What lies to the right of centre in India?

The cohabitation of traditionalists and market liberals

Ever since India’s 2009 general election, it has become fashionable for many politically-minded people in the country to style themselves as being “right of centre”, “centre-right” and other terms where “right” and something else is joined together with a hyphen.

It is clear what people who label themselves thus are against — the Congress party, and especially the family that constitutes its apex leadership. Mostly, they oppose its “appeasement” of minorities, especially Muslims. They oppose its propensity to create “entitlements” in the form of reservations, quotas, subsidies and special treatment. They oppose the cronyism in the economy and political corruption in governance. They oppose its pusillanimity in foreign policy. There are many more, but these strike me as the big ones.

It is less clear what they stand for. Many of our self-styled right-of-centrists are strident opponents of liberalism. Many have deep misgivings, if not outright opposition to markets and free trade. The most coherent “right” in India is the Hindu right, which is clear about its commitment to Hindu nationalism, broad or narrow. However, even the Hindu right does not have an economic agenda that is consistent with its political ideology: should the Hindu nation rely on individual liberty and free markets, or should it construct a strong state that draws lines on individual freedom and controls the levers of economic power? During and after the 2014 election campaign, market liberals and social illiberals found themselves in the same “right of centre” camp, often having to pretend to be each other in order to fit in.

This ideological confusion and political tension within the segment that calls itself right-of-centre in India comes because our political context and historical development is different from that of the West, where the Right and Left first came into existence. I’ve written about this in my Niti-Mandala post, constructing India’s political spectrum. I was reminded of it last week as I read Jonah Goldberg’s statement of the Conservative position in the United States: which connects tradition and markets and forms the basic worldview of the American Right that the Republicans used to champion before Donald Trump, er, shook things up.

As a Chestertonian at heart, I like and respect old things. I like it when stuff beats the law of averages for reasons we cannot easily fathom. The Hayekian in me thinks old things that last often do so for good reasons we just don’t — and sometimes can’t — know. Unfortunately, we live in an age where we take the razor of reason to every little thing and strain to know the whys of it, as if knowing the why will empower the how. [National Review, emphasis added]

The same argument would be self-contradicting in India: where there are inhuman inequities embedded in caste discrimination and social practices. You can either defend the traditional Indian social order or individual liberty (and markets and so on). You can’t defend both, because the former is constructed without regard to, and often in suppression of the latter. This explains the confusion and tension among our “right of centre” compatriots, who are at best, — to turn a phrase from a best-selling novelist — Half Right. No pun intended.

They can either be traditionalists who seek to defend the old order from social revolution, and therefore come into tension with the Constitution that demands it. Or they can be liberals who pursue individual liberty and free markets, and thereby come into tension with everyone else who opposes either individualism or markets or both. They can’t be both.

Logical consistency apart, the practical question is to what extent can the two Half Right constituencies come together in politics. Is the tension between them bridgeable? Well, that’s hard to say, but the side with greater political clout will force the other into submission. Market liberals are not driving policy in the Modi government today.

The arrangement will hold to the extent that their dislike for the Left outweighs their dislike for each other. If the Congress party sheds its baggage — and that’s a big, big if — or another party takes up its Centrist space, it is likely that the the more liberal of the liberal Half Right will gravitate towards it. Until that time, the liberal Half Right will cohabit with the traditionalist Half Right, because most who seek the security of an ideological label are likely to lack the courage and commitment to stand apart, because that means standing alone.

Pax Indica: The sun doesn’t set on the Indian Republic

A plan for world domination

Today’s Pax Indica column was translated from the original Malayalam, today’s global lingua franca, into a fringe Western European language called English so that people in the past could learn about the future of their great nation.

