A couple of days ago, Dr Anand Ranganathan wrote an excellent article on the need for the so-called “Right-Wing” folks to come to occupy the space of critiquing the government for when it goes wrong, as the left is no longer in a position to do the same.
The article witnessed a rebuttal from none other than Rahul Roushan who argued that the left is far from being done, just yet. While I agree with both of them on most of their points, I somewhat disagree with them in one important area. Therefore, this article is trying to take this important debate forward with the intention of many more such debates in the foreseeable future.
Over the course of last 5 years, I’ve come to a conclusion that labels such as political, cultural or economic right (or the left) are too restrictive, and often, an oversimplification of the diverse set of ideas that an individual may represent. For instance, I am a big believer in free markets, and in the phrase that governments have no business, but to be in business. But, at the same time, I acknowledge the reality that markets too fail; and when they do, there is a definite need for government intervention. Similarly, it is my belief that popular understanding of “free-markets” often ignores the importance of institutions or the government in ensuring that such a market can exist and function efficiently.
Most of the people have views that put them in different such identities, and as the Nobel Laureate, Dr Amartya Sen has stressed, Indians do have multiple identities. Therefore, for the majority of us, we can’t be labelled as the Right-Wing or the Left-Wing and more importantly, our views are not static and they’re bound to change over a period of time.
There is a slight minority of select commentators who genuinely hate the present administration, and even they too tend to lean to whichever ideology that they find convenient so long as it criticizes the government- be it extreme left, extreme right or even centre. But, for all practical purposes, such rigid identities don’t exist for most of us and therefore it is not possible to have just the “right-wing” critique the policies of the government because perhaps there are very few such individuals. The left, or as a matter of fact, anyone should criticize the government when it gets something wrong, but at the same time, they should also appreciate everything that the government gets right; for the current administration in its previous tenure got many things right and only a handful of things wrong.
Moreover, I feel that the need of the hour is for genuine constructive and prescriptive criticism that is based on a rigorous understanding of the subject rather than the conventional norm of criticism just for the sake of it. Of late, many commentators who are known to have an ideological agenda against the government have written articles without substance, or any merit and some of these articles have been published in leading newspapers of the day. This is where the problem lies in the left’s criticism of the government, that it is often based on ideology rather than data, facts and rigorous academic merit. As the new government gets sworn in, perhaps these authors should reflect and introspect on the poor quality of their work.
There is a definitive need for debate, dissent and discussion on multiple issues, be it on handling of NRC, or on the RBI’s monetary policy framework and even on 35A and this discussion should not be limited to just the “right-wing”, but, the discussion must be subject to a minimum standard to ensure that the quality of such a debate is maintained. I do agree with Dr Ranganathan on the need to debate, but I disagree as this debate should not be confined to just the centre right because the left too, can offer us a lot of ideas, if only it was willing to step up its game. This is where I disagree with Mr Roushan too, as the left will never be dead, just as the right can never be dead. These labels are dynamic, rather than static and it will be difficult to differentiate between them in a rigorous academic discourse.
With the elections over, we should move towards a new discourse where academic untouchability does not exist and where we evaluate arguments on the basis of merit and hypothesis on the basis of data. Only then can we find the best of solutions that will benefit policymakers and aid them in taking the country forward. The last 5 years witnessed an unprecedented pace of transformation of India & it is about time that the left appreciates and acknowledge it. The left should also realize that the so-called right is willing to engage with their ideas as long as their arguments have merits and are backed by data, what is unacceptable to us, and to India is when their work is driven by ideology and propaganda.
We’re at the dawn of a “New India” that will require us to contribute a continuum of ideas to build it over the next couple of years. Let all such ideas be discussed, debated and developed over the course of coming months.
Karan Bhasin is a political economist by training and has diversified research interests in the field of economics. He tweets @karanbhasin95.