A Man of the Right

By Vijay Vikram

One of the misfortunes of having an intellectual sympathy for the political Right in India is that one automatically finds oneself in the company of unbecoming Hindu goons, be they online or in the field. As legitimate political activity in India is set on a default left-liberal setting, it is in the normal order of things quite problematic to find a desi political animal to engage with who is possessed of a sense of public service and a strong sense of national identity. The ones who do represent the aforementioned themes and other programmes dear to the heart of the Indian political animal often also couple these admirable political sentiments with quite a nasty anti-cosmopolitanism, not to mention a general distaste for Muslims. The latest brouhaha over a 95-year-old Indian painter’s decision to accept Qatari citizenship is a case in point. Without going into the stultifying details of this non-controversy, it is possible to illustrate the dilemma faced by the urban nationalist. On the one hand, there is the establishment media with all its shrillness busy bestowing titles of greatness upon Mr. Hussain, on the other, we have the cyber crusaders intent on punishing the nonagenarian for his treachery. Can you be a man of the Right and refuse to rain abuse on M.F. Hussain? For a child of that Indo-Persian synthesis called Hindustan and an advocate of assertive political action, this can cause a fair degree of cognitive dissonance.

If the choice is between urban cosmopolitanism however – a distinctly apolitical concern – and a movement that promises vigorous and ambitious national reform, the political animal ought to waste little time.

In an India that does not maintain a conscious commitment to the secularism that was so dear to her founding father, the only meaningful political-reformist impulses are to be found within that broad church called the Hindu movement. There is little doubt that the secularist project held enough promise to animate independent India’s Oxbridge-educated nation builders and for that matter, much of the professional elite. The vision of a progressive, religion-blind, postcolonial power was surely an attractive one for the champagne socialist. However, the democratising impulse inherent to Nehru’s nation building project ensured that a genuine commitment to secularism was gradually overwhelmed by the parochialism that comes naturally to a feudal society such as India. Nehru’s all-encompassing pan-Indian vision was to founder dreadfully on the rocks of region, religion and caste. Secularism in India means little more than being nice to Muslims and Christians. Although this is an admirable sentiment, it surely cannot form the basis of a comprehensive national philosophy.

The history of independent India’s politics is the history of the Congress ceding the nation-building imperative to the political Right. Why this has happened is a matter of debate. Perhaps the Congress, post-1947 really was a facade built around the gigantic political personality of Nehru and once he went, so did the fire of his guiding philosophy. One can scarcely accuse his daughter and her heirs of having much of a political Weltanschauung. Perhaps it can be accounted for by the vigorous activism of the Hindu right and the religiosity of the Hindu masses that in another era, Gandhi used to great effect.

Two points are clear though: India is a nation that still needs building and because the secularist project has run out of steam and fails to inspire the desi political animal, the only prescriptions for audacious political renewal are to be found in proposals put forth by modernisers from within the Hindu camp. There may be passionate men and women with an avowed commitment to Indian secularism residing in Delhi and Bombay who would contend the latter claim. What they fail to realise however is that they expend so much energy in fighting off the march of the Right and its pernicious agendas that they have little time to indulge in visions of societal renewal and meaningful political engagement. Machiavelli’s ideal of the political animal – one who sought the fulfilment and the glory that comes from the creation and maintenance by common endeavour of a strong and well-governed social whole – seems lost in the mediocre soap opera that is Indian politics.

The tasks facing the desi political animal then, are certainly not straightforward but necessary. He must utilise the energies unleashed by the right to create an atmosphere conducive to su-raj or good government. In practical terms this means committing oneself to policy affairs. In more normative terms, it means emphasising the will to power that comes naturally to overtly political movements. In the end, an Indian committed to political renewal has only one natural home, the Right, warts and all.

Vijay Vikram is Editor and Co-Founder of Centre Right India, an initiative dedicated to increasing political awareness and nurturing an intellectually vibrant right-of-centre tradition in India. This post is reproduced from Centre Right India with permission of the author.


  • ercelan
    Posted at 17:50h, 19 March Reply

    elegant version of our islamic right. serious students of politics need comment on the possible similarity with fascism and communism

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 13:45h, 20 March

      Ercelan: Since you have mentioned fascism and communism I will save here a link to an article by the philosopher John Gray titled Communists and Nazis: Just as Evil? This is a review of a new book by Avishai Margalit – On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. Gray calls Margalit “one of the most important philosophers working on questions of ethics and politics today.” (The review is in the current issue of NYRB and will have unrestricted access once the next issue is out.)

      The review mentions that one of the things Margalit talks about in his book is the “politics of the holy”: “Margalit goes on to observe how the politics of the holy can be used to support irredentism, sectarianism, and sectorialism (the division of society into separate parts). Whether in Jerusalem or India, he suggests, “the politics of the holy is the art of the impossible. It makes long-run compromise untenable.””

      I see ‘A Man of the Right’ as an argument for taking the politics of the holy out of the politics of the Right or for locating a politics of the Right that is independent of the politics of the holy. I think this represents a fresh perspective and identifies an essential need in South Asia.

  • Hasan Abdullah
    Posted at 02:48h, 21 March Reply

    “A Man of the Right” may please first define his position.

    As I understand, Right stands for the status-quo, exclusion and accentuation of differentiation. If not, then how else does one define “Right”?

    In contrast, the Left – at least in principle – stands for societal churning, inclusiveness and integration. And, in the ultimate, one on the Left subscribes to the the societal doctrine:

    “From one according to ability, to one according to need”

    So, how do we engage in a dialogue in the absence of a common basis?

    Put in plain terms, “peace, education, health and ‘roti, kapda aur makaan'” – for all – is accorded priority and informs the views of a person, who is on the Left.

    If “A Man of the Right” agrees with the above-mentioned priority, then he can scarcely be described as “A Man of the Right”. And, if his views are not informed by the above fundamental requirements of humanity, then he may please first enlighten us about his priorities and motivations.

    Hasan Abdullah

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 18:37h, 22 March

      Hasan: It would have been better if Vijay had replied to your comment. However, since he has not, let me give it a try.

      One has to start from the premise that the aim of all activists is to work towards an improvement of society. Different activists favor different policies. For example, there can be differences on the following: a big or a small role for the state; strong or weak regulation of markets; a minor or major role for religion in public life; having or not having affirmative action; etc. In general, the first set of choices are associated with Left or Liberal politics; the second with Right or Conservative politics. These labels should not be used as blanket categorizations because it is possible to be on the Right on social issues and on the Left on economic ones.

      Both the Right and the Left can have extreme elements that are not averse to using violence to further their aims but one side need not be more intrinsically violent than the other. It would be an extreme simplification to conflate Left and Right with Good and Bad.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 14:06h, 21 March Reply

    I don’t think the issue of national integration, an ongoing project, can be meaningfully addressed by referring to broad political ideologies. Ideologies, whether it be secularism or the right, are after all formed after cherry picking historical facts. If secularism has failed in India, so will the Hindu right. It is only a matter of time. I just shudder to think what will happen to the social harmony of India if the right gets an extended power stay. What is needed is the ruthless crushing of organizations such as RSS, VHP and their Islamic counterparts, to achieve any sort of meaningful progress in national integration. What is also needed is a constant grassroots level dialogue on Hindu-muslim relations. Where the secularists have failed is in keeping such a grassroots movement alive and current. They have taken for granted that secularism, imposed from top, will do the trick. They have treated the muslims and Christians as vote banks, instead of actually working on their consciousness The right has worked its poison from the grassroots. That is where their success ultimately derives from, combined with some Machiavillean political moves over the course of 50 years of independence.

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