Srinath Kaipa
A Centre Right Agenda for new leadership
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

As India advances to what is likely to be one of the most seminal elections in its history – those with an interest in promoting a centre-right outlook need to step up to the plate and define their expectations in concrete terms. A political climate that continues to be centred on issues of identity, sops and the dynastic surname constitutes in many ways the single biggest roadblock to India’s emerging competitiveness and ability to leverage global environs to its own advantage.

The key challenge for Indian Polity is therefore to be able to set the tone for a more substantive political discourse – one that eschews the ‘sound byte of the day’ style popularized by mainstream Indian media & focuses instead on the underlying agendas for the future, visible in the fray for national leadership.

What would be the key elements of such a discourse? In effect, these would be (a) A move on the part of the voter-base and media towards support for defined public policy ‘agendas’ – as opposed to unconditional support either for parties or for individual leaders, (b) agenda articulation to a level of detail going far beyond commonly-used high-level labels such as ‘centre right’, ‘left liberal’, ‘far right’ and ‘socialist’ that, without backing of such definition, often serve only to obfuscate rather than clarify, and (c) evaluation, during the run-up to every election, of credentials of competing parties and leaders in furthering the agreed agenda.

A Centre Right agenda is one that is likely to be a natural home for the middle-to-upper class of professionals, both salaried and entrepreneurs, in India. These are the ones who have benefited most from both the unshackling of the Indian economy as well as from a relatively liberal and forward-looking social outlook that has been a source of competitiveness for them in a globalized world. Many have speculated (as in a recent Think India forum debate) that the Liberal Right, a term often used synonymously with the Centre Right, represents the natural rhythm of India. Surprisingly though – the push towards gaining a consensus on and specifying a detailed agenda on economic, social and other fronts addressing Centre Right concerns, has been relatively muted.

Part I of this article seeks to address this deficit and presents a detailed agenda for the Centre Right. Part II will focus on evaluation of the primary contestants for national leadership in the upcoming elections, on the basis of the same parameters.

The first point to note about the agenda (Table above) is that it is detailed – all of 40 parameters. Economy, governance and social issues expectedly comprise the majority of these parameters. But Centre Right supporters also have expectations on other key areas of state focus – including Security, Foreign Policy and (surprise!) Human Development Indicators.

A word on how these parameters have been arrived at. While some of the parameters are recognizable concerns of the Centre Right, others may not be as familiar. Nevertheless these other parameters play a key role in determining competitiveness of India as an economy and as a player on the global stage.

Given that this remains a primary long-term goal for the Centre Right – the relative prominence of such items on the list is not surprising. Parameters where it was felt that there was sufficient consensus across parties and candidates so as not to count as major points of differentiation have been excluded. Some, such as the one on Corruption (under Governance), might not figure in an equivalent Centre-Right agenda say for the US – but do so in the case of India due to widespread resonance in the Indian context. Moreover, voter perceptions regarding candidates on this front vary widely.

Points (8) and (9) under Economy, as an example, focus on enhancing long-term competitiveness of Indian entrepreneurship. Subsequent parameters, from (10) to (13), might be regarded by some as too micro-level to deserve place in an agenda of this sort.

However, as the recent past has demonstrated, it is possible to show high economic growth in the short-term without the government necessarily investing substantially in infrastructure, urban development or large-scale manufacturing. Growth can also be ‘jobless’ if not backed by the right policies. Given India’s demographics, it is not in her long-term interests to aim for a growth that does not fulfil these criteria – hence their place on this Centre Right agenda.

Amongst the noteworthy features is the emphasis on Economy, Development and Governance. Contributing to the relatively centrist orientation are the absence of more Far Right-associated social motifs and relative moderation on Foreign Policy as also Security (no POTA, Armed Forces modernization is assumed to be a consensus across parties, as is maintaining strategic nuclear options).

There are some themes that figure consistently across the various categories – e.g. Modernism, Competitiveness and Reforms. But also of central concern, as highlighted in the agenda, is that India plays to her own unique model and strengths while addressing social issues. The agenda calls for leveraging her unique civilizational heritage for competitive advantage in global sweepstakes rather than rely on unimaginative borrowing of Western models in non-relevant areas.

Prime Ministerial candidates in India are often evaluated on the basis of personal attributes. Analysis driven off the agenda presented here takes a completely different approach and focuses solely on ‘outcomes’ and activities that the Centre-Right would be interested in

Seeing. It is, in a sense, a full-blown charter for the Centre-Right constituency. In judging the capability of a candidate in effecting ‘outcome’ on a specific parameter however, personal attributes may well play a role – as will commitment evidenced from the candidate’s public statements, details of action plan proposed in the party manifesto and supporting track record of results for each one of the outlined parameters.

For all those with an interest in preserving and enhancing India’s competitiveness (and neither the Left nor the Far Right regard this as being as important as does the Centre Right), the upcoming elections represent a crucial test of their influence. The Centre Right constituency plays a key role in driving the national economy – but needs to do much more to ensure that its intellectual heft as opinion-setters for the nation is commensurate with its known economic clout.

This article is one starting point in creating consensus around a detailed agenda. Look out for Part II, intended to be out after the manifestos of the two leading contenders for 2014 are made public, for an analysis of relative merits based on these parameters and final judgement from a Centre Right standpoint.