Yogendra Yadav, the national president of the Swaraj India party, and political scientist Ashutosh Varshney on Friday drew parallels between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former prime minister Indira Gandhi. They believed that Modi is culturally a “right-winger” but his economic policies are more “Left-leaning”, whereas Gandhi was more Left of Centre.
“All populist leaders don’t like any constitutional restraints. The populists try to reject and undermine oversight institutions like judiciary, press and independent intelligence agencies,” said Varshney while speaking at a panel discussion on ‘The Populist World’- being jointly organised by the World Economic Forum and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi.
“Indira Gandhi and her imposition of emergency was serious left-wing populism. Her argument was that she represented the people and she didn’t like any constitutional restrains of any kind. Modi is saying the same thing that he represents the authentic will of the people,” Varshney said, drawing a distinction between the left-wing and right-wing populism.
“Left-wing populism is re-distribution of things in nature but right-wing populism believes that nation belongs to the majority community. Trump can be categorised under this- Right populism. He believes that the nation belongs to white community primarily, whereas Hispanic and Blacks are subsidiary nationals. The Hindu community owns the nation according to Hindu nationalists whereas Muslims and others are subsidiaries communities,” Varshney said, while adding that Modi is “culturally right and economically Left.”
Yadav, who was part of the panel discussion along with Congress leader Kamal Nath and parliamentarian Swapan Dasgupta, said the Left or the Right has not made any difference at any point in Indian history for a reason, which is the political Right has always deployed the vocabulary of economic Left.
“The BJP started as a Gandhian socialist party, they might have forgotten about it. But it is still in their documents. Modi is currently pushing the economic agenda of the Right and he cleverly picks up the elements from the economic rhetoric of the Left to push the agenda of economic and political right. What we are witnessing is the brute naked majoritarianism of the worst kind. For the first time in the country, minorities have been reduced to de facto second-rate citizenship. The parallel between Modi and Indira Gandhi is much stronger,” Yadav said, quoting an example how demonetisation was perceived by the poor as an attack on the rich.
Congress leader Kamal Nath, however, disagreed to the notion of Left and Right ideologies.
“In politics left or right is now history. People are concerned about what is being delivered on the ground. Politics has become localised at the constituency, state or national level. This will decide the results of the next elections. We (Congress) won against the most loved prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in 2004. In 2009, we went to people telling them about the loan waiver and won the elections”. He, however, accepted that nationalism has captured the political landscape.
"It was because of the failure of English-speaking elite in the country," Yadav argued.