Professing and adhering to principles are poles apart and while many champion the former they fail in the latter.
India is probably the only country where the unabashed ridiculing of civilizational knowledge and values is a hallmark of intellectual debate and discussion. Bearing this in mind, here we analyse the actions and discourse of Indian ‘liberals’ by referencing and discussing six events in Indian history that had and still continue to have a great impact on the Indian populace. These six major events provided the Indian liberals with the opportunity to prove their credentials as champions of libertarian values. We analyse if they really stood by the principles they espoused and swore to uphold and on which they regularly lectured the masses or whether they failed to do so by choosing to express their outrage selectively based on the narrative that they wished to propagate.
1. 1947 – Cracks in the Foundation and an Identity Crisis
The 15thof August 1947 was a landmark day in the history of India for many reasons, but most importantly, (1) after many centuries power was now in the hands of Indians and (2) we could finally govern ourselves from the Indic point of view without being subservient to the western construct. India is a very special country from a civilization viewpoint because despite several attacks our civilization has continued. We have our customs, practices, and world view, which have been passed on from one generation to another for centuries. In this context, we must analyse the role of Prime Minister Nehru in the early years post independence because he was instrumental in the laying of the foundations of the Indian state in his role as head of the ruling party and also as the longest serving prime minister of India with the opposition being virtually non-existent during his entire 17-year tenure as PM.
For a country to have strong foundations it needs to have a clear identity as a nation because this identity not only informs the basis of all government policies and institutions, it also plays a crucial role in the organization of society at every level. A sense of national identity is especially important in the initial years of a country that has regained power and control over its own destiny after centuries of foreign rule not least because foreign invasions and rule by others breaks a civilization’s chain of organic evolution and alters the course of the developmental process. Both Islamic invaders and British colonial forces systematically attacked Indic culture, traditions, and beliefs for their own vested interest and these attacks left Hindus confused and mostly ashamed of their identity. This is where PM Nehru failed miserably – in redressing the wrongs of the past.
Under PM Nehru’s watch, the complete stifling of civilization’s organic process continued and a top-down approach of forcing a secular identity on the nation was adopted coupled with the practice of appeasement politics that led to terrible outcomes for future generations. This overall approach caused cracks in the foundations of an Indian identity that should have been based on Indic principles. Here the statement made by HC Mookerjee, Vice President of the Drafting Committee responsible for the content of the Constitution is of great relevance. He said:
Are we really honest when we say that we are seeking to establish a secular state? If your idea is to have a secular state it follows inevitably that we cannot afford to RECOGNISE minorities based upon religion.
This statement proved to be prophetic as the largest minority were allowed to keep their religious identity by having separate laws and institutions, whereas the majority’s identity was submerged under the blanket of secularism. This meant that for the majority, any diversion from this so-called secular path would lead to charges of majoritarianism, bigotry and shaming on public and private platforms. A toxic cocktail of half-baked secular principles and appeasement politics was served up from 1947 onwards, and it did everlasting damage to the Indic identity. But more than that, it led to a crisis of identity for both the majority and minority communities and the further widening of the rift between them. The ideal scenario would have been either the complete acceptance of the Indic identity based on pluralism, where everyone is respected irrespective of their backgrounds, or the complete adoption of secular principles and no separate laws and policies for minorities based on religion.
The liberals of India should have critically analysed this issue, given that post independence the tension between the two communities continued across India. But they failed miserably. Instead of having an open discussion so that both society and government would be forced to reflect on their own thought processes, the liberals further increased the toxicity of the secularism and appeasement politics cocktail by aligning themselves mostly with an appeasement politics that frames Indian Muslims as the perpetual victim and Hindus as the constant aggressor. Any organic debate within society was stifled by the same liberals who were supposedly the champions of freedom of speech. Many issues such temple restorations, critiques of the Islamic invasions of India especially by the Mughals, and the need for a uniform law applicable to all Indian citizens regardless of religious affiliation, were either not given sufficient space within the liberal ecosystem or worse dismissed simply as bigotry that then led to the vilifying and shaming of individuals who wished to debate such subjects in an objective and thought-provoking way. The result is even after 70 years of independence the identity crisis affects us in multiple ways leading to internal conflicts and weakening of society as a whole.
2. 1950–1976 – Secularism and Appeasement Politics
The word ‘secular’ was not part of the preamble of the Constitution for a period of 26 years from 1950 to 1976. Dr Ambedkar did not want the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in the Constitution, as he clearly said:
In the first place the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism whereby particular members or particular parties are installed in office. What the policies of the State should be, and how Society should be organised in social and economic terms are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to the time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that destroys democracy altogether.
