Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why Being Centrist Won't Work in India

On Being A Proud Right-winger

One can describe the current Indian ideological model using a simple model of, what else, cattle farm. The herders set the ideological narrative and the cattle follow that ideological narrative. Many follow the standard ideological narrative because they are ignorant of ideology – even if they are going to own their slaughter. A few thinking cattle, let us call them bulls, understand the current destructive ideology but are too muddled to stand up to say, “Stop! Let me out of the farm. Let me be free.”

There is a reason to be centrist – meaning ideologically independent – in India. But those centrists, by their neutral stand, also become part the cattle in the farm herded by one ideology or another. Some of these centrists bulls. The bulls among the cattle, who tend to be few and far between, are those who can think for themselves, but do not take ideological sides, mainly because they are too muddled, meaning unable to clarify and distill their thinking, to take sides. Most of these bulls are economic or religious right-wingers but are muddled in their thoughts about Hinduism (in case of economic free-marketers) or about free-markets (in case of Hindu revivalists). Vast majority of the bulls are in the latter camp.

The primary herders of the cattle, including ideological centrists, the bulls, are those who provide left wing ideological narrative. They includes communists, Marxists, so-called rationalists, NGOs, Naxalites, and any numbers of so-called civil society groups that usually act as apologists to the groups mentioned earlier. They are supported and abetted by news and TV media, historians, columnists, and intellectuals of various kinds.

If our challenge is to take on the left wing of India, we can't be centrist cattle because even the bulls are being herded by the current left wing ideological narrative. Our only option is offer an alternative narrative. We have to become the polar opposite right wing herders of the cattle to order rescue the nation from the tyranny of corrupt left wing ideology that has taken over the nation during the 20th century.

It cannot be emphasized enough – we can't offer an alternative narrative to tyranny of left wing ideology that has a firm grip on the nation by being centrists.

The right wing ideology, and it is an ideology, has to offer an alternative to the current intellectual narrative on politics, on economy, on foreign policy, on history, and, equally importantly, on Hindu culture and religion. This ideology has to provide an alternative based on clean life in politics, on economic freedom being pre-requisite for prosperity for all people, on a strong non-defensive (and non-diminutive) foreign and national security policy, on promoting Hinduism revivalism taking a stand against aggressive Christian missionaries and Islamic forces. One can't provide this alternative by being a centrist or by providing half-hearted efforts against firmly established left wing ideological narrative that has dominated public narrative since independence from imperialism from the west. Any centrist ideological narrative will spend mostly defending that it's not a right wing narrative. Any half hearted ideological narrative will be crushed by the left wing establishment that already controls the narrative.

Non-Political Argument

This is not a political argument, meaning this argument is not about converting BJP into a right wing political party or for establishing a new right wing political party, such as reviving the old Swathantra Party. This is an argument for changing the national narrative: (1) where being a free market open trade economy with small government becomes the standard economic narrative; (2) where a strong response to Islamic terrorism and strong stand on national security, when each Indian life is considered precious and important, becomes a standard foreign and security policy narrative; (3) where historic Islamic imperialism, western imperialism, pre-imperialism and pre-Buddha eras become standard historic narrative uncorrupted by political correctness imposed by western Indologists or Marxist historians; and (4) where Hindu revivalists freely referring to Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas becomes a standard cultural narrative.

The standard narrative has to shift so that the starting point of political arguments are based on right wing ideology, not the other way round as it happens currently. The ideological narrative has to shift so that which ever party stands for elections, it has to follow the right wing ideology narrative - on clean politics, free market open economy, foreign & national security, and cultural issues - else it should face the prospect of defeat from the centrists and ideological independents voters, because they form the largest swing votes that decide the political fate of parties. This shift in standard narrative cannot be achieved by right wingers being on the defensive that they are not ideological right wingers, but that they somehow are ideological centrists.

Making Right wingers Out of Bulls in the Herd

Of the two categories of bulls that could become right wingers, the Hindu revival centrists who have seen the devastating effect of 60 (and more) decades of socialism and communism on national economic well being, prosperity, social inequity, and general cultural decay will be more willing to join the right wing ideological cause.

The second group of bulls, the free market open economy centrists will be less willing to join the right wingers. This centrist group is worried, and troubled by, mostly rightly so, by the Hindu orthodoxy that still controls Hindu narrative to some extent. This group will follow, not lead, the ideological narrative shift that should take place. In order to count these bulls as supporter, we have to banish Hindu orthodoxy on varnam and on various superstitions that. We can achieve that by following the Hindu revivalist movement pathway. Right winger themselves have to banish the Hindu orthodoxy. If not, the right wingers themselves will be labeled orthodox fundamentalists. Banishing Hindu orthodoxy does not mean wholesale embrace of western liberals and progressives, both of which are versions of left wing ideology. Hindu liberalism of right wingers has to be based on the Hindu cultural foundation of Vedas, Upanishads, and Puranas. But from this solid and vast foundation, we should reject that which does not promote human dignity and freedom of thought and embrace those that promote right to seek knowledge, human values, and dharma in public and private lives. Only when right wingers reject Hindu orthodoxy while embracing Hindu liberalism will the second group of bulls become right winger ideological herders to take on left wing ideological herders.

