What does it mean to be political?

[এই লেখাটি বাংলায়ে পড়তে।]

Not having an opinion in this dirty world, is safe. Until it isn’t.

Think about it for a moment. As you are stuck inside your home in the lockdown, with work or with none, what do you depend on to get by? Relationships with people. You need to buy ration, vegetables, raw food. If you are in a containment zone, then someone has to reach you with that. On your own, you are no one. That ration has been packed by someone, brought to you by someone else.

How your relationship with others are shaped, is decided by whom? The rule of the land. In a democracy, the rule of the land is determined by different governments; the executive is to ensure their maintenance; the judiciary is to uphold their validity in case of conflicts; and the media is supposed to report on incidents covering all these aspects, bringing to light of the common mass the interplay of these three functionaries. The relationships of these four subjects with you, is politics. From the rice you eat to the way your sewage is treated, everything is a political subject. Let’s not behave as if we are apolitical beings. Apathy to the relationships that define how you go about your life is not being apolitical, it is a pretense of being apolitical. And the pretense is a political move.

Look, being apolitical is not a choice anyone has. Only they can be apolitical who can have no relationship with anyone. And that is, simply: no one. Sapiens is a social creature. You cannot live entirely on your own, unless you are Robinson Crusoe. Even then, you have a relationship with nature. Hence, everyone is political. “The personal is political, and the political is personal.”

Now, a very common phrase I hear when I say that I am political, is that I am going to run for elections. Politics is easily equated with the politics of power. Electoral politics. While being a subset of politics, it is a subset only. By extension, politics does not mean the game of power. The question of how the defined aspects of democracy are connected with the lives of people, is a political question. The question of who can run for an election and who cannot, is also a political question. Politics is connection, and connection to people, is politics.

Your being silent against injustice around you, is a loud and clear political statement. Your being apathetic to the questions of how food reaches your plate during the lockdown, is a political blunder.

Some of my friends keep telling me about the vices of certain political parties. While I wholeheartedly listen to them, I cannot fathom why I am put into a position where I need to defend the vices of certain political parties I do not associate with. Political parties are a machinery of electoral politics, which are sometimes connected with the masses at the grassroots. They are a machinery of winning and losing, power and positions. My political ideas cannot be attributed single-handedly with a singular political party. And definitely not in the large country that India — my motherland — is. The democratic system of the Republic of India is very dear to me.

Next I come to my personal brand of politics. It is that of ideas on which the society should be based, and a way to consistently work to achieve that. I believe that everyone is entitled to clean air and water, and a safe environment. I believe everyone is entitled to three square meals a day, primary education, shelter, minimum securities in life like health, and protection against losses of economic activities. These are basic ambitions that I have for the people around me. I want people to consistently move in the direction of education, universal healthcare, similar (and not equal) distribution of resources, a culture of democratic values and scientific temper, and a collective form of peaceful living that facilitates everyone.

Some of my friends keep telling me that these are “all just ideology.” That such ideology is all good for talk, and theory, but not good in practice. Today, I want to tell them: that restructuring my life to achieve the changes is my politics. Living a life that facilitates in very small ways the changes that can push the society to one that I want to see, is my brand of politics. If that is “all just ideology,” then trying to achieve a day when they are not perceived that way, is my political stand.

I want to end this post by summarising:

  1. No one is apolitical.
  2. Politics is not just electoral politics. And by extension, politics is not just political parties.
  3. My dreams of the society are based on certain ideas, and the way I want to see those ideas implemented — is my brand of politics.

Reference: আমিও আছি এবং আমার দেশটাও আছে, ১


Comments on the above are addressed below.


Comment

You use the term “politics” almost synonymously with life itself. That’s why everything encompasses politics for you.

There’s no denying that politics tremendously impacts our lives, irrespective of whether or not we call ourselves political. But, that impact is created by those in either electoral politics or judiciary or media or those in political activism or revolutionaries, if you will. So my point is, one needs to be a part of these to create real political impact. Otherwise our political opinions are just theoretical, they don’t hold value in creating change.

Response

The behaviour of having political opinions only, is a political stand.

Democracy as I know it, is not just elections, court cases, and TV debates. It is participation of the common mass in the system. Yes, there are those with more stake in the political hierarchy, but that does not mean one has to be one of those people one fine day, to be able to make any difference.

Leaving aside “revolutionaries,” might I also ask: Where does political activism begin?
Does it not begin with being aware of the past and the present, and having a vision of the future? Having a world-view with which one operates?

Institutionalised politics apparently plays a big role in our lives, but this effect is actually apparent — if one takes a careful look. History teaches us to look at large timescales, from which this fact becomes clear:

Real change happens slowly.

Demanding long-lasting changes to be quick is a dangerous political stand.

