(Before I start, I would like to say that I would be using some terms popularized by Mr. Rajiv Malhotra’s (RM) like ‘Western Universalism’, ‘non-translatable’ and so on. And neither am I affiliated to any organization, Political or Social, Right or Left)
The story goes that the terms Right wing (RW) & Left wing (LW) were first used in the French Parliament soon after the bloody revolution. The right-wingers were cultured, mostly rich and more importantly, didn’t stink whereas the Left-wingers were the exact opposite. Hence both these groups sat separately on either sides of the center and addressed each other in the direction they sat to each other. So this seemingly innocuous addressing ritual has now metamorphosed into something that is loaded with political and social contexts, dictating policies and discourses around the World.
The concept of these two opposing views is entirely Western. Both sides consider the other to be evil and as the cause of misfortune in the society. Both have well set propaganda mechanisms in place to promote their own ‘superior’ outlook on various issues and also to slander the opponent’s view. This binary divide has been so ingrained into the psyche of the people and the culture, as a result of constant hammering, that an individual can only either belong to the one side or the other. There are some exceptions of course, with some in the center too, but they are few and far between. It is a very polarized society in which the rift is only getting wider with each day passing.
These two diametric views do not represent a homogenous mix of people with beliefs. Instead they contain several groups, divisions, and ideologies inside them. Liberals, Communists, Socialists, Democrats in the U.S, the Labour Party in the U.K, hippies, Feminists, environmentalists and several more groups belong to the Left. There is a considerable population of Christians in some countries who count themselves in this category. They identify themselves as Christian Socialistic liberals, mostly. The Right contains the majority of Christians, the Wealthy (at least most of them), Corporations, Republicans in the U.S, the NRA, the Conservative party of U.K, all conservatives (fiscal & Social) in general and so on. The Left is of the opinion that the right-wingers are crazy, fascists whereas the Right thinks that the Left is all Communists, and Pussies. The left prides itself as the liberator of common man from the clutches of the oppressing Right and the Right thinks that there is no oppression: It’s just that some are rich and the others haven’t worked hard enough. And then there are the religious conservatives who think that they are under obligation to the Almighty to preach and proselytize, in any way they can, throughout the World. There are also people to the extremes in both sides called, the so-called Extreme Left and Extreme Right. They tend to be more physically violent.
The West has been very successful in categorizing the whole World within these two categories. Be it a Democratic society, which includes several of its own nations, or dictatorships around the World, it has propagated a discourse labeling each society, its ruler(s), its civilization with either of these positions. It is safe to say that the Western society primarily looks at any other culture alien to it through this Lens. And since this narrative is forced upon the rest of the World, through either its hard power or its soft power or a combination of both, this lens and the resulting perceptions (aberrations) have incredibly altered the psychology, morale and self-perception (or identity) of the locales on whom it is imposed.
Now, let us turn to our own backyard, India. India’s civilization, which is one of the oldest and still surviving, has a very different outlook on life. Its philosophies and priorities are different from the West and so are its methods in approaching life. Our civilization is Dharmic, based on the Dharma. Yes, it includes even the people of Abrahamic faiths. I personally know Muslims and Christians who, contrary to their own religious teachings, believe in Dharmic concepts like Karma, rebirth etc. It’s a peculiarity of only this civilization. The word Dharma, is a non translatable. How much ever I try to explain it in English or in any other European language, I would always be falling short of explaining its core essence. It’s a certain Indian experience that makes it unique. Though our civilization encompasses several religions & cultures inside it, they all conform to a common outlook and identity dictated by the values prescribed by our Dharma. Be it the Vedic religions, agnostic religions like Buddhism, or the Adhivasi cultures in the villages, there is a common thread that runs through out this civilization, that lets us treat others with mutual respect and look at ourselves with contentment. Fortunately or unfortunately it is Dharma that we use as the lens to look at the World.
Does our civilization offer an opposition to Dharma making it bipolar like the West? It does, not in the same sense though. There is Adharma, which simply means ‘that which is not Dharma’. So if Dharma says, ‘Respect your parents’, Adharma is simply not doing so. And there are certain things that are specifically classified as Adharma by definition. There have been times in our civilization when Adharma has flourished with the help of certain rulers and philosophies (either intentionally or unintentionally), but there never was a time when Dharma didn’t oppose it and fight against it. Furthermore the dichotomy between Dharma and Adharma is not borne of out of social status or how people smelled, like that of the West, but by the nature of Man and his/her aspirations. Neither can it be compared to that of the Christian view of God (or Good) Vs. Evil because Dharma has got nothing to do with religion (though several of them follow it) and certainly not with an imaginary personification of people’s fear and dark desires.
