Whose names come to mind when you think of these national initiatives?
National electrification, universal sanitation, universal housing, nationwide access to clean water, nationwide highway transport system and universal healthcare for poor mission.
Electrification suggests FDR’s TVA or Lenin’s GOELRO plan. Highway system suggests Eisenhower. Healthcare suggests the NHS or Bernie Sanders. Which of these are ‘right wing’ or ‘populist’? None. These — and others — are all programmes initiated by the Narendra Modi government.
The Saubhagya Mission, started in September 2017, has achieved universal electrification of rural households, having increased from 71 per cent to 91 per cent in a year and half and full electrification cover since.
Universal housing was the goal of Indira Awas Yojana started way back in 1985, before half of India’s voters (more than 50 per cent are in the 18-35 age group) were born.
The Jal Jeevan Mission has already doubled tap water connections from less than 17 per cent in 2019 to over 36 per cent today. The PMJAY Ayushman Bharat mission has over 140 million card holders who have availed 17 million hospital visits since foundation of the programme. The Bharatmala programme is executing an aggressive transportation connectivity programme.
Some of these numbers are shocking to read — only 1 per cent of villages had sanitation in 1980 and only 39 per cent in 2014. Less than 17 per cent had running water in 2019.
Outcome figures of basic human development metrics across the board ranged from poor to pitiable.
Decades of Congress rule generated performance far behind East and South-East Asia in these basic needs.
Addressing quality of life for the lowest strata of society has dominated most of the policy actions of this administration, with significant outcome improvements that enabled it to return to power with an unprecedented mandate in 2019.
Critics complain that the statistics aren’t reliable, but the political results are undeniable.
The administration’s major laws are known — the bankruptcy code, the GST act, the CAA law and the farm laws.
Let’s have a cursory look at some other new acts promulgated:
Black Money Act 2015: a stringent act targeting illegal foreign income.
Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act 2016: a new law to generate resources to replace forest cover cut down for timber with planting elsewhere.
Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act 2016
Maternity Benefit Act 2017: mandates generous 26 week maternity leave and creches.
Mental Healthcare Act 2017: first national law recognising mental health needs.
Employment Compensation Act 2017: formalises employee right to compensation. Right to Free and Compulsory Childrens Education 2019
And bills passed:
Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions Bill
Epidemic Diseases Bill 2020: updates previous act from 1897 to help Covid handling. Transgender Protection of Rights Bill 2019: first formal bill on transgender rights. Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill 2019: first formal bill targeting this topic.
Consumer Protection Bill 2019: protects rights of consumers.
Protection of Human Rights Bill 2019: Updates the 1993 act.
Maternity rights, children’s rights, environmental protection, mental health, transgender rights, employee compensation, occupational health and safety, consumer rights, human rights — these are the subject of already passed bills or acts from this BJP administration.
They constitute standard Left-wing liberal interests (maternity rights, labour, consumer and human rights), even woke progressive leitmotifs like LGBTQ rights.
And yet, the BJP is frequently described as a parochial right-wing party. The American Republicans for example have a long record of transgender discrimination, consumer rights dilution and more. The BJP instead is headed the opposite way. So what, then, is the BJP?
Standard Anglosphere-oriented left versus right-wing political distinction does not apply in India.
It bears a review of what the centre right in the US and UK are.
The American Republicans are the party of the wealthy and the religious conservatives. They want ‘small government’, deregulation, opposed to environmental protection, in favour of cutting taxes.
In the UK, the Conservatives are the party of the upper class and wealthy, and strong supporters of the royalty. In both cases, their centre-right is the party of the socio-economic elite and that of the social conservatives.
The centre-left in those countries constitute the intellectual and labour classes, unions, and other organised groups, including immigrants who aspire to be socio-economically mobile.
In India, the situation is diametrically the opposite. The centre-left Congress is the party of the elite.
The Nehru-Gandhi family running Congress are billionaires with a vast network of property, influence and patronage, a legion of lawyers, media personalities, and other influence peddlers at their disposal.
This ecosystem maintains significant intergenerational wealth, is western educated and ‘think in English’.
Their fundamental aim is to conserve their influence and wealth, maintained over the decades following Independence.
They aren’t simply ‘convent-educated’, but went to the top prep schools in India, followed by the UK/US. They resemble the British Conservatives and American Republicans — intergenerational wealth, power and influence.
The BJP in comparison is the party of the aspirational class, small businessmen and entrepreneurs and social conservatives. It has no record of intergenerational wealth or interest at all — none of its major leaders even have families.
They seek to reform the existing status quo to instead favour the aspirational class. Women, children, consumers at large, small business, the removal of all the arcane laws that enabled wealthy dynasties to safeguard their business interests across generations — the BJP’s laws reflect their impetus to reform and change.
