Note: The following article has been written by Muskaan Tewari, one of the most brilliant participant from The Youth Leadership Programme 2020.
The centrist political ideology is often associated with being in the middle of the political compass. It is also misconstrued to be the same as neutrality. However, it is easier to define centrism through negation than affirmation. So, the centrist ideology is neither the extreme left nor the extreme right and it is definitely not neutrality. It is debatable to even call it an “ideology”. Centrism is best explained as “Idealism without illusions”.
Centrism is the product of an inquisitive mind trying to look beyond the rigid system of a pre-packaged set of ideologies harbingering the resultant opinions on issues that matter.
These smothering splinter groups act as barricades preventing people from looking through these “ideologies” into the hollow nature of politics they practice.
So, in a climate littered with political partisanship, here are my two cents on the need for centrism in 2020.
In the last decade, the world has seen an apparent shift away from the traditional broad-based party politics to socio-culturally exclusive political parties gaining more and more power. For instance the shift of political conversations from being centred around development and corruption to nationalism and religion. This does not suggest that these weren’t pressing issues in the past. It is however, the increasingly paramount importance assigned to the latter, that is deeply worrying.
Centrism in this context can play an important role in redressing these priorities to favour issues that have an actual impact on the lives of everyday citizens.
2. Mob Mentality
Identity politics acts as a catalyst to set in motion the phenomenon of mob mentality wherein people adopt opinions and behaviours for the sake of the group they belong to or in this case the ideology they prescribe to. The need to maintain status-quo packaged with the ease of not grasping nuances and assessing situations objectively encourages this herd mentality further. This is exploited by those in power to distract and discourage discourse on overriding issues.
Here centrism acts like an institutional incentive to political parties to adopt a set of policies aimed at harmonising societal and cultural contradictions rather than accentuating them.
3. Idealism Over Progress
Perhaps the most overwhelming aspect of ideological extremism has been the substantial importance given to ideology. This subsequently has led to an even further shift of political parties towards political hard lining. This is in complete contrast to the policies of the stalwarts of the past who always campaigned for a system of equitable balance.
A centrist, however, disassociates from the concept of a binding ideology itself. They commonly regard ideology, says political theorist Michael Freeden, “as an instrument of totalitarian seduction”. To them, ideologies are merely a set of theories that guide action in the present by presenting various alternatives of the past. They stress on objective and nuanced analysis, practicality and pragmatic action.
Centrism as a political standing makes sense in the Indian context more so than others because of its vast and varied demography. It is however faced with its share of criticism, mainly based on misconceptions about the standing itself. A bulk of these criticisms are the claims of it being neutrality. Neutrality refers to the practice of not taking sides even when a principle is at stake. However, while all “principled” centrists distance themselves from both the ideological left and the ideological right, they are strong supporters of civil liberties, the autonomy of institutional structures, balance of power, free-ish economies and are generally suspicious of overweening state apparatuses. These principles are applied more or less consistently to evaluate regimes, policies and party politics.
The reasoning behind hardline political ideologies is simple – “beyond a point, this ‘following of an ideology’ is really an act of faith because we, the people, neither have the resources to verify facts nor the intellectual depth to interpret them. We find interlocutors we trust and sync our political views with theirs.” It is this inherently flawed assumption that centrism counters. Centrism warrants faith and trust in the intellect of the people it hopes to serve. For it is these people who hold the power to shape the future of the democracy these ideologies vow to save.