Author: Ramanathan Iyer (medium)
There couldn’t be more interesting times for our generation to live in. Unless, any of us is living under the proverbial rock, we can all sense that the ground beneath our feet is shifting. The politics, and every other branch associated with it — within the governance circles or outside of it — is witnessing a tectonic shift.
This tectonic shift can be and must be attributed to the rise (not necessarily the win of!) of the Right Wing politics and discourse, globally! The win of Narendra Modi in India, the win of Trump in the US, and the rise of right-wing politics in Europe is a clear signal of this shift. But how does that make the current times so interesting and also challenging?
Well, our generation’s fascination with the theoretical aspects of Post-Modernism and Post-Structuralism has been an ongoing phenomenon. We are fascinated, worldwide with the art that’s postmodernist in nature. Whether it be paintings, cinema, music, and other aspects of social and cultural engagement, ours has been a generation that’s loved to engage with it beyond the conventional binaries of a Structuralist world. We have always loved to look at everything above through a reductive and dismissive lens of relativism and the fact that there’s no single truth, and it’s all a matter of perception. Considering that the love affair with postmodernism and relativism has been so intense, we shouldn’t be scared so easily with the prevalent shift in the political discourse. But we are! Why?
It’s good to examine this fear, not on the basis of facts; but on the basis of emotional, instinctive, and subconscious associations with political and linguistic archetypes that we have come to deploy and create hegemonic truths.
Thanks to years of Colonial rule, not just in India; but the world-over, we have had a definition of political spectrum and political discourse shoved down our throats, and embedded in our minds — via our educational institutions, academic research, media, arts, culture, and general discourse at large. This understanding primarily evolves from viewing the world politics through the prism of the Right Wing and Left Wing!
Before we get all paranoid, or dismissive, it’s critical to understand this difference, and why such categorization doesn’t hold water in the Indian social or intellectual context, and why a forced attempt to categorize Indian political, social and cultural discourse into this binary would lead to nothing but disaster.
The concept of Right Wing and Left Wing originated in France in 1789 during the times of French Revolution. It was during this time where people who aligned with the idea of monarchy and religion seated in the right and people who embraced the revolution or the proverbial overthrowing of the established order seated to the left. It may make sense if you just apply this basic seating classification basis the above example to replicate within the Indian political discourse; but unfortunately, upon a deeper examination of the culture of the right and the left in a society such as France, and the attempts to force-fit the same within the Indian political context might yield an entirely different result. Since, the origins of the left-right spectrum are traced to the Western and European nations, it’s almost impossible to divorce the birth of these movements from the culture they were operating in. The religious outlook in the West has been dominated by Christianity and conservative Christianity at that. There’s enough evidence out there to prove and even underline the fact the religious viewpoints of the Abrahamic faiths has always been driven by a clear binary world view, and has (to put it mildly!) ignored the grey. Hence, if the right wing politics in these societies were aligned to the traditional/religious beliefs and social orders, there was less of a chance of social and cultural reform which the non-conformists in the Western world since time immemorial have fought for across the dimensions of science, individual liberties and academic discourse. Those who wanted to break their relationship from the conservative and often inaccurate rulings of the traditional Church (both pre and post-Vatican), were the ones whose political and social moorings were driven by their love of scientific pursuits, and language was a tool to disseminate that thought.
But in India, what’s the right wing? And when did the need for the conventional right-left political spectrum step in? Was it a result of an absolutely Indic thought? Or was it embraced by Indians who had embraced, rather blindly if I might add, the notion of Western progressiveness without ever caring to use the Indic lens to deconstruct Indian political construct? Yesterday, I had a fantastic time contributing and exchanging perspectives on my brother-in-law’s status update about Mahabharata! If one were to look at Mahabharata, and ignore every other epic or treatise written in India before or after that, that in itself should give enough examples of how advanced Indian political thought was even before the West had come to embrace the ideas of Democracy, social justice, individual rights, traditions and rigidity within them and the need to reform and so on… And the beauty of Mahabharata (perhaps that’s why it was called Mahabharata) is that it stems from the cultural and religious viewpoint that’s not binary, and was not based on the concept of surrender or submission; but Karma! Our political and social thought was constructed basis the karma, and it’s alignment with laws of cosmic survival and welfare! It was never about seeking salvation through god and going up to heaven. It was about righteousness. While Western politics was always divided between the binaries of Collectivism vs. Individualism; Indian political discourse from the time of Mahabharata focused on enabling Individualism by deploying the idea of Democratic principles. Democracy was always in service of people to enable individuals to realize their larger purpose. The concept of the conventional right and left wing politics remains disassociated with Indic context, because self-reform was always engineered into our political DNA. Divinity was never meant to be taken seriously in the Vedic context, as what we today know and worship as divinity in India was clearly a human manifestation of Dharma! It was always meant to be an example of social, and personal conduct to ensure the survival of the larger cosmic fabric. Yes, that may seem a little abstract as a political notion to modern Indians who like abstraction only in the revolutionary posts on Facebook; but like their politics to be black or white! Varna system was ridiculed even by our very own Krishna who always said that it’s the Karma of a person that determines who or what a person is and where they belong! Not the birth. As a matter of fact, he himself was a Yaduvanshi (a Yadav) — a person belonging to the supposed neech jaat. Did it ever strike anyone as to why that avatar was in the neech jaat? The most sacred epic of Hindus are the Vedas and the Gita! Now, Gita was a subset of Mahabharata. While Vedas were written by Rishis, and so was Mahabharata; Gita is said to be the voice of God himself. And even if we go by popular mythology and the level of importance accorded to mythology in Indic social context, doesn’t it make sense to give more weight to the word of God rather than Rishis or Men?