Examples of Centrist Not Working

While at some level both RSS and BJP are cut from the same cloth, they form an excellent examples of why being a centrist does not work in India. In some ways, the problem relate the origin of RSS itself.

When looking at RSS, one has to ask the foundational question, what exactly does RSS stand for? It apparently is a swayam sevak sangha. And if it's purely a swayam sevak sangha, why does it claim to be a Hindutva, as defined by founder of RSS itself, organization? If it is not religious organization, why does it dabble in Hindu religious and cultural issues (we say dabble because it doesn't contribute)? If it is for economic freedom, as an alternative to statist socialism, to create wealth and prosperity of the nation, why does organization itself look like its in perennial poverty. In fact, RSS is neither for promoting Hindu liberalism nor is it for promoting economic freedom. It's an entirely purposeless organization beyond its great relief work during natural calamities. It is an organization for the sake being an organization.

Going back to farm model, RSS is a sub-farm within the cattle farm, with no ideological bulls, meaning no one providing ideological heft to Hindu liberalism or economic freedom. And yet its always on the defensive that it is a centrist organization and not a “Hindu fundamentalist” organization. The left wing herders standard narrative is that RSS is a large herd of mad cattle just stomping around aimlessly, but a dangerous one in that it could stomp the entire cattle farm itself. And RSS, despite being in existence since Vijayadasami of 1925, does nothing to dispel the narrative created by left wing herders, since its inception, beyond protests and polemics.

And then there is BJP. If there is even a better example of left wing ideological herders setting the ideological narrative of an organization, it has be BJP. While it is a vastly better alternative to Congress I and regional parties in so far as it is not inimical to Hindu liberalism and economic freedom, it provides little ideological muscle to right wing ideology. While it has few right wing ideological intellectuals like Arun Shourie, its leadership, and hence its ideological direction, consists (or consisted until recently) entirely of bulls – from A. B. Vajpayee to L. K. Advani to Jaswant Singh. While they occasionally provide ideological heft for Hindu liberalism, economic freedom, and freedom of thought, like the bulls in the cattle farm, their narrative is controlled by left wing ideological herders.

Despite making India into an overt nuclear state, a significant achievement, Vajpayee follows the left wing ideological narrative from foreign policy issues such as accession of Tibet to China, following left wing Nehru's path, and making peace with Islamic terror sponsoring Pakistan, to cultural battles such as canceling Sita Ram Goel series on historic Islamic imperialism in India that was being published in RSS's publication Organizer, by firing the editor of the publication itself. L. K. Advani follows similar ideological narrative when he almost wept to explain why Ayodhya kar sevaks brought down Babri Masjid, symbol of Muslim imperialism in India, to when he claimed that Mohammad Ali Jinnah actually preached and practiced tolerance towards Hindus taking a single quote which Jinnah himself disowned few days later. Jaswant Singh, the apparent liberal in BJP, put Jinnah on even a higher pedestal dismissing M. K. Gandhi, Nehru, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patil defense of Indian nationhood of not balkanizing the nascent post-imperial nation into regional autonomous entities based primarily on religion.

Way Forward

So the notion that centrists, in the mold of BJP or other avatars, can provide an alternative narrative to left wing ideology is false and unworkable. Only a right wing challenge to current left standard narrative on economy, on nation security and foreign policy, on history, and on culture will provide the alternative. And this alternative narrative has to be provided by by-passing traditional media outlets like newspapers, current affairs magazines, and TV news. It has to be through web – blogs, magazines, books, popular novels, news collection portals, and radio talk shows all of which allow for more space, time, and energy to offer a right wing alternative narrative while exposing the hypocrisy of the current standard narrative of the left. Of the alternative media available, only radio has the power to reach mass audience until wide spread internet is available. Hence the first task for proponents of right wing alternative narrative is to identify excellent speaking showmen with great command of English, Hindi, and regional languages and provide them multiple platforms to offer commentary on news, politics, and culture and counter current left wing narrative with facts and common sense and plenty of humour to provide the alternative right wing narrative that would become mainstream in due course.

Because the right wing ideological narrative has a higher bar supported by facts, interpretation, and deductive analysis, reactive polemics of kind that are mostly currently used are of little importance. The irrationality and anti-intellectual narrative of left wing ideology can't be countered by using the same irrational and anti-intellectual narrative. The facts, interpretation, and analysis has to done by serious people individually at home and in universities or in collective enterprises such as think tanks and policy impact groups. These people's and institutional narrative has to be the foundation of the alternative right wing narrative propagated by blogs, magazines, books, talk shows, and other outlets in popular formats. The two institutions – fact-driven intellectual and popular narrative forums – have to coexist and be interlinked to make the change in current standard left wing ideological narrative.

This is only way to dismantle the current popular and destructive ideological narrative. And it's not a centrist way.

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