Completing the nation-building process – Gautam Sen

Narendra Modi & Amit Shah

Dr Gautam SenIndia is almost the only nation in the world with a raucous chorus that opposes all manifestations of national unity. – Dr Gautam Sen

The unruly demonstrations across India over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) obscure the profound historic changes unfolding in India. The contemporary socio-political tsunami unleashed by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is Ashokan in scale and guarantee them immortality if they follow through and implementation of their policies succeed. In the historical context of disunity, it was the catastrophic warring between the Rashtrakutas of the South and the once mighty empire of the troubled Gurjara-Pratiharas that opened India’s doors to a thousand years of unimaginably destructive and cruel enslavement. The prolonged desolation was to be followed by the racist British marauders in the 18th century. They are still being defended by “coolie” Indian academics in a tradition of self-hatred that ingrained itself during colonial rule. But something massive is now afoot, the meaning of which will become truly clear in historical retrospect.

It was the Mahatma that decreed that India should not acquire the standard accoutrements of nationhood that violated his bizarre eschewal of physical survival necessary to ratify his timeless sainthood, in the tradition of Jesus Christ. His chosen prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not altogether abandon this underlying moral imperative, though circumstances severely circumscribed its realisation and it finally perished in the icy Himalayan wastes in 1962. The unavoidable task of building the nation, begun majestically by the incomparable Sardar Patel, with pragmatism, iron will and sagacity, had faltered after his death in 1950. In subsequent decades, the efforts to create a nation out of long extant internal fissures and suicidal rivalries were stifled by the struggle to retain political power at the centre, while the periphery’s sense of belonging to one nation ebbed away.

Into this political vacuum, multiple external predators, other governments and their insidious evangelist assets, never completely dormant, quickly intensified operations, suborning and coordinating with local political allies, in a phenomenon with ancient roots in the civilisation of the Hindus. In the struggle to gain and retain regional power, political parties in India were more than willing to sup with the devil, including foreign ones. The most shocking revelation has been the apparent collusion of national parties with the Pakistani ISI in facilitating the July 2005 Delhi and the 26/11 terrorist assaults on Mumbai. Broadly speaking, foreign powers have routinely provided political support to disgruntled local political movements, from Maoism to regionalism through state agencies and concoction of intellectual legitimacy, using arm’s length intelligence agents in major Western universities. A majority of Western scholars, engaged with their own national intelligence and foreign policy agencies, sustain narratives, first evolved during colonial rule, of oppressive Hindu hierarchies and allege racial divisions that apparently enjoin erasure at all cost. They have recently become quite blatant because ongoing unprecedented changes in India under the Modi government are unsettling them. A highly reliable witness reported that one leading Oxford academic went so far as to suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi organised the killings of 40 Indian soldiers to justify Balakot for electoral purposes.

The Left has never been comfortable with the idea of the nation as an institution because they have a quasi-religious obsession with the idea of a borderless world. This is an aspiration also shared in the Islamic notion of the Ummah, though only exclusively under the exacting rigours of the Shariah, a counterpart to communist universalism as the sole ideological rubric of proletarian world dictatorship. Of course, neither communist nor Muslim nations ever managed to practise this unlikely political phantasmagoria, since both have unfailingly been organised, historically, as sectarian individual polities, often in bitter conflict with each other. Joseph Stalin himself, still the undisputed hero of the ludicrous Indian Left, unceremoniously eliminated internationalist Trotskyite dissent. During World War II, Trotsky was improbably advocating that the working classes of Germany and the Soviet Union unite, at the very moment the Nazis were engaged in trying to liquidate the Slavic people in entirety. Now the world is witnessing the terrifying spectacle of Chinese nationalism, only rivalled by the aspirations of world empire in the past millennia of the Mongols and Islam.