Read the whole thing on Yahoo!. The following is an excerpt:

It was Jagmohan Mehta, a bright spark from Navi Pune (then called Boston) who first raised the famous slogan, “No Taxation Without Representation!” If the Indian government wanted to tax NRIs, he argued, it must also give them the right to vote, and seats in the Indian Parliament. Such was the simple force of this argument that in less than a week, it was a ubiquitous banner on the blogs (a quaint early twenty-first century form of self-indulgence) of NRIs around the world. In sympathy, activists fighting for the independent sovereign Liberal Republic of Bombay suspended their agitation and lit their perfumed candles for the NRI Cause instead. Members of New Delhi’s civil society–some say as many as fifty–turned up in large numbers to express support for India’s growth to be inclusive of NRI taxes. The third United Progressive Alliance (UPA 3) government, under Prime Minister Kapil Sibal, immediately constituted a Empowered Group of Ministers with Civil Society Participation (EGOM) to study the demands and propose recommendations in a time bound manner.

The EGOM supported the idea of creating a new type of political unit called the Extra-territorial State of India. It was a remarkable idea: the Extra-territorial State need not be part of the sovereign territory of the Union of India. It could be just about anywhere. As long as there were sufficient numbers of NRIs located in any geographical region anywhere in the world, that region qualified to be an Extra-territorial State of India. It was decided, over a particularly animated tea-break, that a sufficient number of NRIs for this purpose was 96,580.

It was decided that Extra-territorial States would be treated on par with territorial States in every way. They would form their own governments, have past-their-prime-but-loyal-to-party politicians as Governors, the authority to legislate over subjects in the State and Concurrent lists and participate in Ranji and Duleep trophy tournaments. (IPL, as you know, follows a different process of admitting teams). They would get funds from the Centre to implement programmes named after Nehru and various Gandhis, including NREGA. They would also elect representatives to the Lok Sabha based on the population, with one Lok Sabha MP for every 96,580 persons. Rajya Sabha seats were calculated by some weird logic no one really understood, but since each Extra-territorial State would get at least one Rajya Sabha seat, no one really complained.

Thus was created the first modern global nation-state of which there are so many today. But in the early 21st century it was a novel experiment. Most people agreed it would collapse within a decade. How could a nation with so much diversity and so vast a spread hold together? Little did they know how wrong they would be.

The first five Extra-territorial States thus created were Puthiya Keralam, New Jullundur, Jersey Pradesh, Paschima Kannada and Kizhakku Tamilnad. [Yahoo!]

The legitimate state of the Middle East

Does the absence of a culture of “settled rule” imply continued instability?

At a time when political unrest is spreading from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya, Bahrain and other parts of the Middle East, here’s a passage from Deepak Lal’s In Praise of Empires.

In his enthralling history of the fall of the Ottoman empire and the creation of the modern Middle East, David Fromkin concludes that [the unfulfilled Allied hope that they were installing permanent successors to the Ottoman sultans in the new states they had created] was due to “a characteristic feature of the region’s politics: that in the Middle East there is no sense of legitimacy—no agreement on the rules of the game—and no universally shared belief in the region that, within whatever boundaries, the entities that call themselves countries or the men who claim to be rulers are entitled to recognition as such.” This is part of a deep crisis of social and political identity, similar to one faced by Europe after the collapse of the Roman empire.

In this search for a political identity, Muslims are not helped by an age-old cultural trait. The empire which the Arabs created was a conquest society, and subsequent Islamic polities have never lost their militaristic nature. The great fourteenth-century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun saw the medieval Islamic polity he observed as consisting of a settled, nonpolitical society and a tribal state, either imported or imposed by conquest. Whereas the Chinese, for instance, in their cyclical view of history saw settled rule as the norm and a change of dynasties as the result of a loss of virtue of an old tired dynasty, the Islamic polity never accepted the notion of settled rule. Ibn Khaldun considered it effeminate. This has been the black hole of the Islamic policy from its inception.

