- Mar 28 2017
Liberalism has given us this modern world which gives primacy to the individual over his community, caste or gender.
Following the selection of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, there were a spate of articles, many seeking to argue that the incendiary preacher deserved to be given a second chance, but there were a few significant pieces questioning the decision.
Among the most compelling was one by the Centre for Policy Research president Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Mehta was attacked in a prominent economic daily as being a “typical” representative of the “Left liberal establishment”.
Clearly, the writer does not know what the Left is all about, leave alone liberalism and Pratap Mehta. But like “sickular” and “Left liberal”, even “Lutyens'” sounds good to the formally literate, but actually uneducated young men, who are trying to make a name for themselves as writers.
Anyone familiar with the deeply religious Mehta knows that he defies ideological categorisation and stands out as one of the sane, centrist voices in the Indian intellectual firmament. If anything, he has always been distrusted by the Left.
For social values
As for liberalism, these troubled times call for it to be looked at again in some detail. Again, since we are dealing with a semi-educated commentariat, it is easy for us to use the word as a pejorative, rather than understand its great tradition and importance in the evolution of society.
Liberalism has given us this modern world which gives primacy to the individual over his tribe, clan, community, caste or gender. It is not important merely as a sociological fact, but as the very root of modern capitalism.
Liberalism is what transformed the rapacious capitalism in the 19th century and ensured that Marx’s proletariat did not overthrow the bourgeoise state, but become a part of it.
It is the liberal impulse that has humanised the world. Its votaries have fought consistently for human liberty, and against crass exploitation, torture, gender inequality, religious persecution, racism and you name it.
Among the greatest enemies of liberalism was Mao Zedong. In his essay “Combat Liberalism” written in 1937, he said that they heard “wrong views” without correcting them (read: they allowed others their opinion); failed to stop “counterrevolutionary” views being aired, promoted self-interest over that of the collective, that they represented a “weak” and “effete” way of doing things (read: they didn’t imprison or shoot dissidents).
Mao’s critique was that liberals were bad for the military style of the Communist Party of China, whose emphasis was on iron discipline and uniform views filtering from the top to down.
Trolls have taken over
In many ways, this is the critique we see from a range of political commentators today — semi-educated trolls, allegedly educated commentators, out and out votaries of a Hindu rashtra. All of them have one thing in common — the herd instinct. They want a united communitarian view and feel insecure with any kind of individualism that liberalism upholds.
It is actually unfair to simply condemn these attitudes. Looked deeper, they are, in reality, cries of despair in a society which is changing rapidly and where old certainties and ways of doing things are rapidly changing or no longer exist.
They also reflect personal fears about jobs and careers. Job creation in the private sector is virtually stagnant and government jobs are affected by reservations.
Modi’s great success in 2014 was his ability to bring hope and his campaign focused on transformation and rejuvenation, Make in India, smart cities and so on, which would create a modern, forward looking nation.
With job creation having virtually collapsed, the Modi train seems to be shifting track, nominally talking of development, but raking up Hindutva issues.
Draconian govt policy
The illiberalism stalking the land is not just about trolls, jobs or secularism. It is also about government policy striking at the very roots of individual liberty. Recently, the government sequestered our bank accounts and doled out our money to us as though we were kids getting pocket money.
Now, besides legislation empowering draconian raids, they want the use of Aadhaar to be compulsory in filing tax returns and a variety of other transactions. There are serious implications of allowing the government to track everything you do.
Mobiles and other technologies give the government access to information about where you are, who you are talking to and what you say. Tracking Aadhaar assists the surveillance. No legal guarantees are being offered on our right to privacy and individual choice, or procedures to prevent the misuse of personal information.
With two former CBI chiefs are being charged for wrongdoing, how much trust can we have on government and its officials?
This commentary originally appeared in DailyO.in.