The need for nation-building to survive in a hostile and predatory world was recognised by the great poet, Rabindranath Tagore, in an astute essay admired by the political philosopher, Isaiah Berlin. Tagore’s eloquent analysis regretted some dimensions of nationalism, but he deemed it unavoidable. But approval of nationalist mobilisation has long been the staple of Western political thought and historical study. The political cohesion of the group was enumerated as an imperative even by the great Arab thinker, Ibn Khaldun, though the societal bases he identified for it are less relevant to the contemporary world. India is almost the only nation in the world, even including the modern Scandinavians hell-bent on self-liquidation, with a raucous chorus that opposes all manifestations of national unity. From Thomas Hobbes, who insisted freedom is only possible when order prevails under overriding authority to contemporary historians, all identify analogous bases for nation-building. Even when they seem uneasy, like Linda Colley, about the full meaning and impact of nation building, she recognised that Great Britain was created through warfare and religious fervour. Indian academics, who cannot really be described as thinkers at all since their oeuvre is mostly imitative, wax eloquent on the artificiality of the nation. All the accusations of “invented traditions” are smugly aimed at India, without taking on board how nations, which provide their handsome current salaries, were established in exactly the way exposed critically by theorists Benedict Anderson, Terence Ranger and Eric Hobsbawm, etc.!

Narendra Modi

The unfinished business of nation-building being attempted by India was always guaranteed to be difficult since new perceptions and sensibilities have to be implanted and become the default norm. It will unavoidably challenge extant fissured self-identification and imperil them, nothing more assured to unsettle and provoke unrest. Once India was rescued from accelerated break-up as a polity and an economy, which was being jubilantly charted by the erstwhile Congress government, Narendra Modi’s dispensation has pursued a number of weighty aspirations essential for building the nation. These embraced some of the goals abandoned following the passing of the inestimable Sardar Patel. The first was the erosion of the dominance of caste equations in Indian political life, though the efforts still remain tentative in impact, demonstrated twice in national elections that elevated instead the benefits of good governance as a political mobiliser. This political programme of Narendra Modi has already been an enormous and historic accomplishment, though not fully acknowledged. The second objective is the building of a strong, competitive domestic economy, with a significant manufacturing base and capable of supplying a major share of defence procurement. The latter goals have suffered some recent short-term setbacks, but remain essential and the incumbent government appears seriously committed to them.

The third goal of defining the nation’s borders was another policy that has been promulgated by the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, an essential task that no political dispensation had even imagined possible, leave alone attempted. Its political costs are not yet fully known, but its historic achievement cannot be denied. The NRC and CAA legislation also perform an essential task of nation-building by defining India’s borders and ascertaining who has the legal right to reside within it. The protests and hand-wringing over them only unambiguously identifies the reality of a small but vocal minority in India, some of it highly privileged, perfectly tranquil about inflicting incalculable damage to the Indian nation for short-term political gain. And evidence is emerging of foreign involvement to destabilise India through terrorist assets within India. The arguments being proffered against the NRC and the CAA are so absurd as to beggar belief. They have been answered with unequivocal and devastating pointedness by the former Additional Solicitor General of India, the extraordinarily nuanced Harish Salve. In summary, economic migrants, fleeing material distress in neighbouring countries cannot be considered victims of religious persecution, but an exception is being granted to minorities suffering genuinely from it. To be morally in accord with international standards, India will continue to entitle everyone to be considered for political asylum.

As for antediluvian liberal ideologues, including the UN Secretary General, and various inane commercial media outlets currently berating India, like the BBC, New Yorker and the supercilious Washington Post [and New York Times], thought itself unable to resist China’s overweening demands to conform, they only reveal their perilously inadequate grasp of history and reality. It is best they crawled back into their respective pits in silence. – Sunday Guardian Live, 28 December 2019

Dr Gautam Sen taught international political economy for more than two decades at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

India Flag


Need for citizenship bill was long overdue – Amar Bhushan

Citizenship Amendment Bill (2019)

Amar BhushanCAB seeks to provide Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists who were forced to flee Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and have since sought asylum in India. … These refugees had been victims of continuous persecution, forcible religious conversion and discrimination. More importantly, they had no country where they could escape to for safety of their life and faith. – Amar Bhushan

Home Minister Amit Shah has come up with one more bill that has invited misguided protests, misplaced apprehensions and mischievous propaganda. It is called the Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2019 (CAB) that amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 and seeks to provide Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists who were forced to flee Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and have since sought asylum in India on or before December 31, 2014. These refugees had been victims of continuous persecution, forcible religious conversion and discrimination. More importantly, they had no country where they could escape to for safety of their life and faith.

Ordinarily, this benevolence should have been applauded but political parties who see only votes in appeasing Muslims are crying hoarse why Muslims who suffered similar misfortunes have been excluded from the CAB. The reason is laid bare by simple statistics.

