The run up to the nomination of the Presidential candidates in the upcoming elections later this year in the United States is turning out to be interesting. While there maybe history in the making on the Democratic side with either a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton likely to get the nomination it is the battle on the Republican side which is more interesting to those to the Right of Center in India.

We in India having already taken the lead in electing/nominating women and minorities to the post of Head of State and Head of Government there is neither novelty nor any lessons to be learnt from the all too familiar battle on the Left between the first African American nominee and the first female nominee.

The battle on the Right while lacking in glamour or gender/ethnic diversity (for all the major candidates are rich, old, white guys) it is the diversity in their ideological persuasion that makes the race very interesting. From the outside this diversity may not be very apparent to those in India. To best appreciate the divide consider this. Of the two leading candidates in yesterday’s primary in South Carolina, the winner John Mccain is a decorated hero and a National Security hawk yet he draws the ire of right wing conservatives like Talk Radio legend Rush Limbaugh. Similarly the runner-up and former Arkansas Governor Mike Hucakbee was a Baptist Minister yet he draws the ire of other right wing conservatives who have come to symbolize the Republican Party’s establishment.

How does one explain a security hawk and a christian conservative drawing the ire of the opinion makers within the establishment to the point where some have even called it the end of the Republican Party ?

At the heart of this divide is the coming apart of the coalition that Ronal Reagan was able to put together overs two decades ago. This coalition brought together Fiscal Conservatives, Social Conservatives and National Security Conservatives on a common platform. Such a common platform has remained elusive in this election with no single candidate being able to succesfully triangulate the three planks of conservatism.

The Republican dilemma is similar to what we had been witnessing in India with Center Right politics. On the one hand you had the BJP and its associated sister organisations in the Sangh Parivar like the RSS and the VHP representing the Socio-Religious Right and while being mostly Right on National Security issues. On the other hand you did not have a viable political force to the Right on Economic issues with the BJP resorting populism and competitive politics of entitlement in the states whenever it suits it. The BJP’s sister organizations like the RSS as well have not exuded intellectual clarity when it comes to economic issues while resorting to protectionist stances in the name of “Swadeshi”.

In this context the platform on which Narendra Modi rode to victory in Gujarat is very unique. Much like Ronald Reagan, Modi was able to succesfuly triangulate the three planks to the Right by combining a tough National Security stance and socio-cultural values with a model of Governance that was anything but statist. Prof Mukul Asher wrote a fantastic piece in the DNA on the model of Governance in Gujarat explaining why this is more relevant to 21st century India. Modi reiterarted this triangulation in his speech at the BJP rally in Shivaji Park, Mumbai organized to felicitate him saying

“I can say with certainty that good governance and development politics will determine the fate of the governments. I am here to break the established traditions of Congress — equating good governance with bad politics.”

Offstumped Bottomline: As the Republican Nominees debate who is the heir to Reagan legacy or if the Reagan era ended as declared by Newt Gingrich it is clear that the battle for the Soul of the Right is far from settled. Across the globe in India however Narendra Modi might just be scripting a new era for the Soul of the Indian Right if the BJP manages to succesfully triangulate the three planks of Center Right Politics to create a common platform for the next general elections.

Originally posted here

http://offstumped.nationalinterest.in/2008/01/21/the-battle-for-the-soul-of-the-right/#post-comments

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