Monday, September 29, 2014

The paradox in India: Socialism triumphs as Socialists lose

Commentary by Samir Nazareth

The Left in India needs to talk about the socio-economic success of their ideology. They need to point out that the naysayers who are now crying wolf  have benefited from Socialist policy. They need to point out to India's burgeoning middle class as an outcome of the Socialist socio-economic model.  That it is the inclusiveness  of Socialism that has brought India to modernity. They need to celebrate too, celebrate the achievement of people and the resounding success of their philosophy. 

There were a slew of articles in Indian newspapers and magazines post Modi's victory in the recent Indian parliamentary elections. The common thread in all of them was on the failure of the left leaning liberals to read the writing on the wall. In trying to explain the trouncing the Congress I led UPA received, the writers separated Narendra Modi from his political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and also  from their philosophical fount – the rightwing Hindu leaning Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Others, discussed the victory through the prism of the supposedly ostrich like behaviour of the  left leaning English populace. While others saw it as the response of the people to the corruption in the Congress I led UPA.

But none saw it as a victory for Socialist policy and a resounding  defeat for the socialists still stuck in their roti, kapada makan (food, clothing shelter) world.

Victory of Socialist Philosophy

The Directive Principles of the Constitution of India states '-----the  country is defined as a  Welfare State'. The authors of the Constitution stated that these Principles are not Justiciable: “the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws”. 

Further, Article 38 states “The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.” The second part points out to the need to“minimize the inequalities in income, and endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.”

Over the last 67 years there has been a constant effort to give people the means to develop. Yes, many such schemes (be they dams etc) have led to unforeseeable problems, and in other instances corruption has usurped what was rightfully others'. But despite this there has been a change.

There are 904,510,000 cell phones for a country with a population of 1,220,800,359; and the number of cell phones is not going to remain stagnant.  Life expectancy has increased from just over 40 years in the 60s to over 60 years today. In fact the life expectancy of women at 69.6 years is more than that for men which is at 67.3 years. As per the Indian health ministry 'Maternal mortality ratio has declined from 301 per 100,000 live births in 2001-03 to 212 in 2007-09', this is because of steady supply of foods, say the experts.

One could state without much compunction that Socialism is about fulfilling the lower rungs of Abraham Maslow's  'Hierarchy of Needs'. The pyramid provided by Maslow states that the very basic needs - physiological (breathing, food, water etc) - which when once met lead to people fulfilling other needs which are safety (housing, security of body and resources etc). When this is met, people then attempt to fulfill their need for Love/Belonging which then leads to fulfilling the desire for Esteem and finally for Self Actualization.


The socialist/welfare economy has been able to provide the first two levels of Maslow's pyramid to a very large extent. This has been done by schemes which many have derided – schemes like MNREGA, RTE, etc. It is these schemes and other similar ones that allow those at the very end of the socio-economic spectrum in India to open bank accounts to have insurance policies and to demand their rights.

Yes Narendra Modi, did not have to go through all the brouhaha to give the poor access to the banking system with his Jan Dhan scheme. The process had begun much earlier.

One can state that socialism in India has been a success because  it gave an opportunity to Narendra Modi (who loves to say he was a tea-seller) to study and provide the stairs which have led him to becoming  India's current Prime Minister.

Failure of the Socialists
The Socialists failed to see that their philosophy when put to action was bearing fruit. That the people who were at the bottom the pyramid had progressed and those still at the bottom now desired to jump a few rungs.

Maslow stated that Esteem included Self Esteem, Respect of Others and Respect by Others. Self Esteem is self manufactured, it is developed through  personal accomplishments and what the person things of herself.  It is then reinforced by acknowledgement from the outside environment. Today, people are more concerned about Esteem, the  desire for this need to be recognized and fulfilled was left unattended by the UPA government.

Thus, the scams,  which are not at all unusual in India, suddenly took on a different color. The reason why a person does not like being told he is the victim of a con or that he is being cheated is because that questions his abilities. Being gypped is a blow to the Self Esteem because on the one hand it indicates that one is a fool and on the other it points out to the perception of being seen as gullible. Modi constantly reiterated that India was being gypped by the  UPA government and that the government was pulling the wool over their eyes. What Modi was actually saying was that the then sitting government thought that the Indian people were fools.

Socialist socio-economic policy has given people the  wherewithal  over the last 60 years  to graduate from being accepting, docile and silent to wanting to be given what they feel is their right. This is a natural outcome of having their basic needs, which Maslow termed as Physiological and Security needs, met.

Where the Socialists failed was  their inability to recognize the extent of their success. So they remained behind even as the people they spoke for progressed. There was need to redefine what Socialism meant in today's world and  to therefore re-frame its socio-economic models that could be implemented in a modern context.

The path ahead
Yes, for next few decades there will be those still trying to achieve their Physiological Needs, but there will be a growing population that would be searching for avenues to meet their needs of Esteem and Self Actualisation. 

Maslow was incorrect in thinking that the pyramid is linear. Everybody deserves respect irrespective of their socio-economic status. The recognition of the  fluidity of the pyramid is all the more important today. Esteem and respect is a human need at any level, while Self Actualization is a requirement for any human endeavor and to live in society.

How does Socialism embrace these human desires as it attempts to remain relevant?

What needs to be understood is that Esteem need not be confined to the individual. It needs to be broadened to the collective, to the nation. The fact that Modi won such a resounding victory is proof that individual disgruntlement, discontent, disillusionment  can be coalesced into a collective and potent political force. If negativity can become a wave why not the positive?

The Left needs to talk about the socio-economic success of their ideology. They need to point out that the naysayers who are now crying wolf  have benefited from Socialist policy. They need to point out to India's burgeoning middle class as an outcome of the Socialist socio-economic model.  That it is the inclusiveness  of Socialism that has brought India to modernity. They need to celebrate too, celebrate the achievement of people and the resounding success of their philosophy. 

Lastly, the Left can no longer only demand roti, kapada and makan as something tangible and so alienate a growing number of people who either have achieved this or are looking for more besides these basic needs.  Roti, kapada and makan needs to be seen as a human need for respect and as a step in the path to progress and not as an end.  That is how the Left will retain its relevance.



Samir Nazareth is the author of '1400 Bananas, 76 towns and I million people'. See here for more of his articles in this blog.

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