Under the garb of secularism, politicians played appeasement politics for the purpose of consolidating their vote bank, which Dr Ambedkar clearly warned against. This received complete blind support from the Indian liberals. It meant that Muslims were allowed to have their own separate laws, that any open discussion on the issues plaguing Islamic society was forbidden and that every attempt that was made to term the genuine legal demands of Hindus as instances of bigotry and intolerance and as attacks on the secular fabric of the country.
This toxic cocktail of secularism and appeasement politics was a gross injustice not only from the liberal secular viewpoint that PM Nehru claimed to champion during his period in office, it was also a great betrayal of the majority Hindus, especially given the fact that the Muslims of India had already secured a separate country for themselves based on religion. The tolerance and pluralism that typifies the history of Sanatani Hinduism should have been sufficient to put at ease the minorities of India, and while most do feel at ease, there exists a fear psychosis among the minority communities the fault for which lies at door of the liberals of India. This fear has arisen as an outcome of the complete disregard for the Indic identity in the early years of modern nationhood in India and the superimposition of a secular framework on the majority, with the result that the word secular has become a source of dogma, and ironically it was Nehru who said, secularism isn’t a happy word but a possible source of dogma.
Secularism and appeasement politics are principally in opposition to one another – one requires the complete separation of religion from governance and the other thrives on the patronage given to a special class on the basis of their religious/cultural identity by those in power. Not only were these two ideologies championed by the longest serving political party, they were given complete intellectual support by the Indian liberal class. This made the biggest dent in the fabric of society because
- It allowed Indian Muslims to create a separate and distinct legal, social, and cultural framework for themselves to such an extent that it further delineated them from all other Indian communities;
- It did major damage to the identity of Indians as a whole, as discussed earlier, and continues to have a major negative impact on socio-political consensus in India; and
- The top-down approach of imposing secular principles without a clear definition and framework stopped the organic development of a society that should have been free to organize itself on various social, cultural, and intellectual levels.
The result of the above is that the majority of Indians are not sure what secularism actually means and how it relates to their personal and national identity.
3. 1975 – The Emergency
One of the first things that come to mind when reflecting on the 1975 Emergency is the now famous, and accurate, comment made about the conduct of the Indian media at that time– Mrs Gandhi asked the media to bend but they crawled. The media was, and still is, heavily dominated by left-leaning intellectuals and because Mrs Gandhi was agreeing to several demands made by this group, it could have been one of the factors that caused the media to remain silent during the worst attack on the Indian democratic system. The so-called secular forces including the Communist Party of India accepted Mrs Gandhi’s autocratic rule without a whisper. Instead it was parties like the Jan Sangh, which is now the BJP, and the Akali Dal which put up a brave fight with several of its leaders either being put under arrest or others (such as Narendra Modi and Subramaniam Swamy) remaining free to work underground in order to fight against the murder of democracy. The role of English press largely comprising of liberals was pathetic. It preached journalistic principles but when the time came, very few people and papers showed resistance. Mrs Gandhi’s remark that “not a dog had barked” was authoritative in tone and tenor pointing towards the failure of the Indian liberals by caving in at this crucial point in history.
4. The Distortion of History
If we return to the issue of history and historical perspective for a moment, in 1947, after a struggle of many centuries that included suffering Turkic/Mongol invasions and British colonization, Indians were finally free from the chains of slavery. They had a unique opportunity to write their story from their own perspective and not from that of the outsiders who continued to try to dominate intellectual and cultural space. The story that was unfolding and that was waiting to be told was even more important for the Hindus of India because Mr Jinnah had secured a separate land for Muslims and for centuries Hindus had been under constant attack by foreigners. It was a time for catharsis, for healing centuries-old wounds, and for forming strong foundations for a new India based on the concept of pluralism, a concept that the Hindus always championed.
But the campaign to ridicule some and to elevate others defeated the whole purpose of education itself. Indian history textbooks written by left-leaning academics coupled with the complete silencing of any opposing narrative led to the complete distortion of history in which the invaders were glorified as Indians and the theories that were trumped up by the British to create divisions among Indians (Aryan versus Dravidian) were not only accepted without critical analysis, but were actually based on weak data and assumptions. Even a national freedom fighter like Veer Savarkar who was respected by Mahatama Gandhi and PM Nehru is still vilified by the same liberal class simply because he doesn’t fit their definition of ‘secularism’. This is one of the biggest betrayals by the Indian liberal class because it has damaged the Indian polity at so many levels that it requires a separate discussion to come to a greater understanding of the effects. To put it succinctly, the historical narrative that not only weakened the Indic identity of India in order to create a false secular identity, but also promoted the shaming of the majority community as cowards, was deeply divisive and unscientific. If this received history were true, then bringing such a history into the light would be a great service to any nation. However, the cherry picking of bits and pieces of historical evidence in order to support a predetermined narrative was least expected of the liberal class… but they did it.
