Thursday, November 10, 2011

Moral Degradation



THOUGHTFUL and sensitive Indians have been expressing their deep concern over many disquieting tendencies and developments on the political scene.Today public debate on basic issues of political ideologies and principles, development and transformation, has fast receded into background and non-issues have assumed exaggerated significance. It is time that the healthy elements of Indian polity to raise the moral question of Indian politics today. They must stand outside the murky waters of politics and uphold the principles of morality in political life. They must also heed to the rising dissatisfaction of the large mass of nameless, ordinary men and women who are shocked by the immoral and unprincipled politics, which has emerged in the country.
The substitution of issues with non-issues reflects sharply the loss of ideological moorings of the political elite. This loss has contributed considerably towards political disorientation and the resurgence of factionalism based on petty passions and interests. Conflicts arise not over ideas and policies but over trivial issues.
To be concerned about the moral question is one thing and to be able to understand identify the deeper causes of the moral crisis and to find a way out of it is quite another. If the mere preaching of social and political morality was enough to create such a morality, India, having no dearth of sermonisers and preachers, could have solved the moral problem long ago. It may sound irrelevant but it is nevertheless true that the key to the moral question lies outside the moral sphere.
The cause for the drying up of the springs of moral energy lies in the inability of the present political elite to offer a morally electrifying goal to the country. The struggle for freedom gave a moral shake-up to the moribund Indian society in the pre-independence period. It became a moral force because it was not just a struggle for seizure of power by the nationalist elite from foreign hands, but was also the one for a "New Society". Politics can be revitalised as a moral force only if it becomes once again the instrument of the struggle for a new society.
The moral crisis of today can neither be understood nor resolved if it is only interpreted in the vulgar and narrow sense of moral lapses and aberrations of individuals. The struggle for power arouses the basest instincts if it is pursued in isolation of or in opposition to the struggle for a new society. In other words, as Gandhi so aptly summed up: "Power ennobles when it is a means of serving higher ideals. It degenerates when it becomes an end in itself or only a means of fulfilling smaller interests".
Gandhi contributed most to the uplifting of a demoralised nation from a state of passive submission to foreign rule to becoming heroic fighters against tyranny and injustice. He was a moral force because he created the consciousness of great oppression and injustice within the Indian society against the have-nots and the Dalits. It is therefore not his private ideas of moral life which made him a figure of historical significance but his contribution to the basic causes relating to India’s emergence as a new nation and a new society.
It is necessary to be free from the prison of many backward and obscurantist notions of morality if the moral energy of the people is to be released for the great challenges of building a new society. The concept of the "moral" itself has to be redefined in the light of new challenges facing the nation. In the ultimate analysis morality is not above but subordinate to the basic requirements of man’s social existence on a long-term basis. It has to be related to the dynamics of social existence.
Gandhi linked politics with philosophy in terms of such categories that derived from Indian traditions as were intelligible even to the illiterate masses of the country. After Independence, there occurred a decisive shift from ‘politics as social philosophy’ (i.e. politics as expression of evolving social consciousness of the people), to ‘politics as technique’ ( ie. politics as the art and science of acquiring and manipulating the levers of state power). This shift was a sequel to the transition from the era of national struggle to that of running the nation state.
The emergence of politics as a technique and as image-building of political leaders and manipulation of the people’s mind through the mass media has also led to modernising the coercive apparatus of the state on the model provided by advanced nations. Thus, the triumph of politics as a technique resulted in the erosion of the philosophical basis inherited from Gandhi.
The question of further development of the philosophical basis in the light of new challenges has never been put in the centre stage. It is no wonder that in the absence of a social philosophy, politics has put an exaggerated emphasis on skill rather than on motivation and commitment as the basic qualification of men and women supposed to build the new India of Gandhi’s dreams.
The weak moral consciousness of the Indian polity has its roots in the process of recruitment. In fact recruitment into politics does not involve an initiation into definite social philosophy and a code of conduct. The inner life of most political parties and their members is denuded of any interest in the question of social philosophy.
The process of building the new society must begin urgently. Its ideology and values must be brought into the centre of Indian politics. And, here individuals with unshakeable faith in the possibilities of moral reconstruction of Indian politics have an important role to play.
"One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety nine who have interests". This statement of John Stuart Mill is relevant to the Indian situation today when most men and women dominating the Indian scene have only interests but very few have beliefs. It is the men and women with convictions who hold the key to the future. The struggle for a new society – a new India –calls both for clear definition of the new society and new men and women who can become the agents for the creation of that new society.
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