Tribalism and Practical Politics

This is what I see for Modi and the BJP, who now have the opportunity to advance elements of their social and political vision. This is the fruit of their successful campaign, and they deserve the chance to make a constructive impact on Indian society. However, in an intensely complex India, if their efforts marginalize or, worse, oppress, others, such will become fuel for their opponents and their leadership cannot be expected to endure. If their appropriate and healthy political organization develops into untoward and socially divisive tribalism, it must be tempered by pragmatism. India, a vastly larger democracy than the U.S.—and decidedly more complex—already has a long history of effective democratic process. The highly fragile and tenuous emerging democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere, reveal societies fractured by the worst expressions of tribalism, aggressively establishing social power by corruption or violence. In such situations, there is little or no history of—or respect for—genuine democratic process. This is far from the case in India, which, despite its many challenges, shows an enduring resilience.

While any manifestation of tribalism—from exasperating egocentric ideological attachment to tragic, violent chauvinism—is troubling, in effective democracies social groups bonded by specific values and vision have every right to promote their interests and assume power, if they can. That's the nature of politics.

If opponents are taken aback by certain elements of those values, then it is their responsibility to mobilize politically. At the same time, groups assuming power—in healthy and effective democracies—soon learn they'll soon lose it if they do not practice the art of pragmatic compromise and consider a broader network of interests beyond those of their party. This was the case in 2004, when the BJP coalition National Democratic Alliance, led by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, suffered a heavy and surprising defeat, partly owing to a non-inclusive political approach and agenda.

Is the current rise of Modi and the BJP cause for worry? No more than the Tea Party of the religious right in United States. He and the BJP have every right to advance their vision and values as winners of this year's elections. However, he must also take into consideration broader sets of needs in a pluralistic society and government and demonstrate appropriate pragmatic compromise, or else he won't be around for long, as his BJP predecessor Vajpayee quickly learned.

8/6/2014 4:00:00 AM
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