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Right, Left and Centre: and the Pun

Acceptance of rules, public faith in system, free speech and association, equal access to voting, accuracy in counting votes and enforceable election laws are all important.

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India sees a major election almost every year. A debate on One Nation – One Election has great significance for it optimizes resources, effort, time and often helps in narrowing the options of having to choose between ideologies. Questions are often asked on the legitimacy of these elections by those in opposition. Is every election a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods as H. L. Mencken, an American Journalist and Satirist asks? Not sure. Acceptance of rules, public faith in system, free speech and association, equal access to voting, accuracy in counting votes and enforceable election laws are all important. Be that as it may, from a people perspective, whom should they vote? The ‘Right’, the ‘Left’ or the ‘Centre’? 

Toss a coin. How many times will it stand straight on its rim and not fall on its sides? Probably one in a million. If it were to stand on its rim, a right and a left side would be visible depending on which side one would like to see. A ‘line’ too would be visible if one were to look straight. That is the choice that we have to make in life as well. Either choose the right or the left. Choosing to see the line alone would mean living a life of one in a million. Most of us choose either right or left most times, but almost always see only a part of either right or left since we never were trained to see straight. That we must see both right and left for a meaningful discourse in life is lost in the pursuit of chasing only right or only left. What then is right or left? Are they not two sides of the same coin? Are they not equally good or equally bad? If right side be right, is the left always wrong? Or the vice versa? Can the right be never wrong or wrong never be right? Will the middle be evil then? These are some classic questions that have no answers for everything in life is relative. Grey shades are the ones that everyone follows, though ‘how grey’ is what they fight for. 

It is unfortunate that our election jamborees have come to mimic these abstracts. What is seen in Bengal or might be seen in Kerala in a few months’ time will all be pointers to fault lines and bitter differences. No one is concerned that neither ‘Right’ nor ‘Left’ ideologies spring from first principles. One wonders if it is logical theories or psycho logic feelings, that bind the followers to their faiths.  

Several shades of right exist as shades of left exist in our midst. The Cambridge History of 20th Political Thought, identifies a reactionary right as returning to aristocracy and established religion, a moderate right as distrusting intellectuals seeking limited government, the radical right favouring a romantic and aggressive form of nationalism, the extreme right proposing anti-immigration policies and implicit racism, and a neo-liberal right seeking to combine a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional right believing in patriotism, elitism and law and order. What is practiced however, is a convenient mix.

A ‘Left’ idea supports social equality and egalitarianism. The Leftists believe that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished in the society. It actually is a take-off from the French Revolution where the political groups opposed to the royal veto privilege generally sat to the left of the presiding member's chair in parliament, while the ones in favour sat on the right. In a way, ‘Right’ supported the monarchy and the ‘Left’ opposed it. One wonders if these are also pointers to unifying themes across time and space.   

Should people support right leaning or left leaning ideologies? Do leftists care more about equality, and the rightists more about efficiency? Do leftists care more about the poor and the rightists more about the rich? Are leftists more secular whereas the rightists more religious? Should a common man at all be in this debate? If both profess to improve the lot of people, why should it matter? Though they are shown at the opposite ends of the continuum, do they not resemble each other at least in some characteristics? Authoritarianism for one, contrary to what people and researchers believe is a privilege of the Right, is as much a characteristic of the Left, though their ideology may denounce it. Does it not spring from a need to control the rank and file and not so much as their beliefs? That Bengal will see some serious Right and Left politics played out in the next few months might be a researcher’s delight but could be a nightmare for those on the ground. 

Edward Schills, a distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, argues that both of them indulge in zealotry, are susceptible to Manichean interpretations of human events, implacable hatred of opponents, intolerance towards dissenters and deviants, and have an inclination to see public affairs as outcomes of secret plots and conspiracies. He further articulates that both may differ in their choice of allies and enemies and in their perceptions of certain institutions as hostile or friendly but both share a common style of political thought and employ similar techniques of political engagement. 

For every thesis there is an anti-thesis. Is this not the same argument that we often hear? If Right were the thesis, can the Left be the anti-thesis or the other way round? The recent budget by all means was good presented as it was in the aftermath of Covid. But can the Leftists bear to say ‘Markets have done a great job, could we have asked for more?’ In a similar vein, no matter how much the Rightists agree with Leftists on any issue, they would probably never say, “The left is totally right, how could we criticize them.? The difference actually is the intensity of their antipathy, not the object of their antipathy.

Where does that leave the centrists who support a balance of social equality and social hierarchy, while opposing political changes which shift society strongly to either the left or the right? Is it the ‘line’ that some parties want to see? Can we not, instead of tossing a coin, spin a ‘TOP’, so we agree at least once every day? How long can the grand old party expect to see the ‘line’ on a coin that stands on its rim? These are days when social media has made people choose either only black or only white, for all those grey shades have merged with the two ends of the colour spectrum. Can it still hope to do the tight rope walk? Or would it fade into oblivion for not taking a stand: Left, or Right? In a constantly shrinking political space, some introspection is called for, for all, and that includes the Right, the Left and the Centre for not everything ‘Right’ is right, everything ‘Left’ is wrong and everything ‘Centre’ is evil.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr. S.S. Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present, he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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