After Partition, Hindus constituted 15 per cent of Pakistan’s population, were 7 per cent in 1950 and 1.5 per cent in 2018, despite 3.5 per cent annual growth in their birth rate. Similarly, they were 30 per cent of East Pakistan’s population in 1947, 23 per cent in 1971 when Bangladesh became independent and are now about 7 per cent. The 90 per cent decline in their population over a period of 70 years is due to their unrelenting persecution. The fate of Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists has been even worse. CAB will ensure that approximately 35 lakhs of them do not perish as unwanted, deprived and dispensable commodity. India alone is their final resting place where they can seamlessly relate with the religious, cultural, psychological and social ethos of their promised land despite its million problems.

However, to treat 2.35 lakh odd Pakistani Muslims who are staying illegally in India as a religiously persecuted lot would be self-deceiving. They are here, thanks to a lax surveillance regime, to enjoy benefits of a thriving economy. This is also true of over 15 million Bangladeshis who have illegally migrated purely for economic reasons. In any case, Muslims facing political persecution would rather be happy emigrating to 45 Islamic countries to live in a shared religious relationship.

The allegation that CAB violates Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution is bizarre. It does not differentiate between citizens on the basis of faith but between illegal immigrants of different faiths where Constitution has no jurisdiction.

The concerns of Asom Gana Parishad, All Assam Students’ Union, North East Students’ Organisation, Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura, etc., that CAB will adversely impact their language, culture, custom and ownership of land, are wholly imaginary. The bill grants Indian citizenship to only a small group of hapless immigrants and like the rest of Indians, they will also be subject to local restrictions like Inner Line Permit and to laws that protect the cultural, political and economic rights of indigenous people. Once legitimised, these migrants may not even like to live in the northeastern states and move to other parts of India, looking for better opportunities and greater acceptability. Let crass electoral interests, for once, take a back seat to accept those non-Muslim communities who were worst victims of India’s partition in 1947 and thereafter. – The New Indian Express, 15 December 2019

Amar Bhushan is a former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing, New Delhi.

Modi on CAB


Shamelessness is their shield – Punarvasu Parekh

Uddhav Thackeray

Journalist IconFor our politicians, shamelessness is their shield. If you called them opportunists, they may not bat an eyelid. To them the term is descriptive, not pejorative. – Punarvasu Parekh

The formation of Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra is a fraud on the people of the state and a travesty of their verdict. Never was the politics of power, the hankering after pelf, patronage and office, more visible to the common man in all its stark nakedness. The BJP had a chance of shining in solitary splendour of majestic isolation by opting out of the rat race; but it chose to fall for temptations of office. In the end, it lost not only power, but also much of its moral standing and popular sympathy.

For decades, Shiv Sena had lashed out at Congress in vulgarly acidic language for dynastic politics, corruption, anti-Hindu policies and misgovernance. For decades, Congress has run down the Sena as a bunch of chauvinistic, narrow-minded, communalist goons. Both of them had hurled choicest abuses and invectives against Nationalist Congress as a club of the most corrupt politicians.

And now we learn that the three parties have entered into an irrevocable—until further notice—alliance to keep “the communal forces” at bay and provide a “cohesive, purposeful, responsible, responsive and transparent administration” to the state with “collective effort”. Shiv Sena is the newly anointed custodian of secularism in the state.

Not even a fig leaf of ideas, ideals and ideology is available to the actors in the high-voltage political drama enacted over the last few weeks. BJP and Sena were tied together by Hindutva, but are daggers drawn today. Congress and NCP, both bulwarks of secularism, have conveniently backed Shiv Sena. BJP which said that Ajit Pawar deserved to be in jail for corruption in irrigation projects had no problem stitching an alliance with him in the dead of night and making him deputy chief minister.

These contradictions begin to make sense, however, when you consider the interests, incentives and motivations of the players.

Apparently, the Sena-BJP relationship broke down over the latter’s adamant stand over the chief ministership. That a party with 56 seats should demand the top slot when its partner has got 105 and walk away when it is not conceded, may seem extraordinary. But that is what we saw.

However, the real reasons which drove the partners apart are different and various.

First and foremost, Shiv Sena feared that it would become irrelevant if it remained in BJP’s shadows any longer. When Bal Thackeray was around, BJP deferred to his authority and was content to play the junior partner. Now, with the departure of the senior Thackeray and emergence of Narendra Modi as a towering national leader, the equation has been reversed. After J&K initiative and Ayodhya verdict, BJP has securely pocketed the Hindutva card, whereas Sena’s Marathi manoos card is losing relevance in urban areas and contested hotly by Sharad Pawar in the rural areas.

