Left, Right and Centre of Indian politics
With the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shouting matches between panellists from different parties on the TV news debates have become a regular event.
The participants on these shows usually come from parties belonging to opposites sides of the political spectrum. Accusations that end up being hurled in studios or in opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines consist of calling the other side left-wing, right-wing or of having no political ideology at all.
What do they mean?
Such terms such as Right, Left and Centre in terms of political parties is an attempt to categorise them based on their political ideologies, socio-cultural policies as well as the kind of economics a group believes in and follows.
For example, stances that take on policy towards the role of religion and religious groups, position on crime, type of society and importance of culture, impetus on nationalism, and what kind of trade policy etc.
The Right favours the individual and free will to take their own decisions and reap the benefits from them in the case of the economy, and the limited role of the government in all matters. Left on the other hand is on the side of a strong government with it providing welfare measures.
While on issues such as society, religion, culture nationalism the right believes in a strong stance taken by the authority whereas the left believes progressive policy by the government where an approach of universal acceptance should be adopted rather a policy of strict adherence.
Do they exist in India?
But in the case of India, the need to differentiate parties into such groupings mattered very little till the birth of the BJP and the eventual hold at the national and state level that it enjoys today, became a reality.
This was so, as till now, parties that had dominated the politics of the country always had Centrist, Left to Center or totally leftist tendencies. As the BJP continues to grow in power through the country, its political ideology of being towards the Right has for the first time taken centre stage.
And though such a differentiation into the three groupings could be done fairly accurately in the western world in the previous century and most clearly in the cold war era between the Soviet Union (Left) and the US (Right), it barely holds true for the current western world and for a country like India.
The groupings that explain the current scenario, in a more technically accurate manner, would be the Centre, the Right of Centre and the Left of Centre, as nearly all political parties, especially in India, hold a position of compromise between the extremes, in particular holding contradictory positions on socio-cultural and economic issues.
The main reason for this could be the country's history, which has mostly been towards the Centre but tilted towards the left. But for all intents and practical purposes, these can still be classified as the Right, Left and Centre, by taking into account the standing on the core issues that these parties stand for.
The rise of the BJP has brought with it the first Right party at the national level, though Shiv Sena, which also falls in the same category, did exist before but only at the state level.
With the rise of the BJP, there has come a different approach, which means that it has broken away from the policies, which India had adopted ever since its independence.
And such a change has brought with it a host of critics, from those on the Right, the Left and the centre. The change has also come on all fronts, social, economics and political, though according to critics, a bit more on some and little less on the others.
On issues of religion, the standing of the BJP has been seen as aggressive, as it has as followed what is the norm for political parties on the Right, of not implementing an appeasement policy of religious minorities and wanting an equality of all approach, including the majority group.
The other controversies surrounding the change is in their aggressive stance on issues of nationalism, support and defence of traditional society and culture, through its parent organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, all in line with the traditional school of the Right.
While on the economic front it has been blamed for not being aggressive enough with the government still in the business of doing business through government run and controlled companies, a push for labour reforms notwithstanding.
This school of thought has a deep history in India, both before and after independence, with many state governments being run by parties on the Left since independence.
The main parties on this side of the spectrum are the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) headed by the current West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
These parties have had a major presence in the states of Kerala and West Bengal, along with some states in the northeast of India. Also, while the Congress, which is typically seen as being Centre in the political spectrum at the national level, certain state units of the party when in government in places such as Kerala and in the northeast can be termed as leftist.
These parties, again following the definition of the side of the Left, have been opposed to the setup of private industries in these states and have the presence of strong unions in all fields, be it labour, student and others. They have also had strong policies towards the protection of minority groups through appeasement. A surprise, given that Left parties by philosophy do not believe in god and religion.
The left has also enjoyed a brief but successful presence at the national level by winning enough Lok sabha seats in Bengal and Kerala to have an active role in deciding the policy at the centre. But again following the tendencies of parties on the Left to be against friendly relations with the US and against free global trade, both the communist parties withdrew support from the UPA alliance when the Congress refused to agree to its demands of not signing the Indo-US nuclear deal.
And at the state level both these parties have lost out to the former Congress leader and now the chief of TMC, Mamata Banerjee, who ended the communist parties 34 years rule in the Bengal. Leading to the present situation of these parties being in power in only one major state, Kerala.
The Centre and the rest
Though alot other parties fall under this category but the one major party that fits this bill is the grand old party of India, Congress. With the party at the centre of the freedom struggle against the British, it was natural that it came to power not only at the national but also the state level after independence.
It is the Congress, which under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, which chose the direction India, would take after 1947. And the policies put in can be bracketed into those of Moderates, another term used for the Centre and of those who are left of Centre, depending on which period of the over five-decade rule of the party is looked at.
The path of government companies driving the country's development, secularism being adopted which was separate from that in Europe, where the government recognises no religions, whereas in India all are equally treated and supported, and a position of non-alignment accepted towards global power's. It is a discontinuation with these policies that the current switch of policies under the BJP, comes in sharp contrast with.
Along with the Congress, barring a few exceptions, almost all other parties, both national and state level, such as Samajwadi Part, Bahujan Samajwadi Party, DMK, AIADMK etc., can be put into the bracket of the Centre.
This including the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party, which though started with the policy announcements which were more in line with the left and were even comfortable calling themselves anarchists, yet its functioning since then have put it in between the Centre and the left. As its stand on the economic front which follows that of the left, but the policy on the social, cultural issues stands clearly to the centre.
With the arrival and what can be seen as a presence of the BJP, for the considerable future, the debate between the merits and demerits of policies of the all the political parties on the opposites sides of the political spectrum can be expected for many years to come.