Across the globe, the Conservative-Right has gained unprecedented ascendance that few had expected even a few years ago. We need more authentic explanations, alongside a moral and political critique of the authoritarian elements intrinsic to the Right. However, it needs to be made sense that the Right also represents a world view that people positively affirm. Once we begin to understand that the Right is not merely about brainwashing but a way of making sense of social life within the limits of a social context they live in, then we need to approach the hegemony of the Right and its authoritarian elements differently in order to politically defeat it, and makes its presence marginal to contemporary democracies.
Ascendance of the Right partly emerges from the crisis of colonial and capitalist modernity in India. It could neither include everyone nor could it sustain those who it included by offering better economic opportunities and social mobility. Modernity has opened up social differences in its quest for equality without actually knowing how to realise it or what that new utopia actually looks like. In the process, modernity has made modern life complex, morally uncertain, socially unsettled, personally burdened without ever resolving the issues it has opened up for negotiation. Multiple floodgates of social dynamics were opened, from intimate sexual issues to impersonal issues of structural exclusion. It only offered ad hoc solutions that were fixing the problems as they emerged. Complexity without moral certainty can be emotionally draining and has the potential of raising larger questions of purpose of life, and set in anxiety and anomie.
At another level, the modern principles of justice themselves became sources of exclusion, and sources of domination. Truth, reason, equality, freedom and deliberation were themselves under stress and scrutiny in terms of their ability to achieve what they promise. Even these were cited as vehicles of carrying the same domination that they promised to fight and vanquish. The project of a universal-inclusive justice got delegitimised by various progressive philosophies of the 20th century. They rightly questioned without offering an alternative.
All political movements for justice carry within them seeds of injustice. Movements for autonomy, such as that of Kashmir and Assam, could also be represented as movements representing closed worlds that are insular and chauvinistic. Demands for linguistic assertion could also be called out for being nativistic and narrow-minded. Demands for more freedom could be represented as being indifferent and without fraternal bonding. What these eventually lead to is the rise of Libertarian versions of state and society, where the State was asked to withdraw in the name of freedom, welfare was delegitimised in the name of efficiency, law and institutions were delegetimised in the name of regulation and control. What such a critique leads to is a social vacuum. There were questions without any answers. Modern societies got caught in inextricable circularity, notwithstanding the gains and benefits they were bringing to the marginalised communities.
The Right is precisely occupying this vacuum, and promises not only concrete answers but in that simple ones. Further, its utopia of the future is based on the certainty of the past. Societies of the past represent the nostalgia of a lost community that did not have this kind of an endless complexity but more self-assured mode of living, and bonhomie of coexistence. Past is the only idealism and the only palpable utopia that looks not only real but also realisable. It promises to put brakes on the explosion of modern complexities and ethical uncertainty.
Further, the Right is promising to preserve the social power that groups wield, and undermine others who potentially threaten it. This mode of mobilisation speaks to social groups across class, caste and region. Every class, caste and region, however marginalized, also wields some power and authority that they wish to deploy to further consolidate their position. What progressive modernity promised, made everyone`s position uncertain even as it promised collective emancipation. The regressive traditionalism of the Right, in contrast, is unburdening social groups from the guilt of wielding power over others and pitching for it as a natural condition that cannot be ever fully overcome. Thus, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) argues replacing ideals of equality with that of samrasta or social harmony.
This to assure you what you already have, even if it does not promise greater mobility. It replaces modernist ideals with that of discipline, control and security. Even for the most marginalised, for the time being, it brings a sense of certainty that progressive modernity could not promise with confidence. It is about controlling the complexity that had no direction, not about giving a new direction. It is about assuring you what you already have, not promise a new land of justice.
The neoliberal model of growth has only further contributed to this nostalgia of `return to the past`. The facelessness of the neoliberal model, post-Westphalian spread of spatial imagination, and speed of change has only made the regressive-traditionalism of the Right more comforting than unfair. It is more about emotional succour than the undermining of mobility. People are today, by and large, thinking compulsively outside the frame of modernist progressivism. They are terrorised by the homelessness it brings in order to deliver the wonderland of equality and justice.
The new consent to the Right has to be made sense through this kind of a compassionate prism, even as we are alert to the injustices and totalitarianism it will inevitable unleash. The moot question that needs to be addressed is, what effective difference will this make to our current methods of countering the Right.
To begin with, we will have to address the legitimate anxieties that are pushing people towards the Right, without necessarily agreeing with how those anxieties are being articulated by the Right. We will have to usher in communitarian comfort with modernist mobility; we need to combine psychological, emotional, affective dimensions with material distribution. The point, however, is this contrasting dimension may not always go together, and that is where the real political challenge in countering the Right lies.
Ajay Gudavarthy is Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views are personal.