Students of world affairs would be familiar with attempts at psycho-histories of Hitler, Mao Zedong, Stalin and some other individual leaders. But psychoanalysis of the phenomenon of political parties as such is rare. An Italian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Dr Pierro Rocchini, has done just that. And apparently he is well qualified for undertaking this task.
He has treated 200 Italian deputies in the last 10 years. For the benefit of those who cannot read the book in the Italian language (it is being translated into English), an American writer based in Italy, Mr Ken Shulman, has reviewed it in the March 13-14 issue of the International Herald Tribune. I cannot commend it too strongly for anyone wishing to understand what has been happening in our public life and why.
For Dr Rocchini, Italy may be “a sort of laboratory to demonstrate the dangers of a certain brand of political degeneration.” We in India have been witnesses to a full-scale demonstration. We can certainly teach the Italians a lesson or two. For us the surprise, if any, is that Italians, with their tradition as hoary as ours, should have been so inept as to leave so much evidence around that mere magistrates are able to frame more than 20 per cent of the deputies in the lower house on specific charges.
Our ministers, for instance, have not needed to plant trusted men in key bureaucratic offices to secure contracts for their favourites. They have manipulated whoever has occupied positions of vantage in the bureaucracy. Dr Rocchini’s observations about Italian politicians ring so true in respect of ours.
For instance, most Italian (read Indian) politicians choose to go into politics to escape from a sense of failure and frustration in their lives. The political party of their choice shields them from responsibility and decision-making. The deputies sink into a muffled, cushioned world of privilege, respect and seeming omnipotence. Instead of cultivating the electorate, parliamentary candidates direct their energies in appeasing fellow members.
It is well known that the Soviet Communist Party made such pulp of even its top leaders that men like Kamenev and Zinoviev incriminated themselves on patently false charges because, they believed that the party, like God, could do no wrong. Of course, their will had been shattered by threats, torture and relentless indoctrination. Even so, their child-like faith in the party and the leader (Stalin) as the embodiment of its wisdom and mission stood out in the infamous trials in the thirties.
This phenomenon has been widely regarded as being peculiar to communist or fascist parties, though unlike the former, the latter have not organised show trials which can provide us access to their inner working. That is one reason why the abject submission of congressism to the leader has been difficult to explain for most commentators. They have wondered how supporters of Sardar Patel could have switched to Pandit Nehru immediately after the former’s passing away. Dr Rocchini provides the explanation.
The party functions like a massive mother to its members, a possessive and suffocating mother that provides a sense of belonging and prestige but stifles initiative and independent judgement. The phenomenon of the “mother-party” leads to a government that exists solely to satisfy its own desires.
As with every suffocating mother, the one possibility left to the child is to eat. Kickbacks are gluttony without end. One can go on and on. By the same logic, the state becomes a toy to play with. In this insulated world, the feeling of infantile omnipotence is accompanied by the fear of loss of status and power; the two together produce a determination to hold on to office, whatever the cost in terms of principles, and a fierce resistance to change.
This analysis, however, applies only to democracies where the system is notoriously corrupt as in India and Italy. It cannot apply to Britain and northern Europe where cases of corruption in public life are an exception rather than the norm.
Clearly, larger cultural traits are in play in both cases. It is a disturbing thought. It is more comforting to explain corruption in terms of individual or systematic weaknesses.
Economic Times, 19 March 1993