Definitions of left-wing party and right-wing party are very different with respect to Indian Polity. It is not faithful to read them from a western perspective.
Let’s first try to understand the differences between the position of left-wing and right-wing parties in India.
Right-wing political parties in India appreciate supreme religion, they promote tradition, culture and patriotism, they are pro-army, pro-business economy, they encourage capitalism and privatisation, they believe judiciary must punish lawbreakers more severely, they uplift conservatism.
Left-wing political parties demand separation of religion from governance, they don’t appreciate spending handsomely on the army. They don’t highly promote tradition and culture, they easily support amendments in them. They are not very loud on celebrating patriotism, they believe government should play a role in people’s lives and overall development, they are against privatisation and capitalism, they want government to control all key resources and business. They encourage special protection and privileges for depressed classes, labourers, Dalits, and minorities, they want legal system to be less strict, and they promote welfare programs for poor and peasants.
Now, as you are familiar with the polity of LEFT and RIGHT, it is time for me to answer the main question,
Answer: at present they are neither left nor right.
Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress is Left of Centre. But things were totally different in the past. During India’s Independence Movement, Congress party had a good amount of traditionalist and conservative leaders. In those periods, INC many a times was popularly called as a Hindu party, specially upper caste Hindu party. Though there were many socialist liberal leaders as well in the party.
After Independence, Congressman Jawaharlal Nehru got the opportunity to shape India’s future. Nehru was a staunch socialist, he wanted India to be a socialist democratic republic. Well, socialism is not a true form of communism. So it is incorrect to draw a sketch of Nehru with a red flag, socialism is different from both communism and conservatism.
While governing India, Nehru was not alone; some notable conservative leaders like Sardar Patel and Rajaji also played a huge role in building the nation. India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad was a traditionalist and a follower of right-wing politics. And there were many conservative leaders inside Congress party at various state levels as well.
Individually, Nehru was neither a leftist nor a fan of right-wing politics. Nehru was at the centre. Well, surely he was impressed with socialist ideas and did promote many social programs and schemes. But it is also true that during that time the Indian National Congress initiated law on cow slaughter, and restored Somnath Temple (yes, there was a conflict between Nehru and Prasad regarding restoration of Somnath but finally restoration did happen and President Rajendra Prasad himself initiated that).
After Nehru, Indira Gandhi, like her father, trusted socialist values and hence added the words ‘Secular’ and ‘Socialist’ to the Preamble. And she also promoted special welfare schemes for depressed classes.
Later, Congress prime minister PV Narasimha Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh took a different road with opening up of the economy in 1991. And during Manmohan Singh’s sarkar Congress tried some social welfare schemes like MNREGA, Food Security Bill, etc.
Post Mandal Commission implementation and post Babri Masjid demolition, the Indian National Congress played a lot of appeasement politics specially appeasement of minorities and they slowly started turning left. They also started forming alliances with caste based, allegedly corrupt regional political parties. Though Manmohan Singh’s Congress initiated centrist economic policies, and liberal social policies like MNREGA, RTI, etc.
Right now, Rahul Gandhi is the president of Congress and we saw him saying that Modi Sarkar is against farmers, labourers, Dalits and minorities. He keeps targeting Modi by saying that Modi Sarkar is only friendly towards big businessmen. His leaders advocate against Ram Janma Bhumi. He is swinging between left and right. They also raised questions on the Surgical Strike and the Army. He and his party are still famous for playing minority appeasement politics.
Therefore, right now Rahul Gandhi is steering his party as a left-of-centre.
And it is also important to educate ourselves that Narendra Modi’s saffron party BJP is not completely qualified to win the position of right-wing party. It is true that they are pro-army, they are promoting Hindutva, they are planting privatisation, and they are somewhat supporting traditionalists. But BJP has also initiated many social welfare programs and schemes. BJP also has a socialist mindset.
Therefore, according to me BJP is Right of Centre.
In Bihar, BJP is allied with JDU and JDU is a strong supporter of socialism. Whereas, in Maharashtra BJP is allied with Shiv Sena and Shiv Sena is famous for its strong Hindutva agenda.