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Saturday, March 28, 2020

In their own ivory towers

The ascendant right liberal is as elitist and parochial as his left counterpart

Written by Asad Ali | Updated: June 1, 2019 7:58:34 pm
Narendra Modi, BJP, Narendra Modi BJP, Lok Sabha Elections 2019, 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, Modi 2019, Congress, Congress elections 2019, Rahul Gandhi, Indian Express Modi has, thankfully, tripped a switch in our subconscious and ensured we have enough confidence to show the world who we really are as political creatures. (PTI)

Ek hammam meñ tabdil hui hai duniya
sab hi nañge haiñ, kise dekh ke sharmauñ maiñ
— Sulaiman Areeb

There are some things we need to be grateful for to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. No, not the injection of a testosterone-fuelled nationalism but the stripping away of an individual’s crust of political platitudes to reveal the sanctum sanctorum of the people’s personal politics, in all its nakedness.

This big reveal has meant the foregrounding of the “right” liberals, ignored first cousins of the “left” liberals. Let’s call them RLs and LLs. RLs are tolerant of diverse people and open to political engagements at dinner parties and social media. They don’t want to ban things. Most things their celebrated LL cousins do, really. Except, they believe in the might of the right — at least they do now.

And this is their moment under the sun, gloating under the glorious rays of a massive mandate. They are the outliers who have been unjustly eclipsed everywhere by their LL cousins and, now, the power axes has shifted. However, just as the LLs were, mostly, circumscribed by class privilege, just as the LLs skimmed the surface of issues before forming opinions and outraging on social media, and, just as they often fit an arguably biased, pre-set narrative in their heads to an assortment of facts (political or otherwise) they came across — the RLs too, suffer from this malaise.

So the RLs feel the mandate has nothing much to do with Hindutva. They assert the voters have chosen a man who can make India stronger. Pulwama and Balakot are the new markers of patriotic fervour. Anyone questioning this hates the country. They skip over other details though: Just over a month ago, more than 150 retired military officers including former chiefs of the army, navy and air force wrote an open letter to the president urging to “take all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas”. Do the RLs feel their ownership of national security — and their opinion on it — trumps those who have served the nation their entire lives? Do they feel these officers have denuded the idea of India and national security by speaking out? In a report in this publication (IE, January 24), it was revealed how woefully short the IAF will be in the next two years: 26 squadrons of fighter aircraft against an authorisation of 42. Pakistan, our sworn enemy, will have 25 and China is expected to have 42. Did the national security enthusiasts follow up on these figures or outrage at them with similar passion? Not to put a wet blanket on those with a proclivity to instant cross-border aggression with Pakistan, but do we remember how starkly different our political responses had been to blatant Chinese incursion into Indian territory at Doklam?

Another RL topic is how the mandate has flattened caste factors. How the country has united in recognition of their singular identity as an Indian — as facile an argument as the idea of soya meat is in biryani. Look at the pieces carefully. Multiple publications, including this one, have tried to contextualise how the BJP has been exceptionally efficient in rewiring caste equations. Their understanding, for instance, in the Hindi heartland and UP in particular, of the OBCs. The Yadavs being a core SP votebank, they focused more in ticket distribution on smaller OBC castes and “Other OBCs”, which worked in their favour. Among Dalits, BJP gave tickets to even smaller jaatis. All this isn’t nullifying caste currents. It’s creating and capitalising on newer eddies in the caste pool to the benefit of the BJP.

A steely resolve to evade reality that strikes a dissonant note with their personal politics unites RLs and LLs. Consider these: A Muslim domestic help in Mumbai says she has enough savings to buy a house in the suburbs but she’d rather rent one owned by a Hindu. The financial gain acts as incentive for the landlord to ensure “goons” don’t come to throw her out because of her religion. If she buys a house, the chances of getting targeted are higher. Another Muslim domestic help who hails from a Saharanpur village in UP says that, in the past women in her village had to wait for certain times of the day to use the toilet, which was some distance away from their homes. Now, because of PM Modi’s schemes, she finally has some dignity. The RLs would likely be silent at the former and the LLs would dismiss the latter as a rarity (both verifiable instances).

But as it stands now, the RLs are leveraging the mandate with vengeance. They have been denied the space for discourse in the past and now is the time to reclaim that. It doesn’t help when people like Kunal Kamra tweet outrageous things like: “History will remember you as a cheerleader for the facists & will remember us as the unorganized voices fighting it.” This simply gives more fuel for the RLs to light their own flawed theories with. I even saw a friend drop Lacanian theory to put the conspiratorial attitude of LLs in perspective. The use of high-intellectual theory to solidify claims — one could mistake this person to almost be an LL. The irony.

Irrespective of affiliation, social media adds to this self-delusional cesspool where one feels and feeds a sense of validation. Because both are, essentially, just elite liberals. Their leftist and rightist tendencies are incidental, a function of their lived experience. Their concerns typically display a common lack of acknowledgement of class-caste privilege and they share the same enthusiastic disdain for diametrically opposite viewpoints. One category has simply been at the wheel longer than the other, which now feels compelled to take over and drive in the wrong direction with the same sense of urgency and confidence as the former. The very least we can do to escape this vicious cycle of one-upmanship is to understand the importance of engaging with some consideration and empathy with each other. A new grammar of political consciousness has to evolve that goes beyond the teflon uniformity of the elite liberal identity.

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