When the center shifts to the right, what should center-left do?

European history (world wars, French and Russian revolution) and American civil war have shown that right-wing governance has unfortunate consequences on the poor, minorities, and rights. More recently, the Arab spring in Syria also shows that totalitarianism regimes lead the whole country to crises. These consequences have long helped in separating the religion from the government and helped in uniting the electorate against center-right politics in Europe. The Balakot attack and the risk of nuclear escalation highlighted how crises could escalate, and hence, strong center-left is essential in India.

The 2014 and the recent 2019 elections show that the center in India has shifted to the right. The electorate is not able to Identify with the center-left, and the majority of the electorate find the center-left as academic, distant from ground reality. Since 2009, the number of Indians who have attained the age of 18 is around 160 million. Most of the obtain their news information from the internet, and most suffer from selection bias perpetuated by their immediate surroundings. The millennials strongly identify with the center-right in India. The permanence of center-right without stronger center-left should be seen as a sign worry.

The center-left rightly and astutely fight for the cause of secularism and minority inclusion in policy making, the idea of India, riots, and lynching. They somehow turned the whole secular vs. Hinduism debate into elites vs. the rest. The center-right captured this difference to their advantage and further widened the difference by including caste, class, and background.  The ‘us vs. them’ difference united the rest against elites, and the narrative was spun as elites are anti-majoritarian. Unfortunately, the center-left call for peace; fraternity was spun into pro- Pakistan and anti-national.  The electorate stopped identifying with the center-left or giving heed to their line of discourse.

Most regime change happens as a consequence of intensive agitations because of higher inflation, unemployment, and allegations of corruption. In India, these things primarily happened 1975, 1989, 1996, 2014 elections. In 2004 elections, the maha-gathbandhan arithmetic overwhelmed the center-right government. In 2019, the intensity, the zeal, imagery, the strategy, the narrative of the right-wing overwhelmed the arithmetic of the maha-gathbandhan. The opposition narrative on unemployment, corruption, falling GD, and price rise could not sync with the ground reality. Implying that the opposition (center-left) had any sense about the effect of policies on the ground and a-posteriori analysis suggests that the narrative was purely based on academic theory.

Surprisingly, the right-wing in Europe originated from the ruling class, and it was challenged by the center-left which comprised mainly of the middle-class. The right and left division of electoral preferences in Europe for most of last century centered around the class division. It is only now the religion and immigration has been taken up by the center-right, shifting the center to the right. While in India, the center-left were the ruling class, and the right-wing was represented by the middle-class. For the most part, the center-left and right-wing fought on political differences related to religion. Since 2014, the right-wing captured the narrative of Nationalism, Corruption, Development, Digitization using intensive imagery, social media, and symbolism.

While the middle-class support to the center-right is higher, so are their concerns regarding jobs, economy, increasing costs, and relative inflation. During the growth period, all are well-off, but, during the recession, the middle-class is the worse off. In 2019, the messaging on jobs and GDP did not have a substantial impact on the electorate. Probably, the CMIE data on jobs and the resulting ground impact did not resonate with each other. However, the new report agrees with the CMIE data on job crises, then, it will surely have a considerable impact on the electorate and their choices in the upcoming elections.

There are lessons to be drawn from the victories in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. Captain Amarinder Singh captured the nationalism debate in his favor using his experience as a soldier and war veteran. He successfully pre-emptied the center-right narrative formed post-Balakot through fiery nationalistic speeches. The victory of Jagan Reddy shows how the focus on local leadership, hard-work, intensive contact with the electorate helped his victory. He follows a minority religion and used corruption and crony-capitalism as delegitimating tools. This shows that even though it appears that center has shifted to the right, but, if the opposition uses correct messaging, correct imagery and symbolism coupled with sincere hard work and honest connection with the electorate, the probability that center-left might trump the center-right higher.

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