June 22, 2007

Bare right field

"As a believer in the promise of democracy first and above all, I long for the checks and balances of competing ideologies. Yet for too long in this country, we heard only, or largely, the voice of the left, and the right that did emerge eventually was itself flawed."

That's the blurb on my new column for India Together (where I've resumed writing after a longish hiatus), Bare right field.

Your comments, as always, welcome.


amit varma said...

Dilip, excellent piece!

I'd expressed similar thoughts about the lacuna in our political space here, and I agree with you entirely.

Gaurav said...

I concur with Amit. Excellent article.

Anonymous said...

here come the libertarians! wouldnt know ideology if it bit them on their butts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dilip,

I believe you are mistaken. While "socialism" may be nominally enshrined in our constitution (only since 1976, mind you), it has hardly been the only voice. The voice of our free (and capitalist) press has always been right wing on economic issues. I don't believe I read a single "socialist" editorial in Girilal Jain's Times of India in the 1980's, Arun Shourie had started turning rabid in the Indian Express by that point and even the venerable Hindu was hardly a left-wing bastion. The dominant public voices in the media outside of All India Radio and Doordarshan were always economically right wing and AIR and DD could not be characterised as having any ideology at all beyond a fawning obeisance to whichever Gandhi was in power. None of this amounted to socialism. By 1981, Mrs. Gandhi had more or less abandoned socialism, albeit not in her rhetoric.

Apart from media perceptions, one should note that largest share of the public sector in India's economy never exceeded 43%. We have always had a majority of the economy in private hands.

You also seem to imply that there is a difference in economic policy between the BJP and Congress. Frankly, I see none at all. From Narasimha Rao through Deve Gowda and Atal Bihari to Manmohan Singh, the Government of India has pursued a more or less continuous agenda of decontrolling capital and shackling labour. Meanwhile the left in West Bengal is now unabashedly capitalist as well. For the last fifteen years, there has been a pretty good consensus within the ruling classes on promoting what they claim is free market economics.

I will ask, once again, the question that I asked before in this blog (stolen from Chomsky): Why does one associate the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with socialism rather than democracy when it had neither in greater measure than the other?

What passed for socialism in India was nothing of that sort.


confused said...


Nitin said...


Good point, well made.

Indeed, the fact that "socialism" has been enshrined in the wider society as much as in the constitution leaves little room for a party of the "right". So it is that even those who might have been on the right find themselves espousing causes that are contradictory; as can be seen by the behaviour of the "reformist" politicians after their electoral defeats.

Such ideological convictions are skin-deep. The darker ones run deeper.

Jai_Choorakkot said...

1. Good article Dilip.

2. Welcome confused :-)

3. Is it just me or is there really a fair gap btwn the heft of Amit's and Dilip's articles (both very good) and no entire agreement.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Thanks all.

Ravi, especial thanks for your note. Gave me some things to think about. I see this article as coming from something I've long felt: Essentially, there is danger in pursuing one end of the political spectrum. Even if it can be argued, as you do, that it wasn't a faithful pursuit, or that in private life other ideologies were followed. I think that's the lesson of the Soviet Union, of the Third Reich; and of India under what passed for socialism. A democracy needs a strong left, it needs a strong right, both to generate ideas and to check each other's excesses. That's why I long to see a vibrant right party, even if I might disagree with some of their pronouncements.

Yet what has passed as the right is a craven pandering to the worst that religion brings out in us.

Nitin, while I appreciate what you say, I'm also mildly impatient with the claim that there's "little room for a party of the right". It's incumbent on the right, like on everyone else in that marketplace of ideas, to make room for itself, to make itself heard. The argument that there's no room goes only so far. (After all, the vendor who complains that nobody gives him room in the vegetable market is hardly likely to get the time of day from his competitors).

This is why I appreciate Raju's effort: no compromises on our thinking, no complaints about room, just fight to make ourselves heard.

Nitin said...

DilipIt's incumbent on the right, like on everyone else in that marketplace of ideas, to make room for itself, to make itself heard. The argument that there's no room goes only so far. (After all, the vendor who complains that nobody gives him room in the vegetable market is hardly likely to get the time of day from his competitors).
And I agree.

