When it comes to India, I am generally economically right (pun intended). I believe the solution to India’s two major problems – job creation, and affordable goods and services – lie in the private sector. As a child of the 70s and 80s license Raj, I reflexively distrust the government as corrupt and predatory. I believe the Indian entrepreneur, freed of government shackles, can quickly transform our country. I believe capitalists are inherently a good and positive force in society, an engine of creation, and that cronyism is a result of over-interference by the government.
On foreign policy, I am a realist. I believe Nehruvian Non-Alignment is decades past its sell-by date. I believe in a strong Armed Forces. I believe India should actively protect its borders, respond with force when required, and through its diplomats aggressively lobby for its interests abroad. I believe India and the West are natural allies, islands of peace, rights and stability in a sea of fundamentalism, expansionism, or kleptocracy. I reject the anti-Americanism of the Left as antiquated. And yes, I am a big fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I can hear the chorus from the Left already. “Bhakt”, “Crony Capitalist”, “Right-wing nut”… But before I am labelled, let me finish.
I am also a social liberal. I have a deep pride in our free, multi-religious, multicultural society. I advocate free speech, gay rights, equality of the sexes, and religious freedom. I support targeted, caste-based reservations as a way to right historical injustice. I distrust organised religion, and I cannot abide people telling me what to eat, what to watch, and what time a girl can be out the house till.
Cue the chorus from the Right – “Sell out”, “pseudo-something”.
Now comes the real confusion.
My economic philosophy is reigned in by reality. I believe the free market system only works when supported by government regulations covering areas where markets fail (e.g. setting safety and environmental standards and preventing monopolies), and, most importantly creating a government-funded safety net ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable are taken care of, and that every Indian has the education and opportunity to one-day climb the social ladder.
Similarly, my social liberalism is also reigned in by reality. In a deeply religious country, free speech cannot equate a right to offend and divide, and religious freedom does not mean freedom to preach hate. I believe that one must address the insecurity of the Hindu majority who view their country as the last bastion of Hindu culture encircled by an “arc” of fundamentalism stretching from the Middle-East, through Central-Asia and down to Malaysia and Indonesia. Ignoring them only pushes them into the hands of the far-right demagogues. And most importantly, unlike the Left, I believe Indians have proven through millennia to be a fundamentally tolerant, open and assimilative society, and we don’t need their intellectually intolerant lectures on tolerance.
Is there a space for people like me in a modern India?
In America, I’d be considered center-left, probably a Clintonian “New Democrat”. In the more socialist Europe, I’d be considered Center Right, an acolyte of Cameron or Sarkozy. In India, however, voices like mine are shouted down as two shades to the right of Attila the Hun. We are conveniently lumped in with the tiny but vocal far-right lunatic fringe who are anathema to us.
There is a reflexive militant Marxism amongst our aging intellectual elite, that I believe is a holdout of a bygone era. There is a refusal to accept that their leftist economics have failed us, miserably, and that their social policy may have achieved the very opposite of what they intended – the alienation of the silent majority and the division of India into religious and caste-based vote banks. As the old Marxist India dies, these voices rise to a shrill and desperate crescendo.
What keeps me going, is my fundamental belief that I am on the right (excuse my pun again) side of history. I believe my view point represents the new, aspirational India. Those that came of age under economic liberalisation and have no time for leftist paeans to the glory of poverty or the nobility of village life. Those that are hungry for jobs, careers and stability in place of empty promises and meagre government handouts. The India that is tired of being told to vote on the basis of their religion or caste and wish to demand results from their elected leaders. The India that is confident and proud of its history and culture and not afraid to show it.
In this periodical blog, I will try to voice the opinion of this India. Economically right, socially liberal, and unabashedly Indian.