While institutions have governed human lives, time does not remember details. The most successful revolutions have been slow. Feminism, for example, is a continuing political movement. Did women’s suffrage end the woes of almost half of Sapiens? No. Did the abolition of slavery eradicate social inequality? No. Did the end of World War II end racism? No. As long as there is social injustice, one needs to speak against it. Social assertion of human rights is politics.

Let us redefine our political ideas to think in longer terms. Because “real” change is slow but sustained. Unlike, say, changing of governments. One can participate in larger, universal, political movements from their homes, workplaces, neighbourhoods. Yes, being a part of the four institutions of democracy is a way to accelerate these changes, but that does not happen in a day. Does that mean one pretends to be apolitical if they cannot be a part of this active system?

I sincerely believe in the contrary. Real change can be brought about by consistently communicating progressive ideas, instilling questions, and making people think. Connecting with people is crucial. To understand people is the crux of the problem. Thus it is important to also increase the sphere of true connections.

But what more does it require?
Something much more difficult, actually. It requires one to look within. If I want to prevent the world from going up in smoke, but myself cannot quit smoking, does my political activism make any sense? If I want to eradicate social inequality but bargain with my housemaid on their monthly wage during the lockdown, am I fighting social inequality?

The point is simple: Real change is very difficult to make. If I want to see a long-term change, I have to be the change. An individual is like a cell of the society. Each cell of the society has to be the change, only then that change will bear fruit.

Comment

A lot of people by saying they are apolitical often simply mean they don’t align with the ideologies of any political party — they hardly understand the deeper connotations of being political. The people who wield the largest collective political powers are parties, large corporations, governments, and influential people. Hence they become crucial to the discussion.

Response

That is because we have internalised the fact that it is fine to have power in the hands of “large corporations” and “influential people”. While there is no denying the reality, questioning whether this reality is justified — is a political stand. Why is it necessary to have a few influencers wield power? Why should some big corporations play a huge role in determining what the larger majority wants? Simply because they have the money? Is money more important than human rights?

As much as I accept what people mean, making them think in a bigger context is important. Driving conversations to what can be done to bring about impactful changes is a legitimate political stand. It is important to have patience to see slow but steady change in society.

“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Eugene V. Debs

Political parties indeed play a huge role in the shaping of history, thoughts, and lives, and we will come back to this issue as we go along this series. We will also ask the question: How much power should governments have?

Comment

I think when people say they are “apolitical”, they sometimes mean that they care only about रोटी, कपड़ा, और मकान — without any thoughts as to how that is achieved. And it is not entirely their fault, since politics and ideology have become very much intertwined. The problem with that is that strict ideologies (e.g. Capitalism, Marxism) enforce the associated political parties to adhere to their doctrines. You can understand why this dogmatic behavior can turn off some people who do not want to be associated with a doctrinal ideology they do not totally agree with.

This is an oversimplification for sure… the interrelationship between politics and ideology, and the basic question of whether that is necessary, is much more complex.

Response

This is a very important point. Is ideology important at all? What does ideology do to political parties based on them? Are political parties at all based on ideology? In this series, we will be delving deeper into these questions, so please stay tuned.

We will be studying the various aspects of different ideologies, and try to have an outlook of what their virtues and limitations are. As of now, let me end by saying that ideology itself need not be strict, but flexible. If the ideology is of fraternity, equality, and love, then the way to achieve a just and fair society based on these principles of humanity can give you a world-view. This and only this should be the core and fundamental reason for having an ideology. If dogma, belief, and “custom” become ingrained with any ideology, that ideology is bound to either fail, or succeed with disastrous consequences.

6 thoughts on “What does it mean to be political?

  1. A lot of people by saying they are apolitical often simply mean they don’t align with the ideologies of any political party — they hardly understand the deeper connotations of being political.

    I will probably stay tuned because I have always been curious about how you hope to see the change bottom up, but the people who wield the largest collective political powers are parties, large corporations, governments, and influential people. Hence they become crucial to the discussion but of course I am curious to see how you perceive it.

    Like

      1. Right. My point was many people call themselves apolitical because they are tired of the hypocrisies of political parties.

        I also think, regarding ideologies, it’s important to consider why when adopted by a group it starts to lose its meaning. An ideology by itself means nothing, it is people who adopt them. Why did certain movements fail? How did certain ideologies get tainted beyond repair? I think it might be worthwhile to analyse the data at hand. Cheers. 🙂

        Like

  2. Reading this changed my perspective entirely on what it means to be political, in a really positive way. This a must read for everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really resonated with this piece. I cannot be simply attribute some single idea conjured by a party to appease, to perpetuate vote bank politics. I am a mixture of many philosophies and ideas and shall strive to contribute to those idea to come to fruition. Really great piece!

    Liked by 1 person

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