P2C2U said...

The picture you've painted is a depressing one, but I'm forced to recognize it as being true.

Excellent article and one that has given me much to think about.

Abdul said...

Great article, Dilip.

p.s. are you related to USofA based Dinesh D'Souza?

Anonymous said...

Dear Dilip,

Sorry to be persistent, but I do not believe that the present problems are that the right wing is bigoted and that the left wing is anti free market. The present problem is that no political party of any consequence has any ideology whatsoever. In terms of economics, they all pursue the same policies - throw the peasants, the tribals and the slumdwellers off their land and hand it over to industrialists, local or global and real estate sharks. This is apparently free market economics and a good thing, but it is not a recent policy as I have learnt from Arundhati Roy. It goes back all the way to Rihand, Hirakud and other temples of Modern India.

The main difference today is that the State is completely subservient to capital. In the past it paid at least some lip-service to the welfare of the common man and strong social movements (within and outside polical parties) kept capitalist rapacity in check. The "reverential hymns" to globalisation and capitalism are the thanks rendered by the moneyed classes who have been completely freed of any need to be hypocritical. No longer need vice pay a tribute to virtue. It can keep everything for itself. Much more efficient that way.

What we lack today is not a decent right wing party. Such a beast exists pretty much nowhere. The party of the right everywhere has always been a xenophobic, minority-bashing, war-mongering mean-spirited entity (Republicans, Tories, Sarkozy, Berlusconi). What we already have are two major economically rightwing parties (Congress and BJP) and one minor one (CPIM). What we do not have is a grassroots based national organisation of the left. It is the left wing in India that is unhealthy. As it is all over Europe. Only in Latin America does there seem to be hope.


Bangalore Daze said...

The bit about all parties having to swear by socialism was news to me (not surprisingly, since I'm pretty uneducated in such matters). And it's kinda wierd that an ideology that supports community control of property and wealth distribution should be accepted by all political parties in India.
Downright wierd. It's going to take some time to sink in.

And forgive my naivette, but it seems to me that stated ideology matters to the suffering public about as much as who their next president will be.

The mass of discontents votes a political party out of power not because of a disillusionment with their ideology, but rather when the parties lose their credibility by demonstrating a stagerring predilection for corruption and apathy.

Mostly, to me, it's an integrity problem, which plagues both sides of the aisle, and the aisle itself. Only once you assume integrity does ideology even matter.

And even then, who cares which side of the president my elected representative sits?
Not me.

I guess we can all agree that no particular system or world view will provide answers to all problems in a manner that satisfy all the members of a country as large (not to mention diverse) as India. So if you insist on one way or the unfinished and potholed highway, you will always have a section of society (sometimes large and sometimes small) that ends up disgruntled and creates a nuisance by expressing their discontent.

The only way elected leaders can deal with this (if you discount the "Death-to-the-discontents-it-ends-fun-but-only-theirs-not-mine" solution) is if they have clarity on:
1. What basic freedoms can not be denied to any individual
2. What do my constituents hold dear (what are their priorities)
2. What is best for my constituents in the long term - regardless of short term pain
3. How can we minimize the short term pain for those affected.

Admittedly that kind of clarity aint easy. It takes time, intelligence and hard work. But hey, nobody said easy was a pre-condition here.
And once you have that clarity (and the integrity to execute to it with every decision), your constituents will be satisfied, regardless of ideology, and you will be written about in history books (in an adoring, respectful kind of way).

Knowing whether you're leftist or rightist will only be important to me if I want to know which hand you wipe your derriere with...

And I dont.


lod said...

Dilip, tried responding to on the India Together site, but my comments aren't getting past the mod.. I see Ravi (thanks!) has already made pretty much all the points I would've made.

I really don't see this lack of credible right-wing parties. We have more than our fair share of outright fascist parties, and the major parties seem to dance to the neo-liberal economic tune. All these parties incl. the fascist ones are certainly credible to whatever extent elections are credible.

Leaving aside my issues with democracy as a system, to me real democracy is not to be restricted to party and electoral politics. That is what parties want, as it is one way of keeping elite power structures intact.

