The Nonsensical Left-Right Binary
It is extremely puzzling why many of those who rejected the politics of the Left have so readily accepted –“Right Wing” as their identity marker and self-definition despite the fact that the term is used as a pejorative by the Left for any one & everyone who dares differ with their partisan and authoritarian politics. Moreover, “left” & “right” are terms borrowed from European history. They have no real equivalence in Indian history nor are they a reliable guide for understanding India’s contemporary politics. By allowing the opponent to decide the terms of the battle, including naming the ideological terrain, we end up as losers even before we have begun the battle.
As is well known, the political terms Left and Right were coined during the French Revolution (1789–1799), referring to the seating arrangement in the Estates General: those who sat on the left generally opposed the monarchy and supported the revolution, including the creation of a republic and secularization, while those on the right were supportive of the traditional institutions of the Old Regime.
The term was later applied to republicanism during the French Revolution in the 18th century, followed by socialism,[communism, anarchism, and social democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since then, the term left-wing has been applied to a broad range of movements including civil rights movements, feminist movements, anti-war movements, and environmental movements, as well as a wide range of political formations.
I have no problem if Europeans or Americans who share a common cultural and ideological heritage feel comfortable using these constraining, archaic and opaque terms to define their political and social identities. But they become absolutely nonsensical when applied in a country like India, which has never witnessed political and social divisions on these lines.
Intellectual slavery to the West is built into the DNA of the Left because they have steadfastly borrowed their ideological paradigms from the West, with Marxism as the core followed by its many hybrids— modernism, structuralism, deconstructionism, subalternism, post modernism and so on. But why should those who want to break out of the intellectual slavery of the West accept as their self-view -the pejorative term “Right Wing” along with all the negative connotations it is loaded with?
Leftists dub others as “right wing” as a short hand for damning that person as being anti-poor, pro-rich, anti-minorities, anti women, anti freedom, anti-progress, trapped in obscurantism, and anti every positive human value—even though the person may be guilty of no bigger crime than merely differing with or pointing to serious factual infirmities in the political narrative chosen by the Left.
Conversely, the leftists assume that by merely labeling themselves “Left”, they magically acquire for all times to come unquestioned monopoly over all the positive human traits and progressive values known to history—never mind that in reality their track record on all these is mostly disgraceful. In countries or (states within India) where Communists actually came to power, they wrecked the economy, adopted the most tyrannical and oppressive systems of governance and in Soviet Union, China, North Korea etc. carried out genocides against their own people on scales and with brutality that matched Hitler’s extermination of the Jews.
It is noteworthy that none of the leading social reformers of 19th century used such terminology for themselves. Even during the freedom movement, barring leaders of the self professed Communist parties only a small minority of westernized leaders like Nehru used the term Leftist for their worldview. The tallest leader of all–namely Mahatma Gandhi—refused to accept for himself the political binaries presented by Communists who dubbed him “right wing” even though his pro-poor, pro women, pro minorities, pro Dalit credentials as well as track record of mobilizing the people of India against the oppressive colonial regime, were far superior to that of the entire spectrum of leftists of those days.
But Communists could not stomach Gandhi because right from its inception, the Communist Party of India made Hindu-bashing as an essential qualification for being a progressive even while they willingly pandered to Islamists, including Jinnah’s demand for Partition. A self respecting Hindu is the biggest threat to “secularism” in the eyes of leftists. After Narendra Modi’s rise to power their aversion to anything “Hindu” has assumed pathological dimensions.
Leftists better realize that those who can’t find a self respecting, self chosen nomenclature for their worldview and continue aping ideas which have been discarded even by those who first offered them, are not capable of providing intellectual leadership to their society. Likewise those of us who don’t wish to live by borrowed, outdated ideologies of the West, better not accept the abusive terminology of Leftists as our self-definition. Mahatma Gandhi succeeded in marginalizing the Left in large part because he refused to let them define the rules of the game or its turf. That is why today, Leftists in western countries after firmly discarding Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism etc., seek inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi.
First published in www.dnaindia.com, 21st October, 2016, see link (http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-the-nonsensical-left-right-binery-2265967)