The ideological contours of the Right in India are of immense significance, due to the decline of the Nehruvian model on the one hand and the increasing transformation of ideological constituents of India’s social forces on the other. The social bases of political parties and ideological groups have undergone a metamorphosis over the last three decades. Absent scientific data of the social base of political parties in recent decades, changes in outlook, leadership behavioural patterns and above all, the decline in their mobilisation of the masses through indoctrination and struggle are enough evidence to show an increasing gap between the elites and masses.
Earlier, political forces articulated socio-economic problems and their resolutions, but in the neoliberal era, economic forces demand a vital role in articulating political philosophy. Formerly, mass democracy guided decision-making on economic issues; now, market forces try to play a critical role in politics and development.
The de-politicisation of state and society and the devaluation of cultural consciousness and social movements are the pitfalls of such a metamorphosis. Unlike other neoliberalised nations, in India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has not allowed economic forces unhindered sway. Its deep-rooted structures engaging the masses give legitimacy to its resistance. In the 1990s, its affiliates — Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) — using the tools of mass democracy, had not allowed the government to formulate policies without negotiation. RSS veteran Dattopant Thengadi initiated a narrative of reverse globalisation which annoyed pro-market forces. This is a crucial reason why new economic forces that entrenched themselves with the help of the neo-rich and managerial class could not acquire a dominant voice in politics and policy formulation.
However, a re-examination of the Right-Left division in India unravels the excessive dependence of Indian discourse on borrowed ideas. During the colonial period, the Left-Right discourse dominated the Congress till the Gandhian hegemony, which exposed its inappropriateness. The correspondence between Mahatma Gandhi and then CPI general secretary, P.C. Joshi, in 1945 is its testimony. In free India, modernists fell prey to Sovietism and Westernism, with any creative approach being stymied by this uncritical imitation.
In the 1950s and ’60s, counter-modernists, like J.B. Kripalani, Ram Manohar Lohia, Sampurnanand, Deendayal Upadhyaya, contested the dominant classification of the Left and Right. The ideological moorings of Upadhyaya, an RSS thinker, rejected the Left -Right division which presumed a binary between irreconcilable ideological forces. He said there were many commonalities in the programmes and policies among parties categorised as Left or Right. He introduced a new vocabulary — pro-changers and no-changers. Its immediate impact was the coalition between the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS), socialists and CPI in 1967. It was a quest for a common ground in governance and the sharing of social forces. However, narrow political interests and polemics did not allow serious theoretical redefinitions of Indian political forces.
Interestingly, both the Right and Left have faced crises of legitimacy. To overcome this, imaginary ideological foes and slogans are created to institutionalise delusion. Jawaharlal Nehru’s appropriation of socialism compelled the Left to use “parliamentary opportunism” for survival. They shifted the goal post to the BJS-RSS and increasingly accused it of being the representative of India’s Right. As early as 1949, Upadhyaya rebutted, “We have not left home and hearth to serve a handful of capitalists and zamindars.”
Classes spawned by neoliberalism constitute the new Right. But unlike their predecessors, they lack legitimacy in
politics. A significant section of the old Right had been co-sharers in the anti-colonial discourse. The new Right is born from the womb of western economics. They want to dictate politics. The strategy is to depoliticise society and de-legitimise cultural forces as reactionary and anti-modern. This is the reason neoliberals attack the RSS, which has always been on the radar of the Left. New Right apologists use anti-Left slogans to create ambiguities about the RSS’s economic worldview.
Even Naxals understand the RSS’s popularity and utility among tribals and refrain from confronting its cultural and service projects. The Left has realised that empty revolutionary slogans no longer work. The CPM’s organisational political report of 2008 recognised the work of the RSS among tribals, the poor and Dalits as the reason for its growing strength and vouched to follow it. The BJP has the BJS’s legacy and RSS’s ideological base. India’s normative consensus is egalitarianism. That’s why a policy that attacks the inequitable distribution of wealth and tilts to the poor gets mass support. Measures like the Jan Dhan Yojana, subsidies to the poorest, the PDS and lately, demonetisation, have exhibited a commitment to the normative consensus. In the present world, no state or ideological group can have a doctrinaire approach to economics.
Communist China too has to depend on FDI and the conditionality of the free market. However, the market cannot be allowed to become master and have the privilege of articulating political philosophy or altering our consensus. The BJP has guarded itself from neoliberal economic conservatives. The progressive ideological unfolding of the RSS is unbearable to intellectuals of both the Right and Left. One derides it as closer to Marxism, the other as an agent of world capitalism. Such polemical onslaughts force us to walk a tightrope.
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