Milton Friedman
The Economic and the Religious Right: Can they unite?
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

“For most of human history religion has been central to the life of the mind: the intellectual elite has also been the religious elite”- ‘God is Back’ by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge

The Economic Right is by its nature cerebral. It largely consists of intellectuals and the discourse is about the nuts and bolts of governance, role of the state, constitution and its interpretation. At its core lies the noble belief to improve the living standards of the people and faith in the markets to achieve that goal. This has its draws and minuses. Because of its nature, it is unlikely that it will ever resonate with the masses, the way religious ‘identity’ does.  . To be influential in society, the intellectual elite must find ‘God’. They must co-exist with the Religious Right.

For the most part, intellectuals of the Economic Right consist of secular Hindus. But their secularism is of a different variety and is not hostile to religion like the one of the Left. Still they have a profound disregard for the Religious Right which in their opinion consists of ‘trishul wielding’ simpletons, unwashed masses with little intellectual value. But there is great unifying factor: the distaste for the Left. The biggest constituency fighting the Left is as we know is the Religious Right.

A major drawback of the Economic Right is what our co-editor, Vijay Vikram would say is a lack of a ‘concept of politics’. The Libertarian agenda is unsuited to Indian Society for two reasons. One is its belief in a small state. The new form of capitalism rising in China is largely state-sponsored or at least envisions a strong role for the State.  In fact the financial crisis has to an extent discredited this Milton Friedman style-Chicago school of Economics. Therefore the Economic Right must introspect, for they can be intellectually arrogant especially vis-à-vis the Religious Right.

Another great unifying factor is sociological rather than theological. The Economic Right might find little value in the Religious Right and its often reactionary discourse. But as things stand, the Religious Right has the numbers and zeal to fight the Left. It is unlikely that there will ever be a constituency large enough for a purely economic /constitutionalist party. Identity is central to most people and in a society like India, even more so.  The BJP, when it was in power found a way to be a home to both the Rights. Its core was always the Religious Right and that is only fair. It came to power because of Hindutva and not Chicago school of economics. But it realized that to govern well, it needs the Economic Right. It very skillfully co-opted the Yashwants Sinhas and Arun Jaitleys of the world.

The business class and the pious have throughout history complimented each other.  The ‘baniya’ community is the most faithful constituency of the BJP.  There is no reason why these two Rights cannot co-exist or even unite like they did under the NDA. But the initiative has to be taken by the Economic Right intellectuals, for they need the other Right more. Sociologically the only way that Economic Right can be in power or policy-making is by riding with the Religious Right. Just like the Leftists have a healthy relationship with the Gandhi family and often use it further their agenda, so must the Economic Right. Besides both the Rights are complimentary and need each other. The Economic needs the Religious for mass support, organization and muscle. The Religious, when in power needs the Economic Right for policy-making and governance for it largely lack a agenda on that front. Together they will create a richer Right.

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