Three Years Of Modi Govt: Mainstreaming The Right
... we need to make a distinction between the economic Right and the cultural/ religious Right
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In the Indian context, describing any party or group as Right-wing needs a big massaging of definitions. In terms of economic policies, most Indian parties believe in large governments and populist policies, and it is only in the degree of such beliefs that we can see some differentiation.
In the case of the BJP, which has been in power under Narendra Modi for the last three years, it has been convenient to stick the Right-wing label on it. The Left thinks the label “Right” is a term of abuse. But look closer, and you will see something else: the Modi policies, if one ignores his higher ability to execute due to a parliamentary majority, can barely be differentiated from that of UPA-2, minus the corruption scandals. Economically, Modi has shifted his party to the Left of its earlier stance and in this he has the support of the Sangh Parivar, which is less comfortable with market economics and prefers a paternalistic state. The Opposition, which revelled in accusing Modi of being beholden to Ambani and Adani, with Rahul Gandhi labelling his government a “suit-boot-ki-sarkar”, finds no traction in this line of political attack. In fact, in his current avatar as PM, Modi has shed his pro-business Gujarat image and repositioned himself as messiah of the dispossessed, whether it is the urban poor or the rural. He is a reluctant privatiser, and is not a believer in small government. He believes in the idea of the benevolent state that is at best not anti-business.
So when we talk about the ‘Right’, we need to make a distinction between the economic Right and the cultural/religious Right. The economic Right currently exists only in the pink business press; but the cultural Right is mainstreaming itself under Modi.
We can say an idea is mainstreamed when a lot more people are talking about it, both in favour or against. In India, post-Modi, there is much informed comment and analysis even on seemingly sectarian issues like cow protection or beef consumption. If today there are many more takers for the idea that there could be a Hindu view of history as opposed to a purely Marxist view, it is about mainstreaming another idea: that history does not belong to only one stream of thought.
However, in the case of Modi, it is not as if he himself mainstreamed the idea of the cultural/religious Right. The cultural Right is being mainstreamed today because both economic liberalisation and Mandal politics were mainstreamed earlier. This created the economic base for creating a wider Indic cultural/religious constituency that would not have been possible without economic growth allowing larger sections of society to participate in its benefits.
The poor do not belong to either the economic or cultural Left or Right. They begin to think about this when they become non-poor, with basic economic needs being met. This allows them to think of their larger identities and higher order psychic needs. Modi actually has done little to pander to this higher need, but his shift to the Left indirectly enables the cultural Right to rise, since it insulates the BJP from attacks from the Left. The mainstreaming of the cultural/religious Right in India is part of a long-term historical process and a corrective to the excessive minoritisation of politics by the Congress, the Left and regional parties. You don’t need to look further than the phenomenal success of Baahubali-2 at the box office to understand that Indic thinking is being mainstreamed.
Where Modi helps is by enabling this self-assertion by just being there. He is a guarantee that the state won’t turn minoritarian or anti-Hindu again. There are, however, limits to this self-assertion. If it becomes overtly anti-minority and panders to casteism, it will self-destruct. The mainstreaming cannot go beyond mild forms of self-assertion of one’s Hindu identity.
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