On Labels :
There are several ongoing debates on labels that seek to communicate our social, political, economic and cultural world view. A study of the evolution of these labels across different countries and within each country across different time periods is indeed fascinating. As progress takes place, as contexts change, people seek to bring refinement to their views and add more nuances.Sometimes the original word morphs itself to mean something else altogether or a prefix is added to emphasise an additional feature. In India, while some question the very necessity to label oneself, some argue that there is no need to use western labels of Left/ Right or Liberal / Conservative and that we should use something totally indigenous.
Economic Right vs Cultural Right
Within the Right in India, there have been two categories of Public Intellectuals that have emerged,namely ‘Economic Right’ and the ‘Cultural Right’. Some of the prominent Economic Right describe themselves either as ‘atheists’ or ‘agnostic’ and generally disinterested in discussing religious and cultural issues. It is their belief, aided in no small measure by the Prime Minister’s constant refrain of ‘Vikas’, that if the country focusses on development all the unease and simmering of social issues will somehow be resolved.On the other hand, the Religious and Cultural Right believe that progress has to be made simultaneously on all fronts and the country can ill afford to ignore the ‘fault lines’ being highlighted and played upon by the Left Liberal ecosystem. They point out to the malicious campaign successfully launched by the Left cabal in the last two years that has had a direct impact on the functioning of the Parliament and consequent effects of slowing down the economic reform.This debate is leading to a very sharp divide between the Religious/Cultural Right and the Economic Right. Given how fragile the fledgeling Right ecosystem already is, there is an urgent need to remedy this situation and attempt to bridge the divide.
People across the Right spectrum have to come together and outline a ‘common minimum program’ of sorts outlining their view on social, political and economic issues. A consensus between the Economic and Cultural Right has to evolve and a ‘manifesto’ of their collective beliefs be drafted.
In my interview on Dharmic Liberalism (Read Here) by Kausik Gangopadhyay, I advocated the need for a duty based approach to political ideology using the ‘purushartha’ framework from the Hindu scriptures. I also sought to highlight (a fact previously brought to the fore by several scholars and public intellectuals) that being a Hindu automatically means being Liberal, as Hinduism does not have any dogmatic principles that are cast in stone, making it continuously evolving and self reforming. While there has been a general appreciation of these two principles, I found that several friends who belonged to the Economic Right were still uncomfortable with using a Sanskrit word to describe their ideology as it would somehow label them as a part of ‘Cultural Right’; while some were reluctant to accept the obligation of ‘duties’ as an integral part of their worldview having already developed a very strong Libertarian outlook.
The purpose of this post is to propose a label and outline some principles that are acceptable to both the Economic Right and the Cultural Right. Since most of the intellectuals on the Economic Right profess to be non religious, I try and outline here the social/cultural/religious aspects in terms of a Liberal construct of what a religion should be, than what Hinduism is or for that matter the other religions are. Therefore any Indian, irrespective of his religious beliefs or non beliefs, can use this label if he or she accepts the principles outlined here.
Thus an Indic Liberal stands for :
Indic is a defining attribute to a Liberal. As an adjective, ‘Indic’ seeks to describe respect for:
- India as being part of a 5000 year old unbroken civilisation.
- Timeless profundity of the scientific and philosphical insights of our ancestors without making any grandiose claims.
- Intrinsically pluralistic socio-cultural-economic profile of our country.
While the term Liberal has acquired divergent meanings across various countries, we use the term simply to mean someone who signifies a willingness to accept diverse views and is open to new ideas, more specifically :
Politically & Economically
An Indic Liberal politically and economically, believes in the principles of :
- Limited Government,
- Free markets,
- Individual Liberty,
- Equality of Opportunity,
- Assertive defence policy.
An Indic Liberal, even if he is an atheist or agnostic believes that any Liberal religion should be based on the following principles:
- Be non dogmatic, evolving & self reforming
- Not encourage any superstitious practises.
- Not lay any claims of exclusivity
- Not be predatory
- Respect non believers from within and without
- Not be discriminatory against gender or class of people
- Encourage spiritual enquiry & reasoning
Politically & Economically, an Indic Liberal, while being a Libertarian at heart, is tempered with the economic reality India faces and seeks to craft a policy that is based on indigenous needs and values while adopting international best practices.
Socially, an Indic Liberal respects his or her past without needlessly glorifying it, promotes an outlook that respects tradition without being bound by it, keeps his or her religious practises in the personal domain or within the community, cultivates spiritual enquiry and seeks to build an inclusive and non discriminatory society.
Finally on the issue of the need for labels and adopting Western labels, it must be understood that whether we like it or not, we are being labelled. We therefore need to respond whether our label describes us accurately or not. Our current label of Right Wing being a Western import, brings with it the attendant baggage from other cultures and is not used very complimentarily. We are sought to be portrayed in the same bracket as the extremely Conservative Republicans in the US and some of the xenophobic parties in Europe. An Indic Liberal is not a Conservative as there is neither any unwillingness to change nor a desire to perpetuate a status quo. Being Hindus, we are Liberal by nature as we are not bound by any scripture based rules that constrain us from evolving socially neither are we prisoners of unacceptable social practises that cannot be justified or rationalised. We have been reforming socially and continue to do so. So when we are labelled as Right Wing, there is a under text of dogmatic, non changing, Abrahamic Conservatism that is automatically painted on us.On the other hand, economically, the challenges of poverty we face do not allow us to be truly Libertarian, relying entirely on market forces to lead our poor into prosperity. We do need to provide equal opportunity to all and this requires efficiently delivered welfare initiatives. A number of pro poor ‘Left’ initiatives taken by the current ‘Right’ government are based on these indigenous realities and necessities.
Using the western framework to define ourselves, we are a unique form of ‘Religious Left’ aspiring to become a ‘Liberal Right’. While Left is normally non religious, (as a pushback to the conservatism of the Abrahamic faiths), it need not be so here for the reasons mentioned above. On the economic front, the necessity to provide equal opportunity to the poor,warrants an understanding of the need for welfare measures, hence ‘Religious Left’ captures a socially & economically Liberal view. On the other hand most of us by nature believe in free markets and limited government and would like to work towards the same. Hence the term’Liberal Right’ captures our aspiration both socially and economically.
We can therefore move away from the Left/Right labels as suggested by various scholars and public intellectuals, by defining ourselves as Indic Liberals. It captures the above indigenous political ideology, laying a foundation to eventually being a Indic Libertarian.
Finally, being a duty oriented Dharmic Liberal or a rights oriented Indic Liberal/Libertarian is a matter of personal choice.