Indian Politics & the Left / Right Dichotomy

-May 14, 2020

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battle sanskrit

We don’t realize this but most of the television that we see is based on Western pop-culture. A lot of the food we eat and the clothes we wear, is based on Western ideas. Technology and Science also come from West. So is the language this article is written in. Even life philosophies seem to be dominantly coming from Western influences today. We don’t realize this but the West is completely normalized in our minds.

This is not a critique of West’s dominant prevalence, but a call to analyze it. It is sitting accessible in our mind, let’s use it as an opportunity. We are not force fitting things into the right or wrong blocks, but just observing things for what they are. We will explore West first (पूर्व पक्ष), and then look into how that fits (or doesn’t fit) India.

Western Philosophy Pattern

Most of Western ideas stem from Western philosophy. It is based mostly on right or wrong, moral or immoral, yes or no, ethical or unethical, on or off, heaven or hell, good or bad etc. This can be generalized as either-ors, or bifurcations, or the best way to describe as dichotomies (partition of a whole into two subsets). This is a convenient approach for decision making and to solve problems, “Here’s two things, now choose one of them”. Today’s science and technology also follows this philosophical pattern. Computers are based on binary switches (on or off) and all concepts are extrapolated from that. Science in general works on the cold hard division of whether it works or it doesn’t. There is no acceptance of a spectrum of functioning. If the science falls below a certain success rate cutoff, it is “not science”. West also has its nuances though the binaries & positivism have taken over the dominant space.

It has been centuries and it seems West is still sticking to this convenient polar approach, instead of exploring if there is anything wrong with it. Convenient does not mean correct.

Western Political Understanding

The political landscape in West is divided into two as well: Left Wing and Right Wing. Let us focus on the US, given that it calls the shots today. They have the liberal Democrats (Left Wing) and the conservative Republicans (Right Wing). Well, they do have Independents too, but historically they have only been able to get an abysmal 5% win. And then there is this practice of bi-partisanship (in other words, centrism) which, of-late, has been thwarted thanks to the Western developed polarizing social media (especially Twitter). So, overall, it is safe to stress that America effectively has only two polar opposite political parties: Democrats and Republicans. West is as West can be: A dichotomous theme park.

Let’s quickly glance at what these parties stand for. It is visible that the Left basically projects itself as a modern counter response to the Right which bases itself on traditional cultural values. I stress, we are not judging, we are just understanding the bifurcation.

Republicans / Conservatives / Right-Wing
Democrats / Liberals / Left-Wing

Pro Western Culture
Multiculturalism

Soft White People Preference
Racial Inclusiveness

Exclusive Christian identity
Irreligious*

Family Values
Individualism

Soft Male Preference, Pro-Life
Gender Equality, Pro-choice*

Asserting Two Biological Sexes
Gender Fluidity*

Freedom of Speech
Soft Censorship, Political Correctness

Individual Justice, Due Process
Social Justice, Identity Politics

Low Taxes, Small Government
High Taxes, Big Government

Private Healthcare, Education, No Welfare
Free Healthcare, Education, Welfare

Free Market
Regulate Businesses

Tight Borders
Open Borders

Passionate Meat Eating
Animal Rights*

Climate is just fine, No Worries
Fix the Climate

National Sovereignty
Global Order

Western Political Dichotomy (* include contradictions of Islam)

How Americans Vote

American people however, are just regular people. Some are democrats, and some are republicans, and then a big chunk sees a middle ground, and then some who think independently. (This follows a natural four section division explored in Hindu philosophy – चतुष्कोटि). The voting patterns show that there are red states (which vote republican mostly) and blue states (which vote democrats mostly), then swing states (who sometimes choose red and sometimes blue). These swing voters are either seeing a middle ground, or are independents forced to choose between these two parties. Because of this contrasting organic voting pattern, most of the elections are won marginally. Point is, the American people are intellectual enough to understand the complexity and deserve more than a dumbed down decision of choosing between just the two. But then I am digressing. This is the West’s headache to solve (or not, it is up to them).