And this is where, some part (I’d say large part of the blame) needs to put squarely at our Historians, our academia, our social, political and our cultural discourse framers. Our colonial history and archaeological findings were documented by our colonial masters. And our post-colonial history and academic work was written basis the findings established during the colonial rule. The impact of the colonial leftovers across the entire social spectrum in independent India can never be overstated. Whether one might like it or not, it’s an undeniable fact! And it’s the impact of this education and cultural knowledge that’s shaped our political and our media discourse as well. Another important fact is that in the history of post-independence India, most of the historical and academic research was institutionalized by Mr. Nehru. It shouldn’t take anyone by surprise that Mr. Nehru was a Fabian Socialist! And his worldview was colored by his love for the application of Fabian Socialist ideas within the context of the conservative West. Now, not only was he a socialist, politically, he was clearly aligned to the erstwhile USSR in the post-war world. Therefore, his idea of reconstructing a modern India across all levels clearly had influences of Fabian Socialist doctrine as well USSR’s communist economic, social, and political thought processes. Therefore, since he deemed a mix of these ideologies as progressive, he did make efforts to implant those ideologies within the DNA of modern India’s building blocks.
This essentially means that modern India’s understanding of itself was hardly based on its interaction and dialog with its own traditions; but more on an “interpretation” of the alien social, cultural and political ideas. Since, these ideas and thoughts and concepts were mainstreamed right from the time of independence, and were given the official seal of approval by the ruling dispensation of the time and times to come, it was taken as the ultimate truth and unquestioned fact. The dangers of such conditioning were not felt at the time; but the reverberations are felt today! When only one way of even thinking becomes mainstream, then even the mechanism of collecting facts, interpreting facts, and presenting a social narrative also doesn’t exclude itself from the ambit of suspicion.
This suspicion is precisely what’s causing a churn today in modern India! The rise of the Indian Right (so to speak) is seeking to bring an alternate narrative to the mainstream. We have already talked about what’s been considered mainstream in India all these years post-independence! So, when an alternative narrative tries to raise its head and have its voice heard, it’s bound to cause a churn in the society! It makes one wonder the idea of Truth itself. If there’s a truth? If there’s facts! What’s news? What’s fake news? What’s believable and what’s not? It’s this process of “Manthan” that modern India is finding itself in the middle of.
This is not to say that the so-called Indian Right has done a great job of interpreting Indic thought process and spreading the discourse! How could it? After all, the idea of politics supersedes every right idea. The Indian Right that loves to position itself as the moral custodian of Indic traditions also has failed to give credence to the Mahabharata, Krishna and his teachings on the Varna system. It’s always tried to impose the Manusmriti version of the Varna system along with many other antiquated rituals and traditions. It’s this blind, illogical, and immature adherence to the traditions, rituals on the part of the Indian Right that makes the existence of the Indian Left in the Indian polity relevant! And also the tussle between the left-controlled discourse vs. right-controlled discourse so fascinating! It’s because of this tussle, we now see the wider Indian society literally step out of the theoretical world of postmodernism and post-structuralism and inhabit these worlds for real. This is chaotic! No one wants to live in the world where truth becomes a muddled concept, and the search for it becomes more spiritual than tangible! After all, a collective brain that’s been conditioned to believe in cold, hard logic, finds it nearly unbearable to inhabit the world of abstractions.
The day the Indian Right rediscovers itself, and truly establishes a dialog with the genuine Indic traditions, and re-frame them to Modern Indian context, rather than framing Modern India based on the interpretations of the Indic texts by Indian-Western Minds, we will find ourselves and our social structures enter the age of…