Moreover, in Devendra Fadnavis BJP has a regional leader who is wise, able and clean. An unknown quantity when he began, Fadnavis is now a leader in his own right. This has added to Sena’s worries.

When the assembly election results were out, the Sena found to its satisfaction that the BJP was far short of a majority of its own and was not in a position to form the government without its support. It was then that it decided to go for the kill. Things did not work out exactly to its plans, but it has had the satisfaction of seeing its leader as the chief minister and forcing Devendra Fadnavis to sit in the opposition.

Sharad Pawar, the seasoned politician, saw the opportunity when it arose. Unhappy with BJP for aggressively poaching leaders of his party or pursuing corruption cases against them, he played his cards extremely well to secure power in Maharashtra, split the NDA at the centre and give BJP a bloody nose at least for now. Assuming that his nephew Ajit Pawar had acted on his own in siding with BJP, Sharad Pawar demonstrated exemplary political acumen in ensuring his happy ghar wapsi and reinstating him in the party.

The BJP leaders seemed to think that loss of power in a large and rich state like Maharashtra would affect its standing at national level and may embolden smaller allies to be more assertive. Their calculations have badly misfired. Their show of injured innocence would have sounded more credible if they had refrained from playing the “masterstroke” at midnight. Now they must not do anything to destabilize this government. They should wait patiently for the contradictions of the alliance partners to discredit and destroy the government.

For Congress gains are mixed. It has traded short term local advantage for loss of credibility at the central level. Sonia and Rahul kept away from the swearing in ceremony in Mumbai, but the damage is done.

Ironically, although every leader and every party has acted out of self interest, all of them have come out losers in a real sense.

Shiv Sena has shot itself in the foot and may be on the road to self-destruction unless it can reinvent itself as a regional party with a measure of credibility. Uddhav Thackeray has made too many compromises. Bal Thackeray never stirred out of his residence to meet anyone. All including prime ministers had to meet him at his home. Udhdhav Thackeray went to meet the likes of Ahmed Patel at a city hotel. Aditya Thackeray the rising ‘son’ of Sena met Sonia Gandhi in Delhi in a bid to assuage her reported displeasure. Chhagan Bhujbal who ordered the arrest of Bal Thackeray is now a member of Udhdhav’s government.

Congress, by joining Shiv Sena as a junior partner, has destroyed its credibility with Muslims, much like it did after demolition of Babri mosque. It has also moderately compromised its prospects in south India.

The government is unlikely to last long. There is no love lost among the three partners. Each has a deep distrust of the other two. The only common minimum programme is to make the pile till the sun shines. Rumblings of dissidence will be soon out in public. Every MLA supporting the government is keen to collect his reward. Parties are already planning their games of one-upmanship. The atmosphere is so sullied with suspicion and bitterness that fresh polls look inevitable sooner rather than later.

The real losers are the people of state. They had given a clear mandate in favour of a pre-poll alliance of parties which had been together for decades. The spectacle they were forced to witness was beyond their belief. Their “honourable” elected representatives had to be taken away and sequestered in remote places so that they are not bought over by rival parties. How honourable!

“My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth,” said Gandhiji in his autobiography.

For our politicians, shamelessness is their shield. If you called them opportunists, they may not bat an eyelid. To them the term is descriptive, not pejorative.

“But don’t you know that all ideals and teachings of Gandhiji were interred at Rajghat with his ashes?”

Yes, we know.

Punarvasu Parekh is an independent senior journalist in Mumbai.

Maharashtra Political Cartoon


Book Review: A nationalist narrative – Anirban Ganguly

Hindu Nationalism

Dr Anirban GangulyAwakening Bharat Mata: The Political Beliefs of the Indian Right by Swapan Dasgupta. Published by Penguin Viking. Pages 440. Price Rs 699. Available on Amazon.

Swapan Dasgupta’s magnum opus, Awakening Bharat Mata: The Political Beliefs of the Indian Right, comes across as an inspiring, fascinating, thought-provokingly rich tour d’horizon which articulates and delineates the contours of the nationalist political narrative in India.

The prefatory chapters discussing the political context of the book, the delineation of the rise of the Hindu political narrative, the logical and cogent argumentations, the wide sweep of references and parallels, the analysis and contextualisation of conservatism and its examination in the Indian cultural and political milieu make the reading of this opus an exercise that is challenging and yet enriching.

