People have ceded control. Globally speaking, the moneyed and ruling classes have left the rest living brutish lives of ceaseless, joyless labour, with ever diminishing returns.
The people do not think about regaining control because they have no time to think. They don’t think. If they do think, it’s about how events are beyond them and they play no apparent part determining the impact of everyday developments on their lives.
However, some people continue to participate in protests and protest politics and what appears to be protest politics. Sometimes they are deluded into thinking that whatever is not the Government at a given time is worthy of their support because Opposition is the default form of protest.
But where have protests got people globally? The wealthy have increased their power and events such as the World Economic Forum are rather obscene, because they make no pretense about the fact that there is glaring inequality. The sub-text of the discussion at WEF is that there is glaring disparity of wealth, and the poor sods of the world need some news to feel that it’s not all unfair, though most of it is.
People have ceded control so comprehensively it seems that there is no meaningful discussion in which they participate these days. They have therefore resigned to the default position of being totally disengaged.
Politically they have some illusion of control in most countries, and that’s an opiate. Marx said religion is the opium of the masses. He may as well have said that politics is the opium of the deluded. When all is done with elections and campaigns, most voters get back to being spectators. Those who got their party elected feel they have wrested back the levers of control.
However, almost all politics is illusory, eventually. The amount of people who feel their votes do not count is reflected by the numbers that don’t vote. This number is ever increasing in most democracies. However, it can be argued that in general there is high voter participation in any average election in this country.
But why do most voters participate? It’s often because there is peer pressure for them to vote with a certain block. The secret ballot has not done anything to dent this trend. Block voting or voting for the party that your family has voted for over generations, will not be significant in the elections that are to come this year in this country, say some observers.
They say that the people have different considerations this year after the economic meltdown of 2022. That seems to be wishful thinking however. The block vote seems to be as strong as ever at the grassroots.
Many people vote with their preferred party they have been voting for over successive decades, but yet expect others to not vote en-bloc. This seems to be what’s happening this year. Many people feel that they are seeing a new copybook, and they are watching things closely because they have been told that the bloc vote will not count as much this time around.
But, that’s the point. Most people are on the inside looking out, meaning that they are voting with their bloc and are expecting others not to do likewise. But since the majority are those that are keen block voters in any case, the fact that they are expecting others to vote differently does not make much sense, or much of a difference, if you get the drift.
For the politically engaged, making a difference is a dream when the bloc vote is always so significant. The floating voter thinks he has control over events in a democracy but in the end that’s illusory too because all the floating voter does is put one powerful block in power over another, because he feels a vote for any other party outside the blocs i.e for a party that’s not traditionally popular, would be a waste.
So much then for control in a democracy. But yet people are always seeking salvation from the orthodoxy that is created by these voting patterns. They are, in improbable ways, looking to wrest real control — for the people and by the people — over the control of politicians.
Every now and then, they manage to do so. This is why it’s often heard when election results are reported, that the pundits have been confounded, or that the pollsters have been dead wrong. In other words, people who already know that democracy offers them little or no control over their lives in reality, always keep pushing the envelope, despite everything.
People sometimes punish politicians by not giving any party a majority to work with. But the paradox of that is, they have unstable governments and powerful political blocks use that as an argument to ask for and obtain strong ‘mandates.’ This has been the pattern in most elections in most democracies with large parties or coalitions consolidating their power by asking for and obtaining major mandates.
Essentially, it means that voters are further losing control. The more ‘hung’ parliaments were there in your average democracy, the better chance the voters had of exercising some influence over political outcomes. But hung parliaments almost seem to be a thing of the past now.
If South Asia is taken as an example, there are no signs of anything close to a hung Parliament anywhere — and there certainly hasn’t been a hung Parliament — among subcontinental neighbouring nations such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and so on.
But people still seek to assert control by going against the advice and predictions of the media. Parties with a seeming lock on power for several years into the future, suddenly see their grip on the levers snatched away, as it happened to the Conservatives after Boris Johnson’s runaway victory in the UK for instance.
People may know that if they get rid of the hold of one power block, they risk getting another power bloc elected in its place, with parties often being mirror images of each other these days. What real control do the people have over their lives under these circumstances?
Not much, and we return to the underlying and initial premise of this article, which is that people do not have much control over their fates in modern democracies even though they harbour the illusion that they continue to wield power with their vote.
But in the struggle to assert control, though all conditions seem to militate against that, there are ways in which people cling on to hope. For some of them, political movements are the only salvation. They abandon political parties and take on multifarious causes. Through these they are able to exert some form of control by lobbying traditional mainstream political parties.
Sometimes parties themselves morph into ‘movements.’ There is currently a Hinduthva movement in India for instance, and it would be difficult for anyone to argue with that. Barack Obama’s campaign in the US in 2008 was in the nature of a movement, and Donald Trump’s MAGA is one more political movement and it is still in operation.
But through all of this, people may still have no real control over their lives. They see that money trumps the equation most of the time, with donors calling the shots, with effective control most times ceded to corporate lobby groups that have headway over any type of political movement.
But yet, this has been the story of democracy down the ages. Things may be particularly egregious in the current moment with lobbyists more powerful than ever, and political parties dividing the spoils between them because very often the mainstream political formations are not that much different from each other.
But down the ages, people have always devised newer and ever more ingenuous ways of asserting themselves despite the fact that the odds are stacked against such persistence. With more than half of their compatriots sleeping, meaning they have given up participating in any meaningful political process, those who are in the fight, have to be doubly creative. They have to take back some form of control, even though the system doesn’t help them do it. But, the good news is that people always keep trying, and sometimes they succeed.