Thursday, May 15, 2014

Right-turn coming up

I must start by complimenting myself on my admirable restraint - having not written a single blog post during the run-up to the elections. So whichever way my country goes next, it cannot possibly be my fault! Moreover I've cleverly chosen what might be the most uninteresting moment in which to blog: after voting is complete, but just before the results are declared.

More seriously, though, the world is seeing a significant shift towards the right-wing and it's no surprise that this is also happening in India. As an example, the UK Independence Party is poised to win the European Parliament election in the UK a week from today. UKIP is described on Wikipedia as a "Eurosceptic, right-wing populist" party and it is particularly opposed to immigration to the UK by Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians. Right-wing politicians like Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) are doing well in Europe. In India it's reasonable to expect that the BJP is going to perform well in the present elections as the exit polls predict, though the details are far from clear.

The right-wing outlook is, broadly speaking, hostile to "outsiders" (however they may be defined), positive about the role of majority religion, and friendly to business. In very rough terms I suppose both supporters and opponents of the BJP would agree with the above description of its philosophy, though they might list the three attributes in different orders. Similar descriptions can be applied to UKIP, PVV and other European parties like the Front National (France), Lega Nord (Italy), the Danish People's Party, and Golden Dawn (Greece). And yet, for many reasons these parties don't generally see eye to eye with each other. Partly this is because one person's fellow-citizen is another's dreaded immigrant: right-wing Greeks don't want Pakistanis at their borders, but right-wing Britishers don't want Greeks at their borders. And this is only a small part of the enormous differences of outlook. Politics is a complex thing and it is rare for any group to fit a mould. For example Marine Le Pen's Front National is not particularly friendly to business. Golden Dawn is fascist to an extent that would cause other right-wing parties to cringe. Geert Wilders is pro-gay but denies climate change, while the BJP - I imagine - would have precisely the opposite view on these two issues.

It is worth trying to understand the right-wing point of view better, especially if one does not share it. As Spinoza nicely put it: “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them”. But a more particular reason, specially in India and specially today, is that this outlook is gaining dominance and one has to live and work with it in the foreseeable future (and perhaps also struggle against some aspects of it). So it's best to be mentally prepared.

I expect this will be a long discussion and it would be pointless to put down all my thoughts in one go. So I'll just make a single important point. Voting in an election involves serious levels of compromise. It's not possible to have a candidate made-to-order, and still less a party that you completely agree with. So, what exactly do you do if - say - you favour big business but would like religion kept out of the public sphere? On the other hand, what if you oppose the majority religion but are even more opposed to minority religions?  Or, if corruption is a huge issue for you but so is governance, and you worry that a small newly-arrived party simply lacks the experience to provide the latter? In all these cases, you may end up voting for a party despite feeling discomfort about some of its stated policies. And I think that's likely to have happened on a large scale in this election. This is important because what the future government does is still subject to checks and balances (through the opposition, the courts, the press etc). Through these agencies citizens must assert the specific values for which they voted, rather than quietly accept the full package we will be getting.

(Disclosure: I personally voted for the excellent Mr Subhash Ware despite some discomfort about his party, on which I blogged here. Regardless of what I said at the time, I believe AAP has an important role to play in Indian politics and hope it gets the chance to do so.)


vbalki said...

Left, right or centre, one factor ought not to be underestimated in the Indian psyche: the deep and apparently ineradicable yearning for dynastic rule on feudal lines!

Shouvik Datta said...

Right or Left is an idea from last century and has no relevance as of today. If Left is Good for Public then AAP should embrace Left and if Right is good for public then AAP should embrace left. I think AAP will continue to work for the empowerment of people without thinking about how many seats can be won as was clearly evidenced from the choice of seats where they fought (Say Varanasi).

Few more LS seats for AAP could have been a moral booster for this yound party and for its dedicated volunteers but those would have never given us the Pan-Indian Visibility that AAP has now. However, this visible presence against Media Blackout and against Modi Wave was made possible beacuse AAP was now able spread our organizations, however small, to many parts of this country by actively taking part in this LS election (specifically in Varanasi). Now Everbody knows about AAP which was certainly not the case even after Delhi Election in Dec, 2013. This Pan-Indian ground work certainly could not have been achieved by running the lame-duck Govt in Delhi.
Yes..AAP made few rookie mistakes by not properly explaining our principled position. However, these mistakes are dwarfed by willful blunders of big political parties. Even with 4 MPs AAP will still have access to many important files in Parliaments and can actively work against corruption and/or Vested Interests by informing the Public.

***AAP will work proactively to make sure that Voting in an election NO LONGER involves serious levels of compromise.***
This will take time but AAP is a bunch of optimists and Optimism is no Crime!

You are right that many genuine AAP supporters/sympathizers even voted for BJP in the last moment because they were scared that a vote for AAP could have helped Congress or even worse the 3rd Front to win seats in this Multi-polar election. In some level, this election result is a bleassing in disguise for AAP. They wont be seeing as a partner of opportunist parties and rag-tag 3rd front and with > 272, BJP wont have any excuse left within few months to one year unless they deliver which is highly unlikely. For India and Indians, I however hope that they do deliver what was promised to public but as of right now I am very very skeptical.

18th May

Chittaranjan Gauba said...

As an almost completely irrelevant aside, must point out that theologically sins of omission are considered sins as much as those of commission. Your supposition that no-election-blogging will somehow absolve one from blame for the election results is not entirely sound! From finger-pointers, blame can and will come for not blogging just as much as it would have for being vocal.

Even Mr Subhash Ware might complain, that by not sharing more actively than you did your views on his excellence, you are responsible for the outcome of the election in which you gallantly (and proudly) did your bit (for which my personal thanks).

What was it MKG said? "... If you do nothing, there will be no result." In other words, please do blog more!