The reader is bound to emerge elevated having partaken of the flavours “of the different attitudes that have characterised interventions of the right in public life”.

With the advantage of having a close view of momentous political developments over the last three decades, having prolifically written about these, and articulated and interpreted their ramifications and unfolding, Swapan Dasgupta’s interpretation of the evolution of the political narrative of the Indian “right”—read nationalists—is both interesting and authentic.

If the author’s aim was “to narrow the apparent mismatch between the Indian right’s political clout and the disdain with which it is viewed in the citadels of intellectual power”, then he has amply succeeded in that effort. India’s right too had its share of intellectuals.

Many of these intellectual giants were deliberately “airbrushed from intellectual imagination”, this volume, through masterstrokes of thoughts, contemplation and interpretations, has revived those airbrushed intellectuals and has again placed them at the centre of our discourse, our intellectual struggle to shape a New India.

Swapan DasguptaThe author almost lyrically states his objective of the need for a cultural self-recovery, of a restating of the political thought-world that gave life to the nationalist narrative and then to channelise it to propel the quest for a New India.

He writes, “The themes that preoccupied conservative thinkers quietly resisting colonial encroachments are no doubt important as history. But many of these preoccupations did not die out with the onset of Independence and the recovery of national sovereignty.

“They have persisted as guiding forces in contemporary India. The idea of national resurgence is as important in a globalised 21st-century setting as it was in the India of the mid-19th century. The ideas that drove Indians of an earlier age have persisted in one form or another in shaping contemporary politics. The quest for a New India has invariably involved the rediscovery of an Old India.”

True, it is not a comprehensive documentation of the ideational world of Indian nationalist thought but it gives a wide sweep by including seminal personalities and their key texts and writings.

The selection made from Bankim Chandra, Sri Aurobindo, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Sister Nivedita, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, to Ramananda Chatterjee, R.C. Majumdar, RG Bhandarkar, Sardar Patel, Sita Ram Goel, N.C. Chatterjee, Jadunath Sarkar, V.S. Naipaul, Nirad Chaudhuri, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Girilal Jain and S. Gurumurthy, exactly does that which the author has argued. It demonstrates how the foundational ideas for national resurgence in its many dimensions persisted through the ages and continued to shape discourse to the present times.

The author could have included a text from M.S. Golwalkar, though he does discuss Golwalkar, focusing on his discarded text We or Our Nationhood Defined.

The essential Golwalkar is to be found beyond that callow tract. One also misses the inclusion of Dharampal, a contemporary of Sita Ram Goel and one who was among the most prolific articulators of this quest for a national resurgence. But perhaps these could be included in a sequel that must naturally follow such a volume.

For those who had asked where are the intellectuals of the Indian right, this is a must-read volume. For those who wish to embark on a deeper quest to internalise the essence of the evolution of the narrative of Bharat Mata, this is one work that cannot be ignored or omitted. – The New Indian Express, 1 September 2019

Dr Anirban Ganguly is the director of the Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.

Awakening Bharat Mata Cover

The Liberal Mafia: Entitled, assertive, vindictive and deeply biased – Minhaz Merchant

Narendra Modi

Minhaz MerchantThe liberal mafia is ruthless with ideological opponents. It hunts in packs. It tries to intimidate those with contrarian views. It boycotts and it disparages. – Minhaz Merchant

You can recognise them by their body language: deliberate, entitled, assertive. Most come from solid middle-class backgrounds. They studied hard, became journalists, historians, politicians, filmmakers and activists.

They call themselves liberal.

They are anything but.

Liberalism’s first law requires open-mindedness. Their minds are closed. Liberalism’s second law demands even-handedness. They outrage selectively. The third law of liberalism is the one they flout most flagrantly—tolerance.

Tolerance—not to injustice or wrongdoing, but tolerance to contrarian points of view.

Their overpowering hate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi poisons their arguments.

I believe—and have written so unequivocally over the years—that Modi has erred grievously on economic reforms, failed to control louts in the BJP, robbed institutions of their independence, and indulged those in the party with regressive views on science.

That doesn’t mean everything that Modi does has to be viewed through a prism of prejudice.

There are shades of grey and areas of nuance that escape the clogged minds of those who pose as liberals but who fail the fourth law of liberalism—balance.

The liberal mafia behaves like, well, the mafia. It is ruthless with ideological opponents. It hunts in packs. It tries to intimidate those with contrarian views. It boycotts and it disparages.