Those of us radicals and progressives that want to see real change would be much better served building political and social movements outside of the party structure. It is a harder road to tread, but ultimately the only one that I think has a chance of achieving lasting change. As an aside, it is extremely amusing to see self-proclaimed libertarians supporting party politics..

Anonymous said...

"As an aside, it is extremely amusing to see self-proclaimed libertarians supporting party politics."

And why is that? Why shouldn't libertarians support party politics?

- Ranjeet

lod said...

@ Ranjeet:
Why shouldn't libertarians support party politics?

I certainly don't presume to expend ATP telling libertarians what they should or should not do. But, as an example of why their support of party politics is amusing given their anarchist roots:

To quote:
By what right, Spooner asked, can one person occupy a position of power over another's life? What circumstance would make this a proper situation? If you have the natural right to protect your life and property and if you delegate this right to another person, then his position is contractual and thereby in accord with libertarian principles.

But what does this delegation entail? It means, according to Spooner, that you possess the right which is being delegated; that the delegation was explicit and not merely assumed, for a contract may not be assumed; and, that you can withdraw your delegation and reclaim the exercise of your natural rights, for to say that you cannot withdraw your delegation is to say that you have given away not the exercise of a particular right but your entire liberty. In Spooner's words: "No man can delegate, or give away his own natural right to liberty. . . or to give to another, any right of arbitrary dominion over himself; for that would be giving himself away as a slave. And this no one can do. Any contract to do so is necessarily an absurd one and has no validity. "

Anoop Saha said...


One thing we often miss is that Indian judiciary and english media have played the role of "right wing" that you are talking about. The zamindaars like Golaknath and Keshavanand Bharti had the most significant role in shaping India's legal history.
I don't deny that such a rightwing party is required for democracy to function properly. More so, because there is remarkable convergence in most parties' thinking on economic affairs. The adage that "development should not be a hostage to politics", simply means that private players must continue to make profits, whichever party is in power. This is not democracy. In fact there is space in the left as well. Not a single political party now believes' in the liberal left's ideas on economic matters. If we do have a party of liberal right, it will in turn give fodder to and strengthen liberal left as well.

Most of our political parties are socialist just by name. In their actions, they are true capitalists. I assume that the party that you are talking about will be freedom loving, consumer friendly and be against 'crony capitalism'. Here again what might gon in the name of liberal right, might not be either.

"nindak niyare rakhiye"

Dilip D'Souza said...

Forgive the late reply. I had some other things, plus inertia, to take care of.

Ravi: please do be persistent! I do agree with you and lod a great deal. I would like to see a vibrant left too: certainly one that protects the interests of "peasants, tribals and slumdwellers". I don't think such a party can remain just a "grassroots based national organization" (otherwise the NAPM fits the bill), or remain (as lod says) "outside of the party structure". To make any meaningful change, such movements/organizations must get into electoral politics. I can't see any other way.

I do think what SV Raju is battling to set up is, essentially, "a decent right wing party." They have no use for xenophobia and violence, they are not utterly sold on the virtues of the free market, they won't compromise on ideology (as in their fight not to swear socialism). I'd like to see a similar effort to set up a vibrant left party too. Whether electoral politics corrupts such parties is another thing, but I'd like to think there is still place for clean, forthright, steadfast politicians. Left or right.

lod, while I share your distaste for various parties we have, I would like to move away from calling them all "fascist". Much like those on the right throw "communist" or "socialist" about as insults, I think this lebelling detracts from the analysis we should make, the standards we should hold parties to. Again, what Raju proposes is by no means fascist, and I think any Indian who reads their ideas would applaud them.

Self-proclaimed libertarians, as much as more ordinary folk may find them odd, are welcome to support party politics. I hope they do.

Anoop, unwittingly or not, you touched upon what might be the core of it all, for me: I'd like to turn "liberal" into a respectable word once more.

Anonymous said...

"But, as an example of why their support of party politics is amusing given their anarchist roots..."

Most libertarians aren't anarchist, lod, and nor are their roots. From what I've read of Amit and Gaurav, it seems clear that they are classical liberals (or minarchist libertarians), owing more to Bastiat than to Nozick. Your quip seems to be based on a misunderstanding of what libertarianism is all about.