Application to Indian Politics

Which brings us to India. Going by the West’s prescribed convenient route, the majority’s culture gets the de-facto “Right wing” tag, and everyone else, “Left wing”. And this is where we can start our judgement given this is our culture. Let’s call these indigenous cultures (Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Adivasis, Parsis, Swadesi Muslims etc.) the “Indics”, and let’s map the Right Wing standings to the ethos of the Indics.

Right-Wing Standings
What Indics Think

Pro Indic Culture
Yes

Soft Preference to … Brahmins?
No

Exclusive Indic identity
No

Family Values
Yes

Soft Male Preference, Pro-Life
No

Asserting Two Biological Sexes
No

Freedom of Speech
Yes

Individual Justice, Due Process
Yes

Low Taxes, Small Government
Depends

Private Healthcare, Education, No Welfare
Depends

Free Market
Depends

Tight Borders
Yes

Passionate Meat Eating
No

Climate is just fine, No Worries
No

National Sovereignty
Yes

Mapping Western Right Wing to Indic Values

This makes no sense whatsoever. Indics were supposed to be Right Wing but it is capturing most of the liberal Left Wing ideas. Some Right Wing standings got included too. Thankfully, the garbage is rejected (male preference, exclusivity of a religion, identity politics, political correctness, possible homophobia, climate change deniers etc.). And then there are things which don’t seem partisan but plain debatable. Let’s dissect this further.

Left-Wing Standings
What Indics Think

Multiculturalism
Yes

Racial Inclusiveness
Yes

Irreligious
Yes

Individualism
Yes

Gender Equality, Pro-choice
Yes

Gender Fluidity
Yes

Soft Censorship, Political Correctness
No

Social Justice, Identity Politics
No

High Taxes, Big Government
Depends

Free Healthcare, Education, Welfare
Depends

Regulate Businesses
Depends

Open Borders
No

Animal Rights
Yes

Fix the Climate
Yes

Global Order
Yes

Mapping Western Left Wing to Indic Values

What the Indian Ethos Stand For

While Indics want National Sovereignty and Tight Borders (due to the problems is has faced of late), it supports the idea of a Global Order (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्). Its fundamentals have gender equality, and cultural inclusiveness (ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः). It wants Indic religions, alongside other religions, but respects atheism as well. It wants family values while respecting individualism as well. Gender fluidity is fine. Nature is a goddess so protecting it is not just a future investment but a moral obligation.

समोऽहं सर्वभूतेषु न मे द्वेष्योऽस्ति न प्रिय:

I am equally disposed to all living beings; I am neither inimical nor partial to anyone (Bhagavad Gita – 9/29)

And then there are temporally shifting points in which the Indics say that they will trust the Parliament. For example, the current government has introduced new socialist policies for the poor which have proved to be very good. So even if we become an Indic socialist country (like Canada), that’s fine. Another example, the current government is trying to privatize some sectors because of high corruption and operational inefficiency. So even if we become an Indic Capitalist country (like UAE), that’s fine too! Point is, these remain debatable and pro-rata.

We seem to be going all over the place if we are seeing this from the simplistic Western dichotomous lens. In the East, complexity is understood since childhood, and whether we are taught the technicalities of चतुष्कोटि or not, the essence is built right into our minds. The Indic cultures are able to absorb all the seemingly reasonable asks of both sides and balance them, while keeping the temporally conditional things as debatable.

The “Left” Wing?

What about the “Left wing” from the Western lens? Sure, what is the Left side left with? Other than some make believe “Right-Wing Fascism” fear-mongering, what exactly will it stand for? It comprises of strict Abrahamics, Wokes, and some Communists.

Let’s explore. Strict Abrahamics are exclusively conservative so Left Wing ideas are essentially blasphemous for them. Communists can sure stand in with the Left Wing, but then the Indics don’t mind some socialist policies themselves, so the Commies’ existence become diluted. What about the Wokes? It’s not clear what they stand for. Is it Westernizing India? Why though? Because it’s “cool”? “Netflix and Chill”? “Limp and Loose”? Not reasonable arguments. The Indics have all the necessary progressive points of modernity in place. Thanks, but no thanks.