This is graphically illustrated by the open letter addressed to the Prime Minister by 49 “eminent” citizens.

The letter has received a response from 62 well-known citizens. The matter is open for a broader debate on the truly liberal approach to the issues both letters address.

Take politics first.

The BJP is certainly not a liberal party. It has a narrow view on LGBTQIA+ rights. It stutters over an open economy in order to protect its trader vote base. It uses communal and casteist elements in the party to polarise the electorate. It is obsessed with global rankings on innovation, ease of doing business and sundry other parameters, betraying an insecurity complex.

But the BJP is fortunate that the Opposition is even less liberal—the Congress violates every principle of liberalism by placing loyalty to the Gandhis above merit. Regional parties like the TMC, SP, BSP and RJD use religion and caste even more damagingly than the BJP.

In this hopeless miasma of ill-liberalism, the duty of “public intellectuals” is to raise the level of debate, not resort to ideological score-settling. The criticism of well-meaning citizens would be taken more seriously if it was more balanced.

Of course, Muslims and Christians need protection from the mindless lynch mobs that take the law into their own hands. But the criticism loses credibility if it is one-sided.

Terrible violence afflicts states like West Bengal. And, yet, few “public intellectuals” write stern open letters to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Similarly, none of these public intellectuals has written open letters to the Abdullahs or Muftis on the near-genocidal exile of four lakh Kashmiri Pandits.

It is a severe indictment of these intellectuals—the definition sits uneasily on many of their heads—that they don’t realise how ineffective their criticism is rendered by targeting a narrow ideological strain.

Many criticisms of the BJP are valid. The party has not done enough for mainstream Muslims, though Muslims themselves have contributed to their own plight by being willing political pawns for the Opposition.

The BJP and Modi need constructive criticism to keep a majority government in check, demand accountability and ensure good governance. We also need to hear from more voices within the government besides Modi and Amit Shah.

As they did in the triple talaq Parliamentary debate, more BJP MPs must be encouraged to speak up. Of the party’s 303 MPs, it would be a challenge for most voters to identify more than 30 by name.

The last thing India needs is the BJP mutating into the Congress with its feudal high command culture, voiceless MPs, sycophancy, nepotism and arrogance.

Over decades of feudal Congress governments, an ecosystem of entitlement has been created. Modi and the BJP have used the wrong strategy to create an alternative ecosystem based on fairness and equality, not nepotism and favouritism. For example, the focus on promoting Hindi is fine in principle but neglecting English, the world’s lingua franca, is a mistake. Correcting history textbooks is again good in principle—but replacing outdated colonial and Mughal versions with mythology is regressive.

What liberal intellectuals—those who are really liberal and really intellectual—need to do is support issues, not ideologies based on false Left and Right paradigms.

Here are two illustrative examples:

On LGBTQIA+ rights, freedom of expression and gender equality, lean Left.

On free markets, an open economy and foreign investment, lean Right.

In short, don’t be trapped in a left-wing or a right-wing bunker. Be a liberal on social policies and a liberal on economic policies.

What about religion and caste? India is unfortunately hostage to both. But in an evolved democracy, the only litmus test for liberalism is to be caste-agnostic and religion-agnostic. Condemn violence wherever it occurs, whoever be the victim and whoever the perpetrator.

In the end, the two qualities that define the true liberal are fairness and balance.

On that count, the 49 letter-writers fail the test. – Daily-O, 29 July 2019

› Minhaz Merchant is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor, and author of The New Clash of Civilizations.

The Ill-liberal 49ers


Video: Dr Swamy’s Election Strategy – Rajiv Malhotra

The majoritarian myth – Minhaz Merchant

Indian Pluralism

Minhaz MerchantAcross much of the world, majoritarianism now holds sway. In Trump’s America it is reflected in the hostility to immigration. In Britain, it manifests itself in xenophobia, a retreat to Little England. Both Britain and the US unabashedly declare themselves Christian-majority countries. … In India, by contrast, “majoritarian” Modi breaks bread with Muslm clerics and Christian bishops. – Minhaz Merchant

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May 2014, prophets of doom have made three prophecies: first, that India will be wracked by communal riots; second, that dissent will be stifled; and third, that India’s global reputation as a liberal democracy will be irreparably damaged.

