Manohar Seetharam
Saffron-Left: A Misnomer
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

[Those of us who are sympathetic to the recent proposal of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) multi-brand retial have erred by labelling a certain group as saffron-left, for vehemently opposing this particular policy. A slighty deeper analysis will help us understand that there lies a big gulf between the group in question on one side and the organised left and the left-liberals on the other side. Infact there does exist sufficient and workable traction between this group and the larger Indian Center-Right thought system. This post is an attempt to explore, develop and forward this thought]

At the moment neither is the Indian politics nor is the Indian electorate divided along the hypothetical lines of classical left and right. While the nature of  “The Left” in all it’s diverse forms and flavors is well understood by all,  the goals and concerns of  “The Right” and the process of articulation of such goals and concerns hasn’t matured both politically and intellectually. While “The Left” has been very successful in it’s maneuvers – through which it internalized and attached itself to other ideas of vogue like secularism, liberalism ; “The Right” has paid a heavy price for failing to build alliances and offering solutions to unfolding problems. It is in this light that we must examine our attitudes and even is momentarily – question ourselves.

Nothing left about the “saffron-left”

Let us accept that there is a difference of opinion on the issue of FDI, with the so-called saffron left. If one were to go a couple of more steps to understand and appreciate the positions of this group on various other issues it would become very clear that their socio-economic positions do not originate from any leftist impulses. They are firmly opposed to the idea of government being in the business of acquiring goods or aggressively forwarding an agenda of redistribution. For instance, schemes like NREGA and other entitlement based programs would find no space in their scheme of things. Their vision of family being an institution responsible for the welfare of individuals is poles apart from the left-liberal construct of a welfare-state. They have a clear position against the communal targeting of groups by the state to deliver goods and services. Most importantly, they acknowledge that economic inequality is a part and parcel of any society and hence stay clear any utopia like an equal society. Any framework of thought that has the above socio-economic positions, simply cannot be branded in a manner that would imply their deep association with the left. Hence, I would refer to this group as the “Swadeshi-Right” from this point. Calling them left anything would be grossly wrong.

Points of convergence and divergence

The positions of the Swadeshi-Right (SR) on all the above mentioned issues are indeed very conducive to be accommodated within the desi Centre-Right (CR) umbrella.  Many threads of thought like nationalism, decentralization or power, good governance and minimum government run common between the CR and the SR. However there are other issues on which there are sharp differences. The most glaring point of divergence as it came out during the FDI debate is centered around the role of big business, global capital and the role of markets. While the CR is quiet open to big business and global capital playing a role in the development of nation and it’s economy, the SR is doctrinally opposed to this position. It sees no role for a global market and trans-national businesses in India’s future. “Let a thousand markets bloom” – is the phrase used to make this point .

Label with caution

Labeling is eventually an act of placing objects or ideas within the ambit of a pre-existing or a fresh silo. It automatically helps the audience locate that idea within the neighbourhood of “other” ideas. The issue, as I see with the SR ideologues is that they want to stay beyond an arm’s length of reach from both the left and the right. They are dismissive of this distinction between the left and the right as an outdated western notion. They forward their agenda under the umbrella of being pro-Bharat, I ask them – does that mean those opposing you are anti-Bharat ? While I don’t see that SR ideologues reconciling to either left of right side of the politics completely, I am convinced that there can very easily be an alliance or a workable relationship between the CR and the SR. Be that as it may. Before closing, I would like to again underscore the principal point of this post and alert the readers before they give into the label of saffron-left. If at all one is looking for a label, I feel the label of Swadeshi-Right would be more apt.