New models of power will come from the East: Political theorist Indra Adnan

The pandemic has caused a shift in power at the international level, says London-based political entrepreneur, futurist and psychosocial therapist Indra Adnan. Co-initiator of The Alternative UK, a political platform that raises compelling local and global issues outside of traditional politics and state players, Adnan believes that more theorists in the West are now drawing ideas from Asia.

“We in the West are becoming self-conscious of our own failures – failure at the environmental level, failure on the health level, and failure in organising ourselves to get results,” says Adnan, who has spent over 20 years building on the themes of future politics and conflict transformation through her writing and community work.

Her new book, The Politics of Waking Up: Power and Possibility in the Fractal Age (Perspectiva Press), which releases next week, presents a new kind of political paradigm for the 21st century, drawing insight from social structures and ideologies worldwide.

Adnan is not just referring to Southeast Asia’s discipline in containing the spread of Covid and restricting fatalities through lockdown enforcement and a sense of shared responsibility. She also means South Asia’s ancient spiritual knowledge and connection of the self with environment.

For instance, she says, “Those in the West are looking at the Indian capacity to be philosophical about realities, and progressing through the revolution of the ‘internal’. We go to India to find ourselves.”

Adnan, a British citizen who is half-Indonesian, half-Dutch and a practising Buddhist, observes that though modern India has made “uneven progress limited to the elite”, she still believes the West has a lot to learn in terms of local organisation and spirit of volunteerism from India.

“There are a lot of great initiatives happening at the grassroot levels,” she says, citing the example of Neighborocracy, a network of thousands of ‘neighbourhood parliaments’ in India where youth members come together to tackle hyperlocal problems, most of which are aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals such as eradication of poverty.

Indra Adnan

Adnan also believes India has a very positive historical narrative in its favour. “The way Indians organised themselves to defeat colonialism is already a model for other countries in similar situations,” says the political theorist who co-founded Citizen Action Networks, which run and highlight community ‘collaboratories’ around the world that reconnect people to cosmo-local ecosystems of available solutions.

In Western countries, says Adnan, the dominant story of individualism completely obscures the many acts of common good that people do every day, thus making it hard for people to trust each other. This is often cited as the reason for the larger spread of the coronavirus and higher fatality rates.

“Socially oriented societies fared better in that regard,” she says. “I am investing in Southeast Asian models and the potential of volunteer initiatives coming out of India and to an extent Africa. The time is ripe for a shift in understanding how human beings can change the system, and this shift will come from the East,” Adnan adds.

The deterioration of democracy

Most of Adnan’s work has been tied to the reinvention of politics as we know it. “I am completely disillusioned with the current political system,” says Adnan, who ran Conflict and Peace Forums from 1990 to 2000, offering training in conflict transformation and peace journalism.

Born in Holland and raised in the UK, Adnan did her bachelor’s in literature and master’s in politics and administration from the University of London. She founded the Soft Power Network in 2004, to develop new systems of international coexistence informed by developments in technology and social justice movements.

She was on the management committee of progressive think-tank Compass from 2013 to 2016, and even dabbled in politics for some years before she realised how disconnected it was from the common people.

“Only 2% of people in the UK join a political party. And yet these political parties control the national narrative and take crucial decisions for the remaining 98%, doing more to divide us than bring us together,” she says, describing a scenario that is true of many countries today, not just the UK.

“Many people don’t even know how to define the Left and the Right; there is no real choice, and there is no sense of power and agency for anyone outside of the political framework,” says Adnan, who wrote a paper called ‘Is the Party Over’ in which she discusses why the party system is dysfunctional and needs a rehaul.

Inspired by Uffe Elbaek, a nonconformist politician from Denmark who had launched a party called Alternativet, which achieved unexpected success in the Scandinavian country, Adnan along with writer-activist Pat Kane launched The Alternative UK to address the question: if politics is broken, what is the alternative?

“The concept of democracy is still underdeveloped,” says Adnan. “At present, it stands for ‘one person one vote’ and that vote is for sale, and so politicians will say and do anything to get it. They don’t see us as human beings or fellow citizens, they only see us as votes.”

However, she says, with the dawn of the internet, non-state actors have now realised they can “make things happen” and that they have agency. “More people are moving into relationships based on their geographical reality, such as being from the same city. And, so, a new kind of logic arises, as does an awareness that they can collaborate closer to the ground. This is a very important shift, and this is where the power lives.”

Currently co-lead in social enterprise network Bounce Beyond, Adnan is attracted to the concept of cosmo-localism. “It represents something being built on the ground while drawing from the commons of great ideas, practices and blueprints for building things,” she says, referring to both the tangible and the abstract realms. “We’re moving into an era of people power where people can use their potential and make things happen, but we’re still in the early days.”

Correcting the narrative

The media narrative that ordinary people are exposed to is skewed, says Adnan.

“If you watched certain news channels, you’d believe we are at the verge of war at any time. But this is the story being sold to us based on the media platform’s agenda; it is a construct, not a fact. The fact is that there are many people on the ground working for peace. But if you are not made aware of that, if you are not made aware of the military-industrial complex and its influence on public policy, then you don’t question it when the government makes a case for armed conflict,” explains Adnan, who has worked as a consultant to the World Economic Forum; Indian, Finnish and Danish governments; NATO; the Scottish Executive; and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, amongst others.

That’s why she advocates peace journalism that highlights the work of peacebuilders, volunteers and do-gooders on the ground, and is part of various networks calling for a new socio-economic-political paradigm.

One of them is FemmeQ, a community of thought leaders, changemakers and activists committed to developing systems based on feminine intelligence, using values such as regeneration and collaboration for global good. Adnan will speak on ‘The Politics of Waking Up’ at the annual FemmeQ summit in Costa Rica next month.

The talk is based on her upcoming book that offers a new political system to decentralise power away from politicians and empower common people. “Instead of allowing the 2% who control politics to dominate the discourse, it’s more effective if you build a parallel system – a people-power system – that represents those at the grassroots, and builds relationships based on what unites people,” she says.

“I’m not talking about creating a pressure group, but a new economy, where people come together to grow,” she clarifies. “You have to show politicians your strength as a popular voice. Then the politicians will come to you, automatically.”

Adnan firmly believes that a new kind of politics and a new and more efficient system of democracy is possible. “It is happening already,” she says. “And we need to accelerate it.”

First published in Money Control

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