Amid the rise of right-wing parties to governments across Asia, Apoorv Tiwari cautions against prematurely writing off the Leftist ideology.
The past year has seen elections in several democracies in different parts of our complicated globe. Since the beginning of 2013, voters have exercised their franchise in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh), the far-east (Japan, South Korea), and Europe (including national elections in several countries as well as the recent elections to the European Parliament). Despite the diversity in terms of culture, geography and issues across these elections, there have been two essential points of convergence. Firstly, the mandate for the winning party/coalition has been decisive in most cases. Secondly, these elections have ushered in a revival of the political “right”.
This trend is particularly evident in Asia, where three of its largest democracies – India, Japan and South Korea – have voted centre-right political formations to power after decades of centre-left rule. While their policies may differ based on specific requirements within their countries, it would be safe to assume that Narendra Modi, Shinzo Abe and Park-Gun-Hye mark a definite departure towards the right when compared with previous regimes in their respective countries.
In this context, many have begun to write political obituaries of the Left in Asia. In India, even the Grand Old Party which has ruled us for more than five decades has been reduced to an embarrassing minority in the lower house. What then do these left/centre-left parties do? The most logical answer would perhaps be that they reinvent themselves and embrace some elements of the “right”. They might be advised to look beyond entitlements and doles as strategies for social inclusion, and accept the merits of free-market capitalism.
Logical and intuitive as such suggestions may be, the strategy to challenge the right-wing by blindly moving to the right may be fraught with political risks, and may weaken democracy in India. Firstly, a rainbow of parties spread across the ideological spectrum always offers more choices to the voter. In this election, people voted for the centre-right, even disregarding traditional determinants of voter behavior such as caste. However, that does not imply that the centre-left has become irrelevant. If anything, it may be relevant to remember that it was “crony capitalism” rather than socialism that was the principal reason behind the many scams that beset the previous government.
Additionally, it may be pertinent to remember that during the 80s, when there was still a fair degree of consensus on socialism as the only viable economic strategy in India, the BJP’s professed ideology of Gandhian socialism found few takers. It was only religious mobilization of the masses that made the BJP truly national party in the early 90s. Similarly, the Congress or the Communists cannot hope to defeat the BJP by abandoning their commitment to socialism. What is needed is a cleansing of socialism to rid it of some of its hypocrisy and distortion.
In our urge to celebrate this period of political stability and a China-like unfettered rule for the next five years, we must also remember that political stability must contribute to a deepening of democracy in India, and not erode its very foundations.
Apoorv Tiwari is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and currently working as an associate with Swaniti Initiative. The opinions of the author are independent of his association with Swaniti.