The social ethos of the political culture of Islam (according to Shlomo Avineri) “is imbued with martial values and the spirit of the army” unlike any other existing culture. “In the Arab world, military rule is political legitimacy; it is the only authentic form of government which has ever emerged in the Arab world.” It makes “glory, honor, pride, form—the virtues of chivalry—into the prime motors of the social ethos.” The democratic constitutions imposed by the West in Egypt, Syria and Iraq were quickly overturned once the West’s representatives departed, and the traditional military form of government clothed in various new civilian hues and ideologies was reestablished. In the Middle East “the question ‘what is the army doing in politics?’ is never raised. Of course the army is in politics; this has been its business since Mohammed, so to speak.” No better example of the continuance of this cultural trait in Islamic countries is provided by the fate of the successor states of the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent—India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Their respective armies had a common heritage and training as part of the imperial Indian army. All three countries had similar Westminster-style constitutions at their independence. But only the two non-Islamic polities—India and Sri Lanka—have succeeded in maintaining them and keeping the army out of politics. [Lal, In Praise of Empires, pp88-89]

The public protests in the Middle East are essentially anti-Establishment. It remains to be seen whether the resulting political transformations will prove Professor Lal wrong.

Note: An earlier version of this post wrongly attributed the Avineri quote to Walter Russell Mead. The error is regretted. (It arose due to the ghastly practice of endnotes by chapter. It must be abolished.)

Who says nationalism must be intolerant?

Nationalism merely expresses the civilisational values of the nation

Waldemar Hanasz’s “Toward Global Citizenship?”, one of the readings prescribed for next week’s Liberty Fund Colloquium at Neemrana, organised by Centre for Civil Society, says “contemporary republications realise that today the only form of passionate patriotism is nationalism, which is often incompatible with toleration and pluralism.”

This negative view of nationalism pervades the Western political discourse. A few years ago, a European friend argued that he was sceptical of nationalism because of the crimes and violence that were perpetrated in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. In a way this is like the contemporary connotation of the swastika in the West. The Nazis appropriation of an ancient symbol sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and people of many other Indian faiths has resulted in the swastika becoming a taboo sign, not just among the ignorant, but also among the politically correct knowledgeable.

Mr Hanasz phrases his sentence carefully but in popular discourse, nationalism is automatically equated with intolerance. This is wrong.

The political expression of nationalism depends on the values of the nation concerned (the nation being an “imagined community” that has cultural kinship). If nationalism in twentieth-century Europe resulted in intolerance and violence it is because the intolerant and violent values of Europe’s nations were dominant. There is no reason to believe that this will happen everywhere else.

Indian nationalism since the middle of the nineteenth century was informed by the quintessentially Hindu values of tolerance and pluralism. As long as Indian nationalism continues to be driven by these dominant Hindu values, we need not worry too much about the colours with which Western discourse paints it with.

The politics of liberal nationalism is not only possible but presents modern society with a enlightened way to manage its affairs. Actually, this has been the way in India for much of history, with the exceptions being Islamic and European attempts to impose religious intolerance in some parts during some periods. These attempts largely failed except in 1947. Even so, the outcome of Partition showed that systems that reject the values of tolerance and pluralism will come to grief.

How to spot the next revolution

Demographics, mobile phone penetration and the army’s disposition

Earlier this month, after the protests in Tunisia caused the reigning despot to fly to Saudi Arabia, this blogger said that the phenomenon is unlikely to spread. In the event this was proven wrong by Egypt. Bear this in mind as you read the rest of this post.

How can we tell which country is susceptible to political transformation brought about by “people power”? Here’s a rough guide:

First, look at demographics. Scholars such as Samuel Huntington, Jack Goldstone, Gunnar Heinsohn and Henrik Urdal argue that if there are a large number of young, healthy, educated and dissatisfied men, the stage is set for unrest. Of these Mr Heinsohn goes the furthest, predicting that when the population of 15 to 29-year-olds crosses 30 percent of the overall population, then, regardless of the cause, violence will ensue. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Arab North Africa, the mainland Arabia and Pakistan meet this criterion. Turkey and Iran are exceptions. [Related link: The New Security Beat blog has a good discussion on this]

Second, look at mobile telephone and internet penetration. Mobilising large numbers of people in short periods of time requires ubiquitous access to mobile phones and the internet. This is important because state machinery can pre-empt large protests if they have enough time to identify, intimidate or imprison the field organisers. That is why Twitter (and to an extent Facebook) beat SMS text messages, and why text messages beat phone calls and pamphlets. A tweet is likely to reach any given fraction of the population orders of magnitude faster than a SMS text message. Most importantly, they work in combination—a tweet can be relayed on SMS, and vice versa.

