The lost centrists of India

This is not an open letter. Or an essay to to malign someone or their beliefs. This is a simple writeup to connect with the centrists of India and also to voice their views which, in the recent past, have been subdued by the left and the right.

So, who are the centrists? What do they believe in? Do they lack opinions and hence not lean towards the left or the right? Are they some kind of political agnostics? According to Wikipedia, Centrism can be defined as:

In politics, centrism or the centre is a political outlook or specific position that involves acceptance or support of a balance of a degree of social equality and a degree of social hierarchy; while opposing political changes which would result in a significant shift of society either strongly to the left or the right.

The key word here is ‘balance’. Centrists believe that balance is essential in a society to nurture political and social creativity. Balance in the form of acceptance and validation of a spectrum of views - views that may be uncomfortable to discuss or a taboo in the current scenario. Views that are shuddered away by the fringes on either side as being too disconnected or “not a part of our culture” are usually the ones that cause rifts in the system and these should be dealt in a democracy with a centristic standpoint to ensure minimum alienation of people.

Let’s put this into perspective by taking the recent JNU controversy. A group of students were allegedly chanting anti-Indian and pro-Pakistani slogans that infuriated a right-wing group which then attacked them — thus blowing this up from a college union fight to a national level political crisis. Liberals and leftists argue that freedom of speech is a fundamental right and it should be upheld also when the speech consists of anti-Indian remarks. Conservatives and the right-wingers believe that anti-national cheering amounts to sedition and the students must be punished. A centrist’s view on this would be to wait and see if the allegations of the anti-Indian chantings were actually true and then to weigh in the severity of the punishment of the sedition law to this case. The validity of the law itself, however, can be questioned during the proceedings and if need be, amended. Yes, the law is from the 1800s and the British who gave us this law have abolished it themselves in 2010. But to say that the sedition law is outdated in the Indian context and that the protests and rallies of the JNU have always been the Mecca of ground-breaking political ideologies — as claimed by more than a dozen literary scholars is absolute high-browed snobbery. On the other hand, claiming that the slogan chanting students are funded by terrorists and JNU’s culture does not conform to traditional Indian standards is pure bovine turd. The middle-way is to accept the fact that both these views exist and derive at a solution that does not give either party the leverage to steer the country’s conscience with their extreme tendencies.

A centrist’s point of view will differ from country to country and from time to place. American centrists will see Scandinavian centrism as Hippie Liberalism and Indian centrism as far right wing fanaticism. Paintings and sculptures from the Indian historical past, on the other hand, will put the most liberal and far left thinking Scandinavians to shame. Therefore, centrism ideologies have to adapt to the current local environments and must vehemently shun distant utopian ideas that the extremists on either side try to sow.

Centrism is practicality. It is that unwritten law of the jungle that everyone should follow to avoid catastrophic consequences. It disappoints extremists by questioning their morals. One can also go as far to say that in a sane democracy, centrism defines morality. Centrism provides a stable fulcrum to the morals of the society and prevents it from toppling over to either side. Ideally, the morals of a society and consequently its centrist views evolve with time. Decades, if not centuries, are required to completely change the core beliefs of a society. Slavery was norm in the 18th Century. Segregation of people based on the colour of their skin was considered okay until about 50–60 years ago. Some of us living right now were born with apartheid as a way of life. Abolishing such non-progressive ideas and practices is centrism. Punishing an entire race of people and making them “pay” for it — is not. The solution of a problem shouldn’t lead to the creation of the exact opposite one. Socio-political problems are solved and justice is usually served with what is considered to be moral — and centrist views are the only ones that provide these morals and solutions, ensuring minimum disappointment to society at large.

Therefore, it is extremely important to increase the reach of the centre to include the centre-left and the centre-right and prevent them from sliding away to the extremes. In doing so, we not only bring in more stability but also give more room and importance to the other issues that matter. For example, debates and discussions on economic conservatism or liberalism cannot happen amidst extreme hooliganism. Laws on social issues and schemes cannot be passed by sloganeering lawmakers and leaders. If you don’t believe me, switch on the TV and watch the parliamentary proceedings. Extremist views should have no place in the parliament.. they are however, necessary — to define the boundaries of absurdity for the society. Parliamentarians should consist of a range of centrists. They will mildly annoy each other but they will get the work done. Centrism is boring. It will not ensure chairs being flung around in the house of representatives but it will provide us with peace of mind and a stable architecture.

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