The Right and Left Divide In India: Does It Exist

The terms right and left have not always existed, indeed, they are by historical standards recent terminologies. They developed during the French Revolution, where those in favour of changing the system of government sat on the left, and those who favoured order and keeping things the same, sat on the right of the monarchy. Since then, both terms have been used to describe anyone who might hold a view that fits in roughly with either side of that original divide, regardless of their more ingrained and personalised views. As a phenomenon that started in the Western World, it makes sense that with the advent of colonialism, these two terms were brought onto the new lands that countries such as Britain, France, Portugal and Spain would colonise and make their own. In many countries, the terms have largely been adapted and accepted as fact, however, there remains one country where perhaps it is not completely clear whether the terms are truly applicable. With India being the country with the second largest population in the world and the largest democracy in the world, it would make sense that there would be a slight lack of clarity over whether the right and left wing labels truly fit. It can be argued that the presence of the more socialist Congress party and the more nationalist BJP, would suggest that yes, the labels can be applied here. However, further investigation reveals that everything is not as clear cut as one might hope it to be.

Following India’s independence in 1947, there was a common consensus amongst many of the new elites, to follow the method of governance championed by Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru who from 1947-1964, served as India’s first Prime Minister, advocated a heavy role for the state, he favoured rapid industrialisation and he wished for all sides to work together. The Nehruvian model as it came to be known, brought initial good fortune to India, seeing heavy industry outgrow any other industry in Independent India, which did put the country on a solid footing. It also achieved that rare thing of cross party consensus, with many politicians seeing it as a good thing. However, toward the end of Nehru’s life, the model which he had so passionately championed had begun to become more of a burden than a boon. India became heavily reliant on foreign aid to fulfil its actual input needs, and for a country which had so recently found independence from foreign powers, this chafed. It can be noted that this was the first time that divisions on traditional right and left lines began to emerge. Nehru and his supporters wished to remain true to his model, whilst others such as noted Indian economist B.R. Shenoy argued that either India must open its markets to foreign investment, or it must invest in other sectors to bring a proper economy to bear. Nehru died in 1964, and his successors largely pursued the same policies as him, until the 1980s where his grandson Rajiv Gandhi finally decided to open the Indian economy to foreign investment and business. A move which has seen India become one of the fastest growing countries in the world.

Gandhi’s move to open the Indian economy brought with it some consequences that were perhaps unintentional. Congress has always been a party that sought to use vote banks, and bring in as many voters from minority backgrounds as possible, especially from the Muslim population. Consequently, there have been times when Congress has sought to put in place policies that would benefit these groups, such as bringing in LGBT rights and allowing the Triple Talaq- a way for Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying the phrase Talaq (meaning divorce) three times- policies which have at times been unpopular with other members of the Indian nation, and have seen more conservative elements turn to more radical fringe groups.

For many outside observers, with its Hindu Nationalist outlook the BJP is the very definition of right wing, the BJP has not always been the most forward thinking of parties. It is made up of conservatives who wish for minimal government interference and the hand of the free market, and radical Hindu nationalists who fear the growing Muslim presence within India and the growing erosion of Hindu culture. Indeed, the current leader of the BJP and the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, as Chief Minister of Gujarat was at the helm during the vicious riots in Gujarat in 2002 which saw thousands killed, most of them Muslims. His lack of a response to the riots, had led many to accuse him of Islamophobia and actually advocating for the murders that occurred. A stain that has yet to remove itself from his person, and has, in the eyes of many put him firmly in the side of the radical fringes of the grassroots BJP movement, the RSS.

There are clear dividing lines here, however, as mentioned before, when one looks deeper into the matter of right and left, there are some things that become more readily apparent. For example, though the RSS might espouse a clear vision of a Hindu dominated society,  they are also one of the few groups within Indian society to espouse a clear abolition of the caste based system, which has harmed India for so long.  They also have worked to remove much of the stigmatisation from groups such as the Untouchables and the Naxals and tribals, all groups which one would think would be under the purview of the more ‘left wing’ Congress, but have suffered under the burdens of discrimination that Congress failed to remove. The election of Ram Nath Kovind a man from the Dalit caste, as President of India, under the nationalist government of Narendra Modi, would suggest that the BJP are actually more forward thinking than Congress, who never considered such a man during all their years in power. Furthermore, Congress which has traditionally been socialist, and as the party of the five year plans in India, contains many members who favour more free market operations than their forbearers would’ve thought bearable. There are members of the BJP who are also in favour of the Free Market, but many of their members are wary of the unrestrained hand of the market, and just how damaging such a hand was to India under Congress. Especially in lieu of the corruption scandals and graft cases that hit during the last few years of Manmohan Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister.

To conclude, after much research and thought it would appear that the right-left divide in India does exist, in that there are clear dividing lines over things such as LGBT rights, and other social issues, but that in other matters there seems to be some overlap. Such an overlap is to be expected due to the size of India, and the broad voting base that is available for either of the two large parties in Congress and the BJP to tap into. Consequently, there will always be push and pull and switching and taking of policies between these two parties as long as it is politically beneficial to them.


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