If you have been on social media, especially Twitter, you would have heard things like right-wing trolls or left-wing anti-nationals or right wing Sanghis or left wing Urban-naxals, or that right-wing ecosystem is threatening minorities or that left-wing ecosystem is trying to break India, etc. Have you ever wonder what this right-wing and left-wing business really is? Do you know the background of these terms that are so readily thrown around? Do you know who represents the left-wing in India or which party is leader of the right-wing? If questions like these interest you, read on till the end and you will have all your questions answered.
The terms right and left in a political context were used for the first time in the 1700s during the French Revolution to describe the seating arrangement in their general assembly. Those members who supported the traditional institution like the Church and the King were seated to the right side of the Chair and those sitting on the left were the revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow these traditional institutions. Over time, these terms have evolved into descriptions of the different shades of political thought. Generally those supposed to be on the right, do not refer to themselves as right wing and vice versa. The terms generally preferred for self description by those on the right and left, respectively, are Conservatives and Liberals. World over, Conservatives or the right-wing promotes the traditional social institutions in the cultural and civilizational context like religion, family and property rights. Liberals or the left-wing on the other hand promote group rights and collectivism. They advocate for things like social justice, civil rights and shared resources. While Conservatives tend to be pro-market, defend low taxes and advocate a small government, Liberals support a large government that tries to steer the society in a particular direction, a direction that they think is correct. To support this large, omnipresent government, liberals advocate for higher taxes on hard working citizens while at the same time demanding that the government support unproductive citizens and activities. A liberal government not only controls the personal life of the citizens, but also the markets by fixing what to produce and how much to produce, where to sell it and for what price.
In the West, there is a clear cut difference between the political party that represents the conservative ideology and that representing the liberal ideology. In UK, for example, there is the Conservative party and the Labour party and in the US, the Republican party and the Democratic party. This doesn’t mean that the ideological affiliations of the political parties are fixed in stone and wouldn’t change. For example in the US, do you know that Abraham Lincoln who abolished slavery was from the Republican party and the Democrats at that time supported the slave owners? Now it’s the opposite. I discussed this ideological inversion in a different blog post which you can find here.
Now, let’s consider if we have a conservative and liberal ideological separation in India and if there are political parties that fairly represent this ideological distinction. To start with, our Constitution, in the Preamble itself says we are a Socialist Republic. That is, no matter what the ideology of a party, if they are elected to government, they are constitutionally obligated to pursue socialist policies. So, as a rule the government in India is leftist. This term, socialist, was inserted into the constitution during emergency. Before that we were just a Democratic Republic. But after emergency we became a Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic. No party that came to power after that, even those who fought against emergency to capture power, did not think it necessary to remove this ideological imposition on an entire nation. What does that tell us? That, there is no political party in India, yet, that really believes that socialism, in reality leftism, is bad.
But if we go by the general discourse on social media, or even the mainstream media, it comes across as if the left of center thought is represented by Congress party and its friends like the CPI, CPM, DMK etc and the right of center is represented by BJP, RSS and friends. But the reality is that these two groups aren’t that different from each other. For example, BJP and DMK have formed government together. And the Congress is right now sharing power with Shiva Sena in Maharashtra. And even a cursory look at the policy positions that these two groups have taken historically, makes it clear that the distinction along the conservative-liberal axis is not really correct.
Both the groups believe in social justice and believe that the traditional Hindu belief systems and traditions are regressive in need of reform. Both have no respect for private property and have indulged in taking over peoples farms, houses and temples in the name of common public good. Both the sides indulge in throttling, or as they prefer regulating, the private enterprise, collect higher taxes from more productive, risk taking members of the society. Both sides offer incentives like free electricity, loan waivers, freedom from income tax and minimum support prices to farmers. Both take pride in maintaining an over sized, red tape loving bureaucracy and believe in government doing businesses.
So, as far as governance and public policy matters concern, there is not much of a difference between the BJP side and the Congress side. The major, really visible difference between the two sides is in their internal organizational structures. As everyone knows, Congress party is a private property of the Gandhi-Nehru family and only a member of that family can become the party president. BJP on the other hand gets it’s leadership from the ranks of the RSS; they probably have a little bit more breathing space for organizational democracy there. Also the BJP side is probably a little less corrupt than the Congress; mind you, I am not saying not-corrupt, only less corrupt. Of course these are just superficial differences that can change any time. Propensity for corruption can change with a change of personnel. For examples, in many states, BJP ministers and even Chief Ministers have faced corruption allegations. Similarly, the family ownership of congress is getting challenged from within, at last.