It is this Dharmic worldview that is at odds with the ‘Left Vs. Right’ worldview of the West. When the West first encountered our culture, they couldn’t understand it. And when they started to they were frightened by it, as our systems made more sense than theirs. What they thought would be a country full of barbarians who would need to be taught culture, turned out to be a civilization that was far more superior to theirs in many ways. Hence they couldn’t destroy it, because they soon realized that it was a treasure house of knowledge that they hadn’t been exposed to and that they could easily appropriate it. Moreover the Dharmic system was so inherently part of our culture that it would have been really difficult for them to destroy it physically. So they did the next best thing. They started to discredit it through political interventions, evangelization, education, media etc., which has continued on ever since till today. Whatever they thought would fit in their scheme of things they stole and the rest they discarded with disdain. RM calls it as the process of Digestion. The effect of this undertaking is reaping benefits for them as we, Indians, ourselves have now bought into their discourse and just like them, identify with their narrative rather than having one on our own.
My own position:
Before proceeding any further on why I think we should get out of the Left vs. Right debate altogether, I would like to mention where I stand in relation to both these views. I’m a firm, practicing Hindu. I’m a nationalist. I’m proud of my culture, heritage. I believe that we ourselves are fully capable to solve the problems we have in our society, without the intervention of any third party, be it physically or ideologically. I believe in the cultural integrity of India. I respect the Sages, Seers, Gurus and the great kings of our country. All these would automatically get me classified as a Right-winger. But then I’m also very much an environmental conscious person, almost a tree hugger. I respect Mother Earth and care for its living beings. I’m a vegetarian. I’m highly critical of GMO foods, because, first of all, I believe that there have not been enough tests done to fully certify them as being harmless, like causing Cancer etc. Secondly because of my respect to Nature I really don’t want humans messing with it just to earn some dollars and thirdly I really don’t want to handover the control of what I eat, to a corporation. All these would immediately put me under the leftist category. Again, I also believe that it is not the business of the government to interfere in business. I respect free market in a lot of things, as I believe it to be a fair, level playing field if not tampered with. I believe in the privatization of many services, which are currently run by the government. All this would again put me with the ‘Right wing nuts’.
I’m sure like me, there are millions of others who have similar beliefs that simultaneously spread over both the sides. So it makes no sense to classify them as left or right as more often than not one is made to choose between these two.
But if we look from the Dharmic viewpoint on where I stand on issues, I believe my position, like many other Indians, would be fully compatible with Dharma. I’m not supporting anything that is Adharmic. To me what I believe essentially falls into this: ’Yogakshema Vahamyaham’, one of the best expressions of Dharma. Of course I might be wrong in something that I consider Adharma, which I’m only too willing to rectify.
For the practical purpose of strictly conveying what I want to say in this article I will identify myself towards the Right. But that’s just for the ease of making my arguments and nothing more.
Why Dharmic POV is better suited for us.
The Left Vs. Right fight is essentially a political one. Every issue that is encompassed in either of the categories is given a political color. Be it economics, environmentalism, religion, you name it and it becomes an election issue. So inevitably, instead of a mature understanding of issues and finding acceptable solutions by people as a family or as a collective society, people in power administer them from the top. Hence, the incessant acerbity between both the sides and a fierce struggle to capture power in any way it is possible. The wounds from these struggles persist for ages with sometimes there being no healing attempts from both sides. For example, in the U.S, the South still considers itself cheated by the North during the civil war, which was fought about one hundred and fifty years ago and till date has a great amount of disdain (to say the least) to its Northern brothers and Sisters.
On the other hand, our Indian society already has a framework, with a mechanism to look at issues and find solutions for them through Dharma. It might need some updates for the present modern time, but that’s only natural. Moreover this system allows for these updates, because of its ‘open Architecture’ as RM calls it. Issues aren’t politicized automatically. Instead of ‘rights’, there is still a huge population that believes in ‘duty’. Hence we don’t have the ‘Right’ to exploit or the ‘Right’ to a personal space etc., but ‘Duty’ to our fellow beings, animals, birds, plants and even rocks. Environmentalism is not a movement, vegetarianism is not a lifestyle but an integral part of Dharma with a clear meaning and purpose that anyone born into it or accepts it, is able to imbibe that essence, understands it and follows it accordingly. We don’t expect the government to pay us when we are unemployed or grow old. Our family system takes care of it. Hence there is lesser burden and dependency on a central power.
A God or a King or a Social reformer didn’t implement this system. It wasn’t brought into existence by a single event or a book. It exists because of the collective experience, understanding, and wisdom of people who have been living here for thousands of years through the culture and the civilization. It has grown organically like the roots of a tree.
