With right-of-centre governments in power in the world’s major democracies – India, Britain, Germany and Japan, similar to the trend seen across the United States, Europe and South America – is there a global ideological shift taking place?
Venezuela and Poland are the latest countries to lurch politically rightwards. Britain has had a Right-wing conservative government since May 2010. Germany’s Angela Merkel completed ten years in office last November. Japan’s Right-of-Centre Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is well into his second term.
France is seeing a huge wave in favour of Right-wing parties. Marine Le Pen could be a serious challenger to socialist President Francois Hollande in the 2017 presidential election.
In Sweden and the Netherlands Right-of-Centre parties are topping opinion polls. Denmark and Hungary too are witnessing an ideological lurch to the right. In the United States, the Republicans could well win the White House in November 2016.
What about Canada’s Left-liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who defeated conservative Stephen Harper last year? Is he an outlier, merely bucking a trend or do the Right-wing (conservative) and Left-wing (liberal) terms need to be redefined politically? “Liberals”, as a new Pew Research Centre survey found, are actually quite illiberal – at least on social media. They tend to be more intolerant of opposing points of view than those on the right.
Analysing the Pew research findings, Becca Stanek wrote: “Conservatives tend to have circles of friends who mirror their political views, and liberals are more likely to cut ties online with those who disagree with them politically.” Pew reports that “roughly four in ten consistent liberals on Facebook (44 per cent) say they have blocked or unfriended someone on social media because they disagreed with something the person posted about on politics’. In comparison, 31 per cent of conservatives and only 26 per cent of all Facebook users were reported to do the same.
This unfriending impulse can extend to the real world, too. The study found that about 24 per cent of liberals have stopped talking to someone because of opposing political viewpoints, compared to 16 per cent of conservatives and ten per cent of those with mixed political viewpoints.
A social liberal who, for example, favours LGBT rights, gender equality, women’s empowerment and personal freedoms could be a Right-of-Centre fiscal conservative favouring open markets, foreign direct investment (FDI) and economic liberalisation.
In short, both a social and economic reformist. Today such a person would fit into neither ideological silo – Right-wing or Left-wing.
In contrast, a person who is a socialist on economic policy but a social liberal would be wrongly characterised as left-liberal. There is nothing liberal about socialist economic dogma that has financially ruined countries from North Korea to Cuba. Sitaram Yechury, who heads the CPI(M), exemplifies the failure of such a povertarian ideology.
In India, the RSS is on the wrong side of both social and economic policy. It is socially illiberal. It opposes gay rights and has a paternalistic attitude towards women. On economics, it opposes FDI in several sectors, including multi-brand retail, betraying a closed, even cloistered, mind. A self-confident India needs to deploy foreign resources for Indian benefit.
During British colonial rule, the opposite occurred: Indian resources were used for foreign benefit. It is time the RSS developed the self-confidence and nous to embrace modern culture and liberal economics.
Paradoxically, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an economic liberaliser by instinct as he showed for over 12 years as chief minister of Gujarat. By exiling Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Pravin Togadia from Gujarat he demonstrated pragmatism. Modi further displayed a moderniser’s mindset: He made it mandatory for property in Gujarat to include the wife’s name as the first owner. It is a pity he has been unable to convince the RSS to alter its mindset. If the RSS wants to be a long-term influence on the minds of a rapidly modernising, youthful India, it will have to change.
As an RSS pracharak, Modi has made that change, both in social and economic thinking, embracing a contemporary worldview. The RSS mentored him. It is his turn to mentor the RSS.
One of the main reasons for the rightwards political shift in countries as diverse as Poland and Venezuela is a combination of economics and security. Terrorism, the rise of ISIS and the migrant influx have made electorates across Europe more nationalistic and insular. Eastern Europe has closed its borders to refugees, citing fears over Islamist violence carried over from Syria, Iraq and Libya.
In Venezuela, the fears are economic. The oil price crash from $115 per barrel in May 2014 to $30 per barrel today has plunged its economy into crisis. Last month, Venezuelans voted against the United Socialist Party (PSUV) that the late Hugo Chavez, a socialist icon, had helmed. A ragtag coalition, including Right-wing parties, won a majority.
In Britain, the Left is in disarray. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist, is not nationally electable. Unless an internal coup in Labour dethrones him and picks a more centrist leader, like Hilary Benn, the Conservatives are guaranteed a third successive term in 2020.
In India the Left, led by Sitaram Yechury, is in a shambles. Yechury is a 19th century politician who will lead the left into well-deserved oblivion in the next Lok Sabha election.
But the illiberal-left in India, unlike in the rest of the world, has many claimants. They range from the Congress and the JD(U) to the Trinamool Congress and the AAP. If a patchwork combination is ever voted into office, India could be set back by years.