Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
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Remember the last time you switched on to a news channel and got that terrible ear-ache after listening to The Arnab? Remember those fancy terms used by The Arnab’s fancy debate panel? Some of them repeatedly mentioned “Left” and “Right”. The same goes for Western news channels where news anchors are not only more biased than The Arnab, but they also base all arguments on “Left” and “Right”.
It’s not that news-people are obsessed with directions. Left-wing and right-wing are the central theme of that dreaded thing called politics followed by those wretched people called politicians. If you’re ever jobless enough to open those fat political science textbooks without any diagrams or any spacing between words, you need an understanding of Left and Right politics to survive through those books.
So it all began during the French Revolution. Imagine yourself in 18th Century Europe. Every person around you is either a starving peasant or a fat nobleman with a horrible sense of fashion (as evidenced by the loud dress patterns and ridiculous hats). Because of the Seven Years War (which was fought for – surprise! – nine years), the French king of the time increased taxes on all the peasants (so, 97% of the population).
This made them very unhappy. There were riots and food shortages around the country, mainly in Paris. So, good ol’ King Louis XVI (who was over-obese, over-inconsiderate and over-impotent) called for a meeting of the representatives of the 3 classes (or Estates) of France – the clergy, the nobility, and everybody else.
During this meeting of the Estates (which historians have ingeniously named the Meeting of the Estates), those who opposed the King and wanted a fundamental change in the way France was governed sat to the King’s left, and those who wanted things to remain under the monarchy sat to the King’s right.
(A brief summary of the French Revolution: the 97% were very pissed off, they took an oath in a tennis court (no, really) which historians have named as the Tennis Court Oath to dethrone the King, then there were riots, beheadings, a crowd of women put the King and Queen under house arrest, revolutionary leaders killed all sympathizers of the monarchy, killed the King, killed the Queen, then killed each other. And from this horrible, bloody mess rose a man too great and too influential for his height: Napoleon Bonaparte the First, the Great, Lord of Europe, Womanizer Number One.)
So that’s how we got the terms Left and Right. Traditionally, the Leftists are the agents of change, and the Rightists are the agents of order. The definitions of Left and Right have changed over time, and depend on country and party. But, from a broad, broad perspective, Left-wingers will include the communists, feminists, anarchists, egalitarians, secular, atheists etc. And right-wingers will include the fascists, neo-Nazis, religious fanatics, monarchists, racial supremacists and fundamentalists.
Those are the extremists of the Left and Right. Thankfully, while our politicians are infuriatingly slow and unreasonable, most of them are also moderate. The moderate Left or the centre-Left includes the Liberals, and the moderate Right or the centre-Right includes the Conservatives.
Now, allow me to destroy your concentration with a little bit of mathematics. Imagine a line AB of finite length 10m. Mark a point in the center of the line, at the ends of the line, and at 2.5m and 7.5m from end A.
Everything about political ideology can be tracked by this line segment. Assume the 2nd half of the line AB to signify the political Right, and the first half (the left half) to signify the political Left. So far, so good?
If you were to plot ideologies, then Nazism and Fascism can be placed at end B – the extreme Right. Hitler and Mussolini would be at home here. Conversely, end A would represent anarchy and communism, and would be the home of people like Stalin and Mao Zedong (fun fact: there are 857 different ways of pronouncing ‘Mao Zedong’).
Now let’s talk about India. The BJP would be somewhere at 7.5m, while the Congress would be at 2.5m (while AAP would be holding a dharna claiming that the entire line was a joint ploy by Modi and Sonia to destroy Indian democracy). Similarly, the RSS would be the far right of the line AB while the CPI(M) would be at the far left of the line AB.
So what do Leftists and Rightists stand for? Again, it varies from country to country. In general, though, most Left parties advocate more government control and believe equality can be achieved while most Right parties advocate minimum government intervention and think that the class structure is essential for society. Also, Leftists, in general, believe in less religion in public life, they are pro-LGBT rights, pro-choice and want a strong central government. Rightists are the complete opposite: they are very religious, anti-LGBT, pro-life and want more dissipation of government rule.
And those are the basics of what you need to know about Left and Right politics. It’s a lot more complicated than this, and the definitions are dependent on era, party, leader and country. But the core tenets of the ideologies remain more or less the same.
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