One of the peculiarities of almost all Western worldviews and philosophies is that they tend to be impractical. The Greek imposed a certain sacredness to numbers and the result of that idealization can be felt even today with Maths being a difficult subject for most children to learn. Especially since only the Western mode (at least in Mathematics which is based on age old Greek methods) of teaching is proscribed and encouraged in schools here. In Indian Mathematical systems such unnecessary imposition never occurred. The early Indian mathematician’s were fine with treating Maths and numbers just as tools for every day’s livelihood. Similarly in the Western religion, you go to ‘Heaven’ in the future, after you are dead, where an Impersonal God with a white beard sits in the throne, judging the dead people. Whereas our Dharmic philosophy insists that Moksha is now and anybody can attain it. You don’t need to die to attain the state of perfection or Bliss.
In line with these esoteric standards, are their various Economic models. What Karl Marx expounded as Communism was tried in several countries, only to be discovered as a practically impossible system that could be followed in a free society. Milton Freidman’s free market model was deemed impractical even by the free marketers themselves and consequently was implemented only in parts and never fully. Rightly or wrongly, that implementation by Regan during the 80s is now considered to be the starting point of the present economic crisis in the U.S and Europe. And speaking about the global economic crisis, one cannot forget the innumerous models and Nobel prizes that were given to these economists who neither could predict the crisis nor could find any practical solution to get out of it. Another ferocious capitalist, the darling of the Western fiscal conservatives and libertarians, Ayn Rand, justified the killing of Native Americans and the occupation of their land with her Capitalist theories. And these are the exemplary thinkers and their philosophies that we (both left & right) are supposed to idealize and follow!
It has been the tendency of the West to first set an abstract ideal or framework into which they try to fit their everyday life. This framework may or may not be a success but is still put there blindly, as the ‘destination’ or the ‘million dollar prize’. But our civilization on the other hand and its values are more organic. They tend to be more practical. Even our languages, like Sanskrit, are so practical with no ‘irrational’ assumptions that plague its Western counterparts. Hence for us it does not matter what the ideal is as long as it is practical, achievable and more importantly harmonious with matter and spirit. It doesn’t matter if either the free market principles or the socialistic principles work. They both have some valid uses at certain times and at certain places and don’t work in others situations. To borrow certain things from one side doesn’t mean negating the other. Anything that works for the good of the society and falls within the purview of the Ethos that we call Dharma is welcome and needs to be supported.
Consequences of playing the Left Vs. Right Game
As explained earlier, the whole ‘Left Vs Right’ is very much a Western concept and it has been forced upon us through our education, media and politics, the effect being that most of us have started believing it as something natural to our own eco system. The Indian ‘Right’, especially, has been rightly concerned about the discourse on India by the West. Almost all of our present Governance, Economics (at least superficially), Administration, Entertainment, and Law has been borrowed from and/or influenced by the West. So much so that our country’s constitution has been generously stolen from other Western countries and we, strangely enough, seem to be very proud of it!
For too long our History has been falsely written and taught. Millions of Indians have lived for generations together, with an inferiority complex that we are somehow inferior to the Western, white man. This includes even the intelligent PhDs, business and political leaders. We are ready to accept almost anything that comes out of a Westerner’s mouth. Hence it is highly imperative to break away from this externally influenced narrative of us, at this juncture.
During the past few years this voice of the Indian Right has become stronger and more vocal with more and more well educated, informed, technologically savvy young Indians chipping in. They are not afraid to debate, ask questions and proudly claim allegiance to what they consider as true, valid and their own. This has indeed angered the Indian and the Western Liberal/Left who for the past 60 years had been given a free reign in setting the agenda for the country and are for the first time encountering a serious opposition since Independence. They in return are trying to discredit the ‘Right’ as much as they can with lies and false propaganda. Issues like making India the rape capital, Gharwapsi, Minorities fear, Human right violations are all the effects of the counter active measures taken by the Left.
But the problem is that the Indian Right has also identified itself, as ‘Right’ which is again a part of the same Western Worldview. So any desire to break the circle and any attempt to do so is not going to yield the desired result. If there is an attempt to take a stand on a social issue it is at once seen as a political struggle between the two sides and if the position tends to be against the Left/liberal agenda their entire intellectual mechanism, along with their political and media arms, starts working on it through out the World. And so the Indian Right always ends up defending its stand, always getting pushed back. Even if there is any success on any issues that it has taken up, it is always temporary and never a convincing one. And whatever victory it does achieve it is as much a victory for the Left for successfully deluding the Right to bask in its achievement. There seems to be a never-ending queue of Leftists waiting to attack and slander the Right, not missing any opportunity. If it isn’t the activists & the NGOs then it is the Media or the writers, artists and intellectuals. If not them, then the politicians take up the mantle. And finally when all these have been exhausted, the courts step in and make sure that Leftists and Liberals win the day.
