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Flawed liberal discourse

FOR three years now we have a whole host of media commentators scoffing at the left, liberal, “sickular” brigade and urging it to introspect as to why Narendra Modi has made mincemeat of their credibility and emerged the most-adored, tall and trusted leader in India today.

Flawed liberal discourse

Muslim women protest against UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath over the crackdown on illegal slaughter-houses in Allahabad. PTI

Salil Desai

FOR three years now we have a whole host of media commentators scoffing at the left, liberal, “sickular” brigade and urging it to introspect as to why Narendra Modi has made mincemeat of their credibility and emerged the most-adored, tall and trusted leader in India today. 

Somewhere in all these pontifications and assertions is the message that right-wing ideology is on the ascendant because under the guise of liberalism and secularism, the majority community has long been oppressed, humiliated and talked down to despite its overall religious and social benignity. The leftists and liberals have also been accused of wrongfully chiding the majority for refusing to let go of conservatism, while appeasing the minorities. In short, this is the revenge of the Hindus on a leftist, liberal, secular order that has long dominated the political space in the country since Independence. While obviously there is some truth in this analysis, a lot of the arguments are just pure humbug, planted to sow doubts. First of all, it suits the media and commentators to club leftists and liberals, in this battle of discrediting all opposition to BJP under Modi and right-wing politics. Astonishingly, this clubbing together has not been contested at all. There is a huge difference between liberals and leftists. All liberals are not leftists. In fact, a majority of liberals are basically centrists and it is only when it comes to economics, do they further splinter into socialistic, left of centre and market-oriented, right of centre. Similarly, most leftists are not necessarily liberal, even if they might be secular. Indeed the leftists are as fanatical about state control over individual liberty as the right-wing is about thought control and cultural nationalism for bringing about patriotic homogenity. In that sense, the left and right wings are mirror images of each other in terms of imposing ideology and world-views on populations they govern. 

There is no denying that liberals and leftists have often come together because of some shared values and affinities and political convenience but then so have liberals and the right-wing at various times. The Morarji Desai government for example, was the coming together of socialists and centrists of every hue with the right-wing. Similarly, Atal Behari Vajpayee's two stints in power also saw a similar coalition. So liberals have shown promiscuity with the right -wing too, when it was led by moderates. It is, therefore, completely disingenuous to argue that there is something fundamentally rotten about some of the core values that India has tried to uphold since Independence, to survive the right-wing onslaught now. Indeed the liberals and centrists will commit hara-kiri if they listen to the advice of columnists and decide to compromise ideologically in trying to fight the BJP. For what remains of liberal, centrist beliefs if secularism, social justice and commitment to individual freedom and tolerance become negotiable? Indeed it is amazing how senior columnists and journalists, who claim that the time has come to acknowledge the “political greatness” of Modi, fail to comprehend that Modi has achieved what he has because of his uncompromising majoritarian ideology —because people see him as the unapologetic champion of Hindutva, above all. If he had compromised on that, people would have taken him for just another opportunistic politician, not the larger-than-life messiah he is mistakenly considered to be.

Therefore, there is all the more reason for liberals not to waiver from espousing the founding values of this nation which have served us well and kept a country of 1.2 billion democratic and united for 70 years. Downplaying or diluting these for fear of the BJP's brand of majoritarian bravado, laced with exaggerated claims of development, will only make liberals and centrists look like people without any conviction about the essential correctness of their principles. How then will they be able to tackle and expose the hollow and poisonous ideology of hardline right-wing politics? To buy into media and public arguments that somehow leftists and liberals are themselves to blame for their fall and Modi's rise is bad enough. Even worse is the self-flagellation of the kind many liberals have started resorting to under the influence of political defeats. Another oft-repeated, vapid argument offered by the media and intellectuals is for liberals to offer a new narrative to counter Modi, whatever that means. What new narrative can be offered to a people in thrall, rightly or wrongly, of a superman, who has positioned himself as a fighter against all evils?  Literally nothing! The The BJP can be resisted vigorously and Modi's image shattered by events, but offering a new narrative is simply a self-serving and sly media suggestion of no practical value, especially when much of the mainstream media has played an unabashedly aggressive role in making the Modi legend what it is today.

So here's what liberals need to try instead. Perhaps, it’s time to start rhetorically telling Hindus that subscribing to the BJP's narrative of being oppressed is an admission of an inferiority complex. With an 80 per cent brute majority, why should Hindus be wary of its minorities? Indeed, by constantly invoking the threat of the Muslim minority, isn't BJP indirectly accusing Hindus of being weaklings, who are insecure even when they outnumber Muslims 7 to 1? Simultaneously, it is also time to remind people that the Indian Muslim is basically not prone to fanaticism. However, by despising, demonising and alienating them, we risk pushing them into the same kind of vortex of violence that the Tamils in Sri-Lanka finally resorted to in the form of LTTE, to defend their sense of honour.

It is only such plain-speak that might stop hate-filled majoritarianism from leading us to disastrous disharmony and enable a return to secular, liberal, rational politics.

The writer is a Pune-based novelist and film-maker.

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