What about Majoritarianism

West

While that was policies, one can try to argue “Majoritarianism is bad” from a democratic stand point, hence majority should fall unconditionally into Right Wing. Alright, let’s look at why the West thinks this way. All Western countries are either born out of digesting some cultures e.g. Pagans of Europe, or by expanding while killing them off e.g. Natives of America and Aboriginals of Australia, or run operations by enslaving or colonizing them e.g. AfricansAsians and Indians. If that wasn’t enough they waged wars in Middle East on the basis of some speculations and floored a bunch of nations. While that’s outside home, the condition of minority African Americans in their own backyard is questionable at best and remains debatable in their politics.

Remember we are not judging, just analyzing the thought process. They maintain the optics of “Human Rights” to compensate for their moral failures around the world. They have a general sense of guilt association with their majority holdings. (Their imaginations of the future is always dystopian and self loathing, such as Avatar, Westworld, Hunger Games, Omniscient, Altered Carbon, Serenity, Star Wars, Walking Dead, etc. and the success of these movies give a hint of their internalized guilt). In their world, “Majoritarianism is bad” makes sense.

India

In our world, in India however, it has been the other way around. The “majoritarian” Indics have actually been the victims of the aforementioned digestion/killing by the two dominant Abrahamic cultures. And surprisingly we are still happily living together. We just want to be vigilant (due to aggressive proselytism) but overall we see those past unfortunate events as circumstantial and want to move on.

Adding further to this contrary, we are still suffering from colonial dividing policies. The farce aryaninvasiontheory to divide the North and South, and the European castasystem to reinterpret वर्ण जाति (Varṇa Jāti) as rigid, were imposed by colonials. We are till date picking up the pieces with Dalits, and are in the process of clearing these mistakes forced on our culture. Point is, the Indics have no guilt of invasions on other cultures and lands, or oppressing anyone in their own capacity. Thus the “Majoritarianism is bad” burden is for West to bear for their own past. Sorry but not sorry, we do not share your White Guilt. Our collective conscience is clean.

Food for thought: Are the Abrahamic “minorities” of India really minorities? For all practical purposes, given the global unity of these Abrahamic religions, and their control of world politics, trade and universalism, the Indics actually are the minorities in our globalized world. If West is looking to compensate for their moral failures of the past, then in case of India they can fight for the Indics‘ right to their land. Or at best, notinterfere.

The Argument

Specialized bifurcations, in the context of culture, India can be inclusives vs exclusives. Or in terms of modernity, it can be Indics vs Westernizers. Even then, neither are we interested in the pro-inclusive talks of the exclusives (because that doesn’t sound trustworthy and regardless we are inclusive in the first place), nor are we interested in getting Westernized (modernity can very well be achieved without changing one’s culture. Japan and Indonesia are good examples of that). This was just some added demonstration that bifurcations in general don’t really work for the complex India.

For example, it is quite legitimately possible to imagine a Jain politics as one would imagine Buddhist politics as a Naiyāyika or Mīmāṃsaka politics as also of a Vedantin politics. And of course not to leave out Cārvāka philosophy. And so on. Our current (Western based) descriptions of reality around us and the categories by which we understand and describe it are inadequate to capture the reality appropriately. This calls for efforts to better our own abilities as well as the capability of our language(s). This is the continuous effort that such great thinkers as Gaṅgeśa Upādhyāya or Raghunātha Śiromaṇi were doing. This effort stopped owing to the atrocities during the British rule and continued post-independence owing to the rejection of a vast territory of our past. As I mentioned, we are picking up those pieces till date.

Conclusion

India cannot be seen from the Western Left and Right political lens as it does not capture the reality of our polity. Force fitting the diverse Indic परम्परा to the mundane left right Western categories is disingenuous. The Pro-Indics should not be called Right Wing. Anyone doing so is being sloppy with their intellect. The political dichotomy of Left vs Right is lazy and underdeveloped even for the West, and we suggest them to revisit it.

Reprinted with permission of the author (May 2020)

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