Ahead of the upcoming Indian elections, two opposing tribes of politicians have emerged. One group joined the ranks of the opposition after enjoying the fruits of power. They believe they have a better chance of winning the next election by fighting against the party that has given them the privileges of power for several years. Another group of politicians come from the opposition benches to bolster the ranks of the ruling party, hoping to come to power.
The shifting loyalties of politicians are not always a sign of a changing political landscape. Sometimes it is also about the diminishing value of ideology in political discourse. Far too often today’s politicians lead a career based on changing political ideologies. As another election season unfolds in India, almost like a routine, the spotlight is on renegade politicians switching sides.
They succeed quite often. Sometimes their calculations are wrong too. Most voters see through their histrionics but can’t do anything but vote for them or against them. Some even admire their courage and dexterity. Justifying a complete reversal in terms of political ideology requires special skills. These politicians have it in abundance. This is what separates them from ordinary mortals.
Ahead of the upcoming Indian elections, two opposing tribes of politicians have emerged, as they always do. One group joined the ranks of the opposition after enjoying the fruits of power. They believe they have a better chance of winning the next election by fighting against the party that has given them the privileges of power for several years. Opportunism indeed prevails over them.
Another group of politicians come from the opposition benches to bolster the ranks of the ruling party, hoping to come to power. These are not entirely new phenomena. Desertions have occurred in the past for similar and sometimes different reasons. They will indeed occur in the future. Such shifts in party loyalties would likely become even more common given the lack of focus on core issues.
Yet the missing link in all of this is ideology, which is at the heart of a political party. Even if the sole purpose of political parties is to seize power, can that be a license to desert any party and join another, weeks before the start of elections? Can the absence of ideology, or at least a diminishing sense of political ideology, benefit a healthy democracy?
First, let’s not judge them. Although politicians often switch sides for personal reasons — a ticket to a family member or a cabinet seat — some may have genuine reasons. They can also move beyond their sense of belonging to a political or economic issue championed by one side and choose to make amends. Moreover, the pre-election period is probably also a good time to seek re-election on behalf of another political party, even though the individual concerned may have been relentlessly critical of the same party while in government.
Different shades of ideological shifts can be seen in different parts of the world. A recent Gallup poll indicates that the way Americans identify themselves ideologically remained unchanged last year as a narrow divide persisted between those who describe themselves as conservatives or moderates. A smaller proportion identified as Liberal. More importantly, half of Democrats still identify as liberals, while 74% of Republicans identify as conservatives.
Now imagine a situation in which a significant portion of Republicans and Democrats switch sides as the election approaches, selling opposing ideologies to the electorate. How would you expect the electorate to react if a politician they voted for because they were Conservative suddenly decides to call themselves a Liberal simply because they want to be on the winning side? What happens to the ideology you fight for or against?
Europe has perhaps experienced the most profound change in this area. Since communism became unable to compete seriously with liberal democracy, political ideology on the continent has shifted between a declining left, a rising right and even more incendiary ultra-right ranks.
Once a beacon of global ideologies, France is making headlines for its extremists disguised as troublemakers. In neighboring Germany, Angela Merkel thrived by avoiding “opposing ideologies”. She almost turned the elimination of ideologies on both sides and pragmatic political compromises into an art form.
Such shifts indicate that societies are either too uncomfortable with ideologies, too consumed with consumerism, or eschew problematic viewpoints. Either way, ideological buy-in, or lack thereof, indicates the direction politics is taking. Its worst manifestation is that politicians of different leanings turn to meteorologists to make ends meet.
“Everyone has an ideology, a vision of how the world works and should work,” columnist Paul Krugman once wrote in The New York Times. He also wrote: “What you should be looking for, in yourself and in others, is not an absence of ideology but an open mind, ready to consider the possibility that parts of the ideology may be wrong. “. But are defector politicians listening? At least some seem busy walking down a slippery slope.
Ehtesham Shahid is an editor at the Emirates Policy Center.