(In fact, the failure to account for this factor might be one reason why I underestimated the likelihood Egypt will stir. Both Hosni Mubarak and I might have been stumped by the speed of the mobilisation.)

While technology allows faster mobilisation, it does not create leadership or an alternative political vision. It is not surprising that some of the recent “leaderless” uprisings do not have a clear idea of “what next?” beyond the toppling of the current regime. What this means is that organised political groups—like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—can wait for the uprising to oust the incumbent, even let a transition government operate for a while, before stepping in to take over. Not unlike what the Pakistani military-jihadi complex did following the ouster of General Musharraf.

Third, when it comes to the crunch, look at whether the security forces—specifically the army—will fire upon their own people. This is both a yes/no question, as well as a question of extent.

In countries with compulsory military service, it is less likely that the army will fire on its own people. In countries where the armed forces are insulated from the general public—culturally, socio-economically or ideologically—then it is more likely that the army will not have such compunctions. That is why Iran has a special revolutionary guard that is distinct from the army. This is also why the Pakistani army engages in massive domestic skulduggery, because its leaders do not want to be in a situation where they have to fire at Pakistanis from the Punjabi heartland.

Worked Examples

Demographics: median age 29, (borderline) check.
Mobile phone penetration 95.3%, check. Internet 4.5% no check.
Army: Didn’t fire

Demographics: median age 24, check.
Mobile phone penetration 77%, check. Internet 21.1% no check.
Army: ?

The rest is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

On the importance of history

Connecting strategy, law and history

This is an extract from the brilliant introductory chapter of Philip Bobbitt’s remarkable The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History. Bobbitt disputes the view—including The Acorn’s—that law exists in practice because of the state. Be that as it may, what is interesting about Bobbitt’s thesis is his perspective on the role of society and what it believes of itself in the theory of the State.

We scarcely see that the perception of cause and effect itself—history—is the distinctive element in the ceaseless, restless dynamic by means of which strategy (ie, foreign policy—ed) and law live out their necessary relationship with each other. For law and strategy are not merely made in history—a sequence of events and culminating effects—they are made of history. It is the self-portrayal of a society that enables it to know its own identity. Without this knowledge a society cannot establish its rule by law because every system of laws depends upon the continuity of legitimacy, which is an attribute of identity. Furthermore, without such a self-portrayal, no society can pursue a rational strategy because it is the identity of the society that strategy seeks to promote, protect and preserve. One might say that without its own history, its self-understanding, no society can have either law or strategy, because it cannot be constituted as an independent entity.

History, strategy and law make possible legitimate governing institutions.

The State exists by virtue of its purposes, and among these are a drive for survival and freedom of action, which is strategy; for authority and legitimacy, which is law; for identity, which is history. To put it differently, there is no state without strategy, law and history, and, to complicate matters, these are not merely interrelated elements,they are elements each composed at least partly of others. The precise nature of this composition defines a particular state and is the result of many choices.

Law cannot come into being until the state achieves a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Similarly, a society must have a single legitimate government for its strategic designs to be laid; otherwise, the distinction between war and civil war collapses, and strategy degenerates into banditry. Until the governing institutions of a society can claim for themselves the sole right to determine the legitimate use of force at home and abroad, there can be no state. Without law, strategy cannot claim to be a legitimate act of state. Only if law prevails can it confer legitimacy on strategic choices and give them a purpose. Yet the legitimacy necessary for law and for strategy derives from history, the understanding of past practices that characterise a particular society. [Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles pp5-6]