5. 1990 – The Kashmiri Hindu Exodus
The only exodus of independent India in which the Hindus (estimated at 3–5 lacs) were made refugees in their own land was simply based on their religious identity. The threat under which they had to leave, and during which time many prominent members of their community were murdered, is a saga of pain and betrayal.Yet the Muslim leadership of Kashmir under whose watch this happened was not even remotely subjected to the same level of criticism and scrutiny as Narendra Modi by the same liberals. Indeed, even after the Special Investigation Team formed under the auspices of the Supreme Court found Narendra Modi not guilty in the riots case, they still criticize him, and prior to that hounded him. In terms of scale and injustice, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits was far greater than that caused by the Gujarat riots. In fact, a section of the liberal class justified the exodus by terming it a class conflict, arguing that it arose because the minority Hindu community occupied plum posts in the government and the majority of the Muslim class felt ignored. Imagine the sheer apathy and intellectual dishonesty displayed by the Indian liberals who use different yardsticks based on the religion of the victims. Had they not displayed such colossal dishonesty, perhaps the Kashmiri Hindus would not have had to wait for almost 30 years for justice. And while justice has still not been completely served, at least the process has started with the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A without any support from the Indian liberal class. In fact, the same liberals that kept quiet for close to 30 years because the victims were Hindus are themselves not able to wait even for a few months for a judgment regarding certain rights such as the internet being curtailed in Kashmir which now comprises over 98% Muslims.
6. Women and Dalits in Kashmir
The state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which is the only Muslim majority state in India, has been a centre of terrorism for decades. Caste is still a reality in India,but this reality in the rest of India and Kashmir was starkly different before the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. While in the rest of India progressive measures in the form of reservations, a special SC/ST commission, social welfare schemes, etc. were taken to uplift those adversely affected by the caste system, in J&K the wheels of progress were put into reverse in the most regressive manner under the garb of Articles 370 and 35A. What’s even more astounding is that the Indian liberal class kept their counsel and said not a word. The progressive measures taken in favour of Dalits, women and tribal groups in the rest of India were not applicable in the state of J&K because a provision in the Indian Constitution gave them powers to frame their own constitution. Yet, instead of creating a model forward-thinking modern-day state, the Constitution of J&K contains the following clauses:
- Under 35A, if a Kashmiri woman marries outside of the state lose their citizenship status or permanent residence status in J&K and if she has a property in the state then she cannot will it to her family. After her death, the property goes to the state exchequer.
- Families of refugees, mostly Hindus and Sikhs who settled in J&K after partition in 1947 were not given citizenship status which meant they could not vote in state elections. Furthermore, they can’t go to the government schools and colleges; they can’t get jobs or reservations, buy land or do business.
- The Valmiki (SC) community was employed as sweepers and scavengers and regardless of their educational background and skills, the members of this community were ineligible for any other jobs apart from these.
In Kashmir, the same Indian liberals that to this date don’t waste a single opportunity to shame ‘upper caste’ Hindus regarding the regressive caste system have been largely silent for decades regarding the oppressive laws against women and members of the Dalit community in the state of J&K. While the rest of India has been progressing ahead with measures in support of the empowerment of women and the Dalit community, J&K had put the vehicle into reverse, and the deafening silence of the liberal class reeks of compromise and an abandonment of their principles.
The story of Indian ‘liberals’ has mostly been one of loud words and selective actions to suit their own narrative. They act as self-appointed messiahs but have themselves become the type of dogmatic cult that they professed they wanted to fight against. Their actions have indeed been both a great betrayal of their own libertarian principles and also a letting down of the Indian masses that looked to them to champion their cause without prejudice towards their background. Indian liberals time and again have compromised their own principles and standards. They were presented with various opportunities to prove their unbiased credentials, but each time they viewed and reported things through a biased lens and were hand in glove with the ruling party in either appeasing the minority or cosying up to those in the corridors of power. While the government had its own political compulsions to play the appeasement game, there is no reason for the liberal class to have indulged in the same. The Nehruvian hypocrisy of espousing secular credentials and simultaneously engaging in minority appeasement was carried forward and amplified as well as championed by the Indian liberal class and everything was justified under the umbrella of secularism, a concept that still needs to be clearly defined. Both secularism and liberal words have lost their credibility among the Indian masses and only the liberal class itself is to blame. It’s apt that we titled this article “ill liberals” because they have clearly been ill for a long time, suffering from the megalomaniacal belief that they are the sole custodian of truth and the gatekeepers of morality and justice stifling every opposing view. But they don’t realize that social platforms have opened the floodgates and the gatekeepers will soon drown in their own words if they don’t learn to raise their heads above their narrative and swim.