All three predictions have proved false, both empirically and qualitatively. That doesn’t mean Modi escapes blame entirely. The Prime Minister has been a good executor of innovative schemes in sanitation, financial inclusion, digitisation, infrastructure, rural electrification and many other sectors. But a strange dichotomy has pervaded his prime ministership.

Modi has proved a closet Nehruvian by relying on the public sector to drive the economy. Instead of privatising white elephants like MTNL and Air India, the government has poured more good money into them. Worse, instead of modernising the bureaucracy, Modi has doubled down on a corroded IAS hierarchy to run key ministries like finance, defence and civil aviation. Institutions have been stunted by placing favoured ideologues in them rather than individuals of true merit.

However, what Modi-baiters feared most—a sharp rise in communal riots on his watch—has not transpired. Examine the evidence. According to IndiaSpend, a fact-checking site, communal incidents spiked 28 per cent between 2014 and 2017 (an annualised increase of 9 per cent) with 822 “incidents” recorded in 2017 alone. However, this was lower than the decade-high figure of 943 communal incidents recorded in 2008.

Incidents of lynchings over cow slaughter and the free rein given to gaurakshaks, especially in polarised Uttar Pradesh, have led the Opposition to argue that while widespread communal riots have not occurred on Modi’s watch due to fear of majoritarian reprisals, an atmosphere of hostility against Muslims has been deliberately built up by incendiary communal statements by BJP MPs and MLAs.

The actor Naseeruddin Shah reflected this view when he declared:  “There is complete impunity for those who take the law into their own hands. In many areas, we are witnessing that the death of a cow is more significant than that of a police officer.”

Three years ago actor Aamir Khan’s wife Kiran Rao declared her intention to leave India (she hasn’t so far) owing to the growing atmosphere of intolerance. Meanwhile, dozens of websites have sprung up over the past three years tearing into the Modi government on a daily basis. In a vibrant democracy strong criticism of the government, however motivated, is better than fawning sycophancy that several mainstream media outlets have adopted.

Dissent in Modi’s India, contrary to the prophecies of doom, is alive and well though it often degenerates into personal abuse of the prime minister. Much the same happens in mature democracies like Britain and the United States where Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump face vituperative abuse from public and press. They take it in their stride as should Modi.

And the third prophecy? If the Modi government hasn’t sparked communal riots or stifled dissent, surely it has damaged India’s global reputation? Not quite. China has retreated from its confrontational position with India into a warm embrace.

Beijing recognises that an increasingly hostile Washington will make India the balancing global power in the evolving geopolitics of the future. Sri Lanka and the Maldives are back in India’s camp. With the political influence of post-Brexit Britain likely to decline and both France and Germany immersed in domestic problems, India’s global role is set to expand.

Meanwhile, across much of the world, majoritarianism now holds sway. In Trump’s America it is reflected in the hostility to immigration. In Britain, it manifests itself in xenophobia, a retreat to Little England. Both Britain and the US unabashedly declare themselves Christian-majority countries as former British Prime Minister David Cameron said publicly in 2015 and President Trump says repeatedly at every rally.

In India, by contrast, “majoritarian” Modi breaks bread with Shia clerics and church bishops. Ironically, it is secular Hindus who have succeeded in instilling fear in minorities. They alienate the Hindu majority by appeasing rather than empowering Muslims. On Modi’s watch, the attitude of the average Hindu has hardened against Muslims because he sees a conspiracy between self-declared secular Hindus on the one hand and Muslim-appeasing political parties like the Congress, SP, NCP and RJD on the other.

A strong cabal in media, civil society and Bollywood uses the myth of majoritarianism as a bludgeon. Actor Kangana Ranaut put it bluntly: “I am the most liberal person I know. Self-proclaimed liberals can’t rattle me by trying to seek attention. Their agenda is to go against the government, protest against the national anthem, but how are they standing up for the country? Our situation needs to be rectified by a strong set of ideals. The earlier government played on dividing the majority and minority because the latter sticks together and votes flock in. Governments can’t be partial to either side. Our religions are beautiful but we must subscribe to nationalism to bind us together.”

Muslims themselves are divided. Shias, Bohras and Memons, traditionally mercantile, feel no fear from majoritarianism. It is the nexus between self-appointed secular Hindus, Sunni fundamentalists and political parties fishing in troubled waters that have given rise to the myth of Indian majoritarianism.

»  Minhaz Merchant is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor, and the author of The New Clash of Civilizations.

Modi with Muslims