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Can the ‘wokes’ replace Congress?

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In the electoral landscape of India, the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ have acquired very different meanings from what they started as. These terms originated during the French revolution when those members of the National Assembly who supported the king sat on the president’s right-hand side, and those who opposed him sat to his left. Presently, the right-wing tends to be more politically conservative, nationalistic, and authoritarian. Economically, this side believes in free market systems, capitalism, and limited government interference. On the other hand, the left wing is stereotypically more liberal, egalitarian, and progressive. It believes that societies benefit more from an expanded role of the state, and hence socialistic ideals tend to fall on this end of the spectrum. 

The two-party political systems of several western countries have been conducive to defining and allowing this binary to play out in electoral politics. For example, the Republican Party in the US is a right-wing organization, whereas the Democratic Party is left-wing. This binary is thus well defined and one of the biggest causes of polarization in the country. 

However, things are slightly more complicated when it comes to India. A multi-party system at the national and state level means that political ideologies exist beyond the binary. For example, currently, most political parties in India, both at the nation and state level, believe in the ideals of capitalism and a free market economy and are thus economically right-wing. However, both Congress and BJP also subscribe to the idea that it is the government’s responsibility to create a welfare state of sorts, which has led to the birth of schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana, MGNREGA, etc. Thus, in an economic sense, both BJP and Congress, which have traditionally represented the so-called right and left, are center-wing organizations. 

The difference begins when considering the political implications of this binary in the present. Congress is a party that espouses secularism and the welfare of the weaker sections and minorities. BJP, on the other hand, subscribes to the ideology of Hindutva Nationalism and integral humanism. Thus, these parties can be considered representative of the right and left binary in India to some extent. However, the 2014 elections have rendered this binary redundant because of the weakening influence of Congress at the national level. After all, it is no secret that BJP’s sweeping victory in the 2014 and 2019 elections almost completely wiped out the Congress party.

The fact that there is no official Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha is proof that the political right wing is dominating at the center. The smaller coalition parties have been notorious for switching ideologies in the blink of an eye at the national and state level *ahem* Shiv Sena, and thus cannot be considered right or left. Moreover, the emergence of an ultra-powerful party on the national front has resulted in many smaller parties with completely diverse ideologies forming coalitions only to defeat BJP, as was seen in 2019. This has further blurred the lines between left and right, making such polarization irrelevant to the scuffle that happens every five years. 

While one can argue that a lack of extreme polarization and a distinct binary is a good thing, considering what it has done to the US, this has given rise to several unexpected consequences. For one thing, the presence of an unopposed majority party is detrimental to the functioning of a healthy democracy since the checks and balances that a strong opposition has to offer are absent. Aside from that, an equally significant concern lies in the fact that the state of electoral politics at the center is not representative of the ideological division amongst the general masses in the country. In other words, the left-wing that has arisen in the present has no political representation. 

The left-wing in India in the present is constituted by the younger so-called ‘woke’ generation, which consists of the ‘Gen Z’ or those who were born between 1990 to 2010. 

Since independence, the left wing in India has been characterized by a desire for a revolution of the working classes, a belief in state socialism, and an absence of private entities. This rigid outlook gradually faded from the mainstream after the collapse of Soviet Russia and the failure of subsequent communist regimes. The gradual disappearance of the left wing from the Indian imagination was inevitable.

However, today’s neo-liberal, western style left-liberalism has been characterized by an emphasis on socially liberal causes, feminism, LGBTQ activism, and strong opposition to racial discrimination. The new left wing is not as focused on rigidly defining the economic system. It believes in a capitalistic economy controlled by a welfare state to reduce inequality whilst ensuring efficiency and competition. Thus, this ideology can be considered politically left, and economically center. 

The ideas that comprise the backbone of the new left-wing have predominantly originated from the west, particularly from anti-racial activism in the US where the term ‘woke’ became popular. With the advent of social media and increasing globalization, these ideas scaled the slopes of the Himalayas and found an audience among young and educated Indians, who are notably much more expressive on social media. 

The ‘woke generation’ has often been depicted as ‘overly sensitive’ to social injustice and significantly more politically conscious than the previous generations. Older, right-wing groups have frequently weaponized these traits against them, perhaps with good reason. However, the distinct ideological stance that the ‘wokes’ brings to the table, despite the failure of previous left-wing groups is important to balance the scales of democracy in the country. 

The lack of political representation for this neo-liberal generation in the parliament is probably because these ideas have grown popular only recently and are yet to take root on Indian soil. Moreover, the overwhelming success of the BJP and the absence of a political binary has made it far more difficult for opposition parties to individually gain power.

And needless to say, a coalition government at the national level is likely to result in a power struggle between the political parties involved in the victorious Gatbandhan or Mahagatbandhan over who becomes what minister, and electing such a government is simply a fool’s errand. Thus, a singularly strong opposition with a well-defined ideological stance and democratic intra-party checks and balances is ideally what the electoral landscape needs.

It’s too early to say whether the woke generation is up to the task of being a sufficiently strong opposition to the BJP, especially considering it’s recent immaturity and flightiness. One thing is certain though: the gaping void that the death of the left-wing from the mainstream has left in electoral politics needs to be filled, either by hook or by the woke.

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