaccurate the assumption would be that politics and political behavior of a people are predictable, and that set norms and rules can be applied to understand the functioning of polities, because it will surely be indecipherable whether the rules are true, or are the exceptions too many to negate them. But a much larger symptom of the ‘scientific’ disease would be that it will treat people as particles that revolve around an axis and follow a set path when subjected to a magnetic field.
The truth is quite the contrary, with every individual having his own beautiful mind, his own dreams, his own aspirations and his own ideas of right and wrong. If you attempt to establish a pattern that you feel individuals may collectively follow, you can be sometimes mistaken. This I say because with the transformation of a society, occurs a transformation of the polity, culminating in a new churning of ideas, not imagined in the past century, in the crumbling and resurrecting of many a Rome, in the emergence of a new people that wish to burn down this Rome and resurrect it on their own terms, without so much as a tiny inspiration from the past, as if they were giving wings to a phoenix that is of novel character.