In the Anglosphere, the right-wing, as described above, are conservatives, while the left wing are liberals.
In India, while the Congress calls themselves the ‘liberals’ they are fundamentally conservative elites trying to conserve their privileged position in society.
The BJP are the liberals trying to change the existing power structure to a more egalitarian broad-based one. So what template really fits the BJP?
The answer lies in continental Europe — Christian democracy. Swap the religion with Hinduism and consider the history of the Christian democrats — you have a political philosophy largely what the BJP professes to.
Both consider that their societies are conceived of a culture that is built out of the influence of the primary religion of the land.
Both — unlike the Anglophone right wing — see their society as composed of not a primary group but several subcommunities working towards the common good.
Germany — the home of Christian democracy — was after all federated into a single country only in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Both prescribe social capitalism — between socialism of the Anglophone left (and historically the Indian Congress) and liberal capitalism of the Anglophone right.
Most fundamentally, both view secularism in common terms — that the dominant culture maintains and requires a first among equals position in society. Neither seek a theocracy, but neither are interested in a secular structure that comes at the cost of the religion that is the dominant cultural influence of the land.
Narendra Modi has often been criticised by Anglophone press like Financial Times and Economist for not following through on liberal capitalist actions, which is futile because he isn’t one to begin with.
Modi is best understood by comparison to the most well known Christian Democrat of the present day — Angela Merkel.
This article describes Merkel, her beliefs and how they drive her, as well as Christian Democracy in general — something both the US and UK are unfamiliar with.
Modi and Merkel both share a commitment to combating climate change — a topic the Anglophone right wing treats at best with scepticism.
Under Modi, India is the only G20 nation to be on track to meet 2°C compatibility targets from the 2015 Paris Accord.
The German popular voting breakdown for and against CDU (and in favour of their main rival the SPD — Socialist Party of Germany), mirrors India.
Ethnic Turks largely vote SPD, while ethnic Germans predominantly vote CDU/CSU. The voting preferences almost exactly mirror Muslims in India with regard to BJP.
In this regard, the CDU’s platform is fundamentally democratic the same way the BJP’s is. Both parties know that by appealing to the greatest common denominator of their societies, they have enough support to win.
Identity politics does not suit them. They don’t need it, and it is counterproductive to their voting base.
This is criticised as ‘electoral majoritarianism’, but primarily in the Indian context even though the CDU has essentially the same electoral base within Germany as the BJP in India.
The Anglophone west struggles to describe the BJP for the same reason it doesn’t really know or understand the continental European Christian Democrats well.
In fact, it struggles to understand the incumbent American president, who is a religious Catholic and not a woke progressive.
Voila: "Joe Biden Isn’t a Liberal or a Moderate. He’s a Christian Democrat". But unlike the BJP, the European Christian Democrats help safeguard European Christian culture, which remains something the Anglophone right values.
As a result, Merkel and Modi, despite being ‘statesmen’ who hold their regard for their respective faiths equally, are viewed differently.
Some commentators ignore the correspondence between the BJP and CDU, and instead characterise the BJP along the lines of something more extremist like Viktor Orban’s Fidesz national-conservatives in Hungary.
However, this is wrong on several levels. Modi’s BJP passed laws to safeguard transgender rights a year before Orban’s Fidesz did the opposite.
Hungary’s frontier position in the face of immigration from the civil war-engulfed Middle East makes their politics much more right wing than the centrist position of both the CDU in Germany and the BJP in India.
Some point to the existence of protests as a reflection of extremist power in India. Being able to repeatedly protest or state that they are being oppressed year after year with no repercussions is an ironic joke — in a truly oppressive regime someone could do that at most once.
The BJP is not a parochial right-wing “fundamentalist” party. They are the same thing as the continental European Christian Democrats, in an Indian context with Hinduism replacing Christianity.
The Anglophone west and their Indian cohorts — who barely understand the Christian Democrats, do not understand the BJP either. The two have fundamentally similar political backgrounds from the same timeframes — beginning late nineteenth century, but evolving post the Second World War.
Both have popular leaders who express their belief in their respective religions forming the cultural base of their nations. Merkel expresses this even more explicitly than Modi: "Merkel urges Germans: stand up for Christian values".
It’s time for the BJP to be explicitly described as a Hindu democratic party. They constitute the Indian expression of the same values that the continental European Christian Democrats express.
A clear expression of what they are, also frees them from the artificial constraints applied on them to fit into one of two classification categories that the Anglophone western political view imposes upon them.
They should not be described in terminology defined by those who do not understand them or the general foundation of Hindu democracy in the first place. This freedom will give them greater clarity to pursue their policies effectively.
Suraj S is a keen observer of Indian political economy and modern Indian economic history.
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