And this is to be expected, especially in a society which has been brain washed for generations to be obedient babus and Sepoys. The West has always set this playing field. The Western Right might be fighting the Left in their own land. But we have to realize that it is not just the Indian Left that we are fighting, but the whole of the Western Right and Left, put together. Both sides have huge stakes in India and they wouldn’t mind joining hands to achieve their sinister objectives. How many times have we in the recent past, seen instances where the left/liberal (in & out of India) and the so-called ‘Right’ of the West have joined hands and maligned our culture? Is it not true that the NGOs here are get funding from both the sides? The Indian communist will shamelessly shed tear for the Church attacks, supposedly by Hindus, which will then become a headline in the liberal New York Times!
So by identifying with them, what is the Indian right actually fighting against? How can we even spot the real enemy with such a blurry and confused vision?
Another important issue of this ‘identity crisis’ is the inability to find indigenous solutions to problems that we face here in India. By tagging ourselves with their system we tend to look into their models & their experience to find answers to our issues. Hence by all probability any solution that we do pick, fails, as they haven’t even worked for their own societies. Considering the present social-political-economic situation prevailing in the West we would be wise to disregard their models. Conversely by identifying with them we tend to forget to look into our own systems to find solutions. The Answer(s) could be here. It most probably is. But by not even considering to look here we lose an opportunity to solve the problem right here, and with comparative ease.
Even inside the Indian Right there are some incredible divisions. A lot of the ‘fiscally conservative’ Indians ironically consider RSS (which is obviously seen as the evil fountainhead of Indian Right-wing by the leftists) as Left because of their stand on certain issues relating to farmers and Industry. This chunk of the Indian RW mostly looks up to Western Economists, their models and particularly their corporate/capitalist set up and considers that as the primary reason for their prosperity. They are ardent fans of their economic policies. But what they forget is that India had a share of at least 25% or more of the World GDP from 1AD till the 1750s. India and China together shared more than 50% of the World GDP for all those centuries. India was a thriving nation with numerous industries and services. Other countries looked to India just as we look to the West nowadays. We were once a very prosperous nation indeed and we didn’t particularly practice the Capitalistic (or the socialistic) policies that are in vogue now. In fact some data suggests that in those days, everyone involved in the production of a product, say an Iron tool, had a share in its sale profit.
If the farmers are fighting for some issue, say their land, the Left automatically takes it up as its own fight. And the Indian Right foolishly lets the left get away with it. On what basis does it become a leftist issue? If a farmer is insecure about something, he has the right to be so. And his insecurity must be addressed in the best way possible. It’s a human issue. And because the Right has already accepted a narrative that claims that such issues are typically Left’s issues (just by playing the left vs. right game), they do not push to take up those causes as their own. Conversely if there are any laws or bills that are passed by the government that seem to lean towards the Corporates or the Rich, they are at once termed as ‘anti people’,’ anti poor’, ‘pro rich’ and so on. It is at once pushed to the Right which now has to deal with the burden of defending and explaining itself, trying to look less evil. There is no discussion on whether those laws might actually help a lot of poor people to get jobs and education.
Only by following or identifying with this Dharma, do we have any chance of breaking out of this Western narrative. Only then will we be playing to our strengths and be successful in taking on our opponents in our own terms. It will also put them on the defensive, make them to get out of their comfort zone and make them sweat a bit. By changing the discourse to ‘Dharma vs. Adharma’ we gain an upper hand to play the game as it should be played in our own back yard according to our own rules.
The leftists would do well to remember that Dharma, millenniums ago, had declared ‘Vasudeva Kutumbhakam’, that the whole world is one big family. No communism, no amount of Marxist or Maoist propaganda can make any sense beyond that aphorism. Dharma was the first (or at least one of the firsts) to realize that society needs to be complementary & supplementary instead of just being equal. Where an individual lacks another should stand up and make up for the shortcoming by complementing him/her. It is the duty of every member of the society to do so. And this is how our civilization has survived for such a long time. Hence it was indeed sad to hear when a Wise learned man like His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “As far as socioeconomic theory, I am Marxist”, in a recent meeting. It shows how much the Western thought has taken over our minds and thinking.
And finally the biggest outcome of this paradigm shift from the Left/Right fight would be the harmony that would ensue in the society. Instead of the constant bickering between two sides politicizing everything, there would really be opportunities where people involved can sit, discuss and solve their problems without resorting to name calling and labeling. Instead of a society with two mutually exclusive sides struggling to outsmart each other, there could be a possibility of a society where people can work together, with mutual respect, agreeing on some issues and respectfully agreeing to disagree on others, working not to prove a point or an abstract ideology, but to address the problems of the society and nurturing the future with positivity.