Half a decade ago, Mike Marqusee wrote for Socialist Worker that “the art of the possible is that politics is a calculation of the probable, an exercise in the pragmatic, the expedient or the opportune”. He even described it as a banality from political observers.
In the current political scenario in the country, with Assembly elections due in three states and civic body elections in Maharashtra, this does gain attention. For like me, several others are coming up with their own idea of the “possible”.
The Aam Aadmi Party is likely to emerge as a significant force in Punjab. Or the fact that the Shiv Sena has finally decided to snap its partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra, once the campaign for the ongoing civic elections in Mumbai is done away with. A Marathi newspaper chain Pudhari reported on Monday, with a cautious question mark in the headline, that the Sena may quit the government.
Is it possible? With the caution of an observer, I would say yes; because the Sena itself has been saying it gives two hoots about being in power. But is it probable? We don’t know since, in politics, every assumption looks likely till it does not happen. Or something else does.
Marqusee’s article is interesting in many ways for it explains the meaning of the possible, especially when used in the political context.
He quotes William Blake as saying: "Reason, or the ratio of all we have already known is not the same that it shall be when we know more." Do we know what is in the mind of Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray? Even most of those who claim proximity to his mind can only guess.
So, “when people speak of politics as the art of the possible, they imply a world of unexamined assumptions about the limits of the possible – a world that embodies only the limits of their own experience or imagination".
Let us go back to the Pudhari story, that featured on the front page on Monday. It says that on the final day of campaigning, which would end on 19 February, Uddhav "may" take resignation letters from the ministers from the party in the BJP-headed government. It does not say that the Sena will announce the withdrawal from the government.
And, another qualifier emerges. The Sena, even if it were to withdraw its ministers, has not decided if it would withdraw the support to the government. Meaning that there are a whole lot of ifs and buts to the story. Why shouldn’t the party leader straightaway withdraw than take letters of resignations from his nominees in the government?
More questions arise: Would the Sena leader send those letters to the chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis if the party were to retain the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai? Then again, can it retain power on its own strength? If it didn’t, then what (depending on which other parties step in to support)?
To my mind, the calculations would not depend entirely on the outcomes in Mumbai and a couple of city corporations like Thane alone. There are 10 civic corporations being contested. It would necessarily have to depend on the wider profile the parties get because the ongoing elections are also for 21 zilla parishads. A mix of entirely urban and entirely rural constituencies.
A party rarely leaves a government on the basis of principles. More often, it remains in one because power is heady and useful. Though, of course, the leaving, when necessary, is clothed in presumed principles and proclaimed as a sacrifice. Which political party likes to discard the loaves of office?
That precisely is the reason why the Sena, which fought a bitter electoral battle in 2014 against the BJP in the Assembly elections, decided to be in the Opposition; but when it saw that the breakup of numbers — BJP’s 122 and its own 63 in a house of 288 — it saw an opportunity.
The upshot: the heat and dust of electoral battle throw up several possibilities — "possible", as it can be about a reality that does not exist till it happens. We shall, till then, settle to dawdle between the possible and the probable; probable as in it is likely to transpire. Till then, others can have a field day speculating. It is fun but rather pointless.
Updated Date: Feb 07, 2017 11:55 AM