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For India’s liberals, party is over

Because in new India, you cannot have your communal canape and eat it too

Written by Srijana Mitra Das | Published: April 19, 2017 1:56 am

A month down the road, the dust — or, given the backdrop, should one say, the cow dust, the godhuli (that beautiful term, resonant with bells, red earth, fading sun, a setting we have now turned into a horrific lynching park) — settles over the announcement of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister. But the outrage, by India’s “liberals”, has left a mark. For, with UP’s new CM, it seemed that — yet again — the idea of India had come crashing down. Yet again, Indian pluralism, freedom, even Hinduism, were under attack; majoritarianism (fascism too) waft like cloying hair-oil in the air. These awful times are so fatiguing, we must “conserve our strength”, a liberal guru advises, as we build resistance (a la those WW-II intellectuals); indeed, many of “us” are so overwrought by the “mounting assaults on secularism”, we even forget to tell cook to chill the sorbet.

Of course, given the Yogi’s pre-CM pronouncements, such lamenting is fine. But why didn’t such visceral, gut-wrenching despair dog, say, Rajiv Gandhi, despite his reluctance to battle brutal 1984? Many mouthed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “raj dharma” admonition in 2002; but how many asked him, or L.K. Advani, what price raj dharma — also, the strong shielding the weak — in 1992?

Perhaps raj dharma, like communalism, lies in the beholder’s eyes. This suppleness of ideals, this selective sanctimony, is liberal India’s saddest truth, for it reflects how lovingly we nourish the split infinitives of our history: Snobbery, nestled with an inferiority complex. Both show in how fast we overlook, forgive, forget, accept communalism by everyone we’d rather like to party with. “No one parties as much as the Indian upper classes,” Noam Chomsky reportedly said. He could well be thinking of India’s liberals.

Thus, in Indira Gandhi’s era, even as Kashmir and Punjab choked, an invitation to tea, a coterie, a committee, was much sought. A call from Rajiv delighted a liberal heart, although Black Thunder boomed outdoors. Lalu Prasad courting caste was cute. Bihar’s Muslims remained too wretched to even kidnap. But Lalu was such a sweet subaltern, desiring acceptance at Delhi’s clubs. Compared to the right’s charmless determination to bend society to its will, subalterns like Lalu, flaunting the skullcaps, the lungis of street theatre-secularism, were cool.

Such “earthy” leaders made great party stories — or party partners — for India’s Westernised snobs, whose communalism comes with a fake Brit accent. For liberals, when leaders with the right accent evoke communalism, it is, somehow, ok. It is awful when a “vern”, bereft even of Hindi kavita, does so. This explains the puzzle then; how, despite ten years of a non-BJP government, and six years of a non-Modi sarkar before, did communalism grow, unlamented? In 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs recorded a 30 per cent rise in communal incidents, worst-hit being UP (under the SP) and Bihar (under Nitish Kumar). In 2012, Kokrajhar in Congress-run Assam saw riots displace 79,000 people. In 2011, Congress-run Rajasthan’s Bharatpur shook; in 2010, on Mamata Banerjee’s watch, the Deganga riots broke out.

Yet, as pressures — land, jobs, reservations, passions — began curdling into hate, not one incendiary communal law, not even the beef ban, was sought to be repealed. Not even, when in 2002, five Dalits were lynched in Haryana, on suspicions of cow slaughter. Why didn’t the liberals lament the “idea of India” then? Were we partying that hard with the charming in charge, enjoying high culture’s kebabs, kneaded with power’s grease? Now, when the kebab is literally in danger, we discover, so is the party itself. And we wail.

But not many are impressed. For even as the liberal speaks endlessly about the end of free speech, India has changed. It remains deeply concerned with justice and peace, but it is wise enough to see whose peace is of a piece with a biased view. In this India, citizenship isn’t just ahimsa over foie gras, drinks at the club bar, an exclusive seminar. It is a circus — a website, a theatre, a metro, a mall. Here, as symbols and cymbals clash, even the best faux accents aren’t revered. Here, just because you can say it with elan, you can’t have your communal canape and eat it too. No wonder some of “us” are feeling faint.

srijana.das@expressindia.com

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  1. R
    Ram
    May 5, 2017 at 1:48 am
    How can corrupt thugs supporting triple talaq, polygamy, conversions, article 370 and curbs on native indic culture be ever called 'secular' and 'liberal'. How can a word liberal be written in same line along with muslim, the base of these perverts? People of India have seen this drama for last 70 years, all due to Nehru grabbing power using congress organization and curbing any alternative view. Now the idea of India is basicall idea of Maculay-Nehru-Marx, never of real Indians. When real India erts itself all these colonial slaves of Maculay raise so much huw and cry. Just ignore them, as they are minuscule in numbers with no base, m support. They only manipulated the system by grabbing key positions and barring others who really deserved it for last 70 years. Just imagine these thugs supporting Raul-Vadras and wanting to remove selfless, in-corruptable nationalists like Modi, Yogi. and being in bed with anti India axis controlled by foreign en ies, Marx-mulla-missionaries
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    1. Pravin B. Ravi
      May 4, 2017 at 11:09 pm
      Liberalism in India today rings hollow. It's not even handed when it comes to denouncing communalism. It's that only a Hindu is communal, the ancient contiguity of the great land of Bharata varsha.
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      1. R
        Rici
        May 4, 2017 at 6:16 pm
        Indian so called liberals are lucky that ordinary Indian has lot of patience and tolerance. Other wise bigotry and leis of these so called liberals deserves a bloody revolution
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          ansuman
          May 4, 2017 at 10:51 am
          Thank you --Mr writer --keep it up.Truth is needed to unmask-the corrupt,inept and anti Hindu -gang, who -should be in jail but are free and thriving.
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            Biru
            Apr 21, 2017 at 3:26 am
            Very poor writing. I presume, the readers who have applauded this english either havent understood it or have just read the last paragraph. Its a common tendency to applaud a writer when content goes above your grey matter. Couple of sentences have unnecesseraly been punctuated with excessive commas either to make it a showy business so that people cant understand or writer herself doesnt know when to stop or start sentences while writing english. I pity how editor can saction these english. Though i liked the essence of it but alas writer could have been more understandable for common people. Dont forget english is not a primary language in India. I live in UK and feel that greatness comes out in simple english and not this showy english. Learn before u preach...
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