Does this mean there is no real ideological divide between the two major political camps in India or that they both stand for exactly the same things but for some minor, superficial differences? Not really, there is actually a very solid line that separates the two sides. Except that it is not along the conventional right/left or conservative/liberal axis,
From the time we became independent in 1947, the politics in India has been divided along how the parties look at the majority Hindu population of our country. The country’s leadership at the time of independence was unfortunately entrusted with people who looked upon Hindus with suspicion and, frankly, with contempt. They thought of Hindus as regressive, superstitious people and took it up on themselves to complete the colonial project of civilizing the heathens. So they made laws that undermined the Hindu traditions and set out on a campaign of indoctrination to undermine the Hindu world view through gas lighting, doctoring of history and corrupting the education system. In fact this went to such an extent that our constitution itself contains provisions that explicitly deny certain rights to Hindus that are available to “minority” groups. This anti-Hindu faction included the Congress, the Communists and their fellow travelers like the Dravidianists. This Hinduphobic model of governance was further intensified during the time of Indira Gandhi and her family successors, reaching a peak during the 10 years of Sonia Gandhi’s remote control rule.
The opposition to this governance model was led initially by Hindu Maha Sabha, then the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and later on by the Bharatiya Janata Party. This non-hinduphobic faction of Indian politics while agreeing with the socialist and welfarist policies of the Congress and the Communists, differed with them only on the Hindu question. They came up with slogans like justice for all, discrimination of none and one nation, one law and sabka saath, sabka vikaas. As should be clear from these slogans, they didn’t advocate for any special treatment of Hindus but only for the end of special treatment provided to non-Hindus. In fact they claim to represent the true secular faction of Indian politics and accuse the opposite side of practicing what they call the pseudo-secularism.
So the division in the Indian politics is not so much along the conservative and liberal ideologies or between the Centre-right and centre-left factions but between those who discriminate against Hindus and those who don’t.
Now if you payed attention, you would have noticed that I said the division is between those who discriminate Hindus and those who don’t; and not those who discriminate Hindus and those who favour. Generally, if one side is anti-something, those who oppose them tend to be pro that thing, isn’t it? But the peculiarity of Indian politics is that the non-anti-Hindu side is not really a pro-Hindu group. They are only better in that they don’t actively go around thinking up ways to harm Hindus. This is evident from that while they do not make any new laws or provisions that are intended to deny rights available to other religious groups to Hindus, they don’t take any steps to undo such measures put in place by the previous dispensation, either.
Take the case of Article 30 of our constitution, for example. The name of the article itself is “the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions”; no such right is extended to Hindus. And many years after the supposed right wing government in power, we still don’t have those rights.
Or take the case of the RTE act. One of the provisions of this law gives the government power to take away 25% of the seats in every class in every private school, even if they don’t get a single paisa aid from the government. But this law doesn’t apply to those private schools administered by the minority groups. Not only has the BJP government after many years in power not corrected this discriminatory provision of the law, but even helped Sonia Gandhi pass this law in the first place.
Or take the case of minority specific scholarships provided by the Central government. You cannot have an affirmative action such as reservation or scholarship based on a trait that can be changed by a person at will. For example, a person will not ever be able to change his or her caste but if they want, their religion can be changed the minute they decide. So giving special treatment such as reservations or scholarships based on religion is indirectly incentivizing religious conversions. When Sonia Gandhi’s government introduced minority specific scholarships, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi, rightly opposed it and even went to the Supreme Court to challenge that scheme. But when BJP formed the government in the Centre, Prime Minister Modi not only continued those scholarships, but also introduced new religion based scholarships of his own. One such scheme is Nai Udaan which provides financial support for specialized coaching to minority candidates appearing for UPSC and other civil services exams. No such support is provided to the economically weak Hindu candidates. Just think about the absurdity of this scheme. The government is conducting an exam to fill jobs in the government; and it provides financial help to prepare for these exams only to one set of candidates. Fair play and equal opportunity be damned. Now there are allegations that the government is even giving extra marks to these special candidates in UPSC exams to increase their numbers in the civil services.
Then there is the whole story about government control of temple administration. If you dodn’t know, in most states in India, it is the state government that decides how things should be run in a temple; the Hindu devotees who pray there have almost no say. These temple control laws were initially brought in by the British and then continued by the governments that came in after independence. But it is the hypocrisy of the so called Hindutva party that hits you in the face in all this. Where they are out of power, like in Tamizh Nadu or Kerala or Andhra, they are critical of government interference in the temple affairs. But as soon as they come to power, say in Karnataka or Maharashtra, not only do they continue these temple management laws, but even enact new ones if they don’t exist, like they did recently in Uttarakhand.
So, to summarize, the conventional descriptions of right-wing and left-wing politics don’t really apply in India. The right-wing as is generally understood in the rest of the world does not exist here. What we have is only different shades of the Left. Among them, the main differentiating factor is how they view Hindus. There is one set, represented by Congress, Communists, Periyarists, etc who actively discriminate against Hindus and indulge in hinduphobic propaganda and law making. Their opposite camp consists of the likes of BJP, RSS, and friends who while not actively harming the Hindu interests, do nothing to undo the actions of the other group either. They can at best be described as being apathetic towards the Hindu cause. So, the apt description of the two political wings in India is hinduphobic left-wing and non-hinduphobic left-wing. If we want, for the sake of ease of use, we can redefine left- and right-wing in the Indian context to represent these two groups, respectively.
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