Do you remember your first day of college? You were anxious about more things than you were aware of two weeks ago. You decided to be an obedient child and reached your class 10 minutes in advance to acquaint yourself with the new environment. Sitting in the class soon enough, you see a gush of new faces enter the room, what do you do? Naturally, you start categorising them, so many guys, so many girls, tall people, short people, and so on. That’s what we’re wired to do, categorising people or things is an innately human thing.
But our categorisation usually doesn’t stop at guys-girls, tall-short, we make all sorts of judgements based on how people look, their first impressions on us, etc. And as we usually realise, the notions we built of those people weren’t necessarily accurate. Perhaps a big statement to make, but we humans are never that good at making estimations. Something similar happens when our propensity to categorise finds its way into politics. Categories exist in politics, too, within political parties specifically. In this concluding part of the series, we are going to try and understand political wings, particularly in the Indian context.
If you haven’t read the first part or don’t trust your memory enough, now would be a good time to visit it.
A Noob’s Guide to Politics
There is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. A humble attempt at easing your life with this two-part series on…
The Political Spectrum
India’s political wings are fundamentally different from Western countries, especially the USA. In the US of A, you can define left-wingers as liberals leaning towards socialism and right-wingers as conservatives who believe in absolute freedom to the markets. In India, things are a little complicated, a lot complicated, depending on what time of the day you’re reading this and how many active brain cells you are left with.
To understand the Indian political spectrum, imagine a number line, except don’t consider the positive and negative signs of the numbers. Left of the origin, you’ll have the left-wingers or leftists and right of the origin the, right-wingers, simple as that. We’ll first talk in a purely political sense.
To the right of 0 in our number line, these parties will be seen ascribing to a particular religion and will somewhat take a socially and religiously conservative stance. The laws against Love-Jihad passed by some BJP ruled states are examples of such a stance. Along with BJP, other prominent right-wing parties are Shiv Sena, AIMIM (Owaisi’s party), SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal), etc.
To the left of 0 on our number line, they typically stay away from religion, are liberals and strongly favour socialism. A lot of these parties follow the communist ideology. They don’t have much faith in social constructs like the caste system, and in some places, you might see that extending into disbelief in religions. To put things in perspective, the erstwhile Soviet Union, which is the prime example of a left-wing ruled nation, was an atheist state, and so is today’s China.
It is the 0 on our number line. As you’d guess, centrists are the ones who do not lean in either direction. Now you might wonder why are they like that? That’s because being at the centre gives them the liberty to lean into whichever side they think will help their chances in the next elections, that’s why. While, in my opinion, we don’t have a party that can be plotted at 0 on that line, Congress can, in some ways, be called a centrist party.
Now so far, our parties do somewhat fit into the generally accepted definition of Left and Right wings, but this is only in the political sense. Things get twisted when it comes to their economic policies, which are equally important, if not more.
India is a socialist country, all parties exhibit socialism to some extent. Being socialist simply means always having policies that directly impact people, hopefully positively. For example, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan — a free and universal education scheme, Ayushman Bharat Yojana — health insurance for the economically weaker sections. You can expect such schemes to always be there irrespective of who is in power.
Parties like BJP, otherwise called right-wing, will promote schemes like Ujjwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana and the like, which are entirely leftist. Try imagining the Origin from the previous image at the extreme right, then all parties automatically become left-wing :)
We are a mixed economy (it’s ok if you’re planning to click on that link to check what that meant, no one’s looking, no one’s judging). Although we liberalised our economy in 1991, we are still pretty much a welfare state, which means socialism or left-wing policies is sort of the default setting for us. Not to forget that mass welfare schemes like Ujjwala Yojana (free LPG cylinders to the poor) get a lot of political traction for the ruling parties, so there is an obvious incentive for all parties, irrespective of their leanings, to promote such schemes. But still, right-wing parties will end up focusing more on industries and trade, and left-wing will focus more on human welfare parameters.
To better illustrate the difference between a left-wing and a right-wing party’s impact on the states they rule, we’ll briefly consider the example of Gujarat and Kerala.
Gujarat, a state governed by a right-wing party for a long time, is one of the most industrialised states in our country. Per capita income is high, and millions flock to the state in search of job opportunities. But relative to its development and income levels, it performs relatively poorly on parameters like healthcare, education, income equality, etc.
Kerala has been long dominated by leftists Communist parties, it tops the ranking charts in almost all of the welfare parameters like healthcare, education, etc. But when it comes to job opportunities, we see a problem. Residents of Kerala have to move out to different parts of the world due to lack of job opportunities in their home state. The Indian diaspora in the Middle East especially is dominated by residents of Kerala.
So, in summary, both models have their pros and cons, it depends on the people of the state and their beliefs, and how they weigh the pros against the cons to choose a model for themselves. What is important to note is that since we are a democracy, arguably amongst the finest in the world (you might want to argue otherwise, but I’d request you to hold it and utilise the comments sections to express your disapproval), if a right-wing or left-wing party has been in power in a state for quite a long time it is safe to assume that the majority in that state too ascribe to that ideology. Gujaratis are known to be business-minded, and Kerala-ites are known liberals.
This is not all, but I hope certain things make much more sense now. I’ll recall the quote by George Orwell that I used in the first part of this article “In our age, there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasion, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”
And without a doubt, for a noob, by a noob :)
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