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Friday, July 30, 2021

Where’s the big liberal idea?

The 2019 defeat puts a question mark on what we believe India stands for. The onus to find answers is not just on the Congress

Written by Pawan Khera |
Updated: June 29, 2019 12:45:50 am
rahul gandhi, rahul gandhi congress president, rahul gandhi congress chief, congress party meeting, rahul gandhi quits as congress chief A liberal will be the first to attack the party for an extra word said by Rahul Gandhi, or a tweet by him or a slip up by a leader.

It has been a month since India witnessed a decisive mandate in favour of the BJP. Of the post facto commentary, the most revealing has been the one by the “liberals”. It reveals the larger and more serious ailment that afflicts us all — seeking easy answers to complex questions.

From the messenger to the message, the liberal commentary has attacked everything about the Congress. Their reasons would have been easy to believe, had this been a marginal defeat. Blaming the rout on one individual or any one aspect of the campaign comes easy and it also helps avoid tough questions that face what is loosely labelled as the liberal worldview.

Do we have empirical evidence on exactly which aspects of our message got rejected? Can we safely, confidently say that our entire message got rejected? If we were told that through this mandate, India has rejected the need for jobs, for hassle-free business or the need for safety of women, would we agree? Are we confident that the voters of Bhopal voted against Hemant Karkare and voted for Nathuram Godse? Is India homogeneous in its voting behaviour?

On the one hand, our liberal friends expect the Congress to be their national political voice, on the other hand they do everything to weaken the party. They want the Congress to “show a large heart” and cede space to regional parties — reducing the party to be neither national, nor political and definitely not a voice. When we look for their support, we definitely do not expect the liberal-intellectual space to be full of doting, unquestioning imbeciles. We do not wish to have replicas of bhakts on our side. Question us, but also strengthen the liberal-plural voice by thinking of effective ways to question and demolish the ideology that now looks comfortably ensconced in every institutional nook and corner of India.

You were out there on the streets and in the TV studios against UPA 2, and why not? Have you shown the same grit to bring this government to its knees every time it showed signs of betraying the mandate? Where was the push back when you were lampooned as the “award-waapsi gang”? This is not a skirmish where you can hit and run. This is a war of civilisation and we are a generation lucky to be participating in it.

Talk to a Narendra Modi bhakt. She will forgive him everything, overlook all his faults and chinks, so much so that you will find experts actually defending his bizarre cloud-radar theory. But a liberal will not be so tolerant. A liberal will be the first to attack the party for an extra word said by Rahul Gandhi, or a tweet by him or a slip up by a leader. A well known ambassador of liberal discourse advises us not to celebrate Rahul Gandhi’s birthday because according to him, those who fail their exams do not deserve to even have their birthdays. Another comes on television and first calls us a party obsessed with dynasty and then starts attacking Rahul for his decision to quit. Those who want Rahul to quit also want Rahul to decide his successor and then will also want to complain about Rahul controlling the party through a proxy.

Ideas that capture the collective imagination of a people do not necessarily come from the political space, they come from the intellectual space. Politics, through its idiom, helps in pedestrianising these ideas. What has been the contribution of the liberal-intellectual space in terms of a potent idea in this century? The counter argument to plural India has always had a voice. And it was always shrill. That voice now appears to have acquired legitimacy through electoral muscle. It can only be defeated by a more captivating idea and a sharper if not shriller voice.

The concept of secularism, for example, has been under systematic and sustained attack since L K Advani coined the term “pseudo secularism”. Secularism was never a political construct. It was a worldview in consonance with Hinduism and India. Liberals must either help us reclaim the founding idea of the Republic or help us reinvent it or throw in a new theory which captures the minds of the millennial. Or would you just be happy to counter what is happening out there on the street through a tweet?

Much of what is going on in India and the Congress party is similar to what is going on in the Democratic Party in the US. There is the Nancy Pelosi end of the Democratic Party that is centrist, conciliatory and is not as fiercely anti-corporate as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Abdullahi Omar are. Is this a generational shift in the party or is this a Leftward turn in the party as a reaction to Trump and the Republican Party on the extreme right?

The Congress has traditionally been a harbour for all economic and political ideologies — much like India — without being defined by any one. Over time, critics have viewed it as being ideology-less, they say the Congress does not offer any one strong narrative. But that is precisely its strength. The Congress can, to quote Walt Whitman, contain multitudes. Just like India can. It just needs to learn how to articulate this for the 21st century voter.

This defeat is not of a party, an individual, a campaign, an assessment or an ideology. The result of Lok Sabha 2019 puts a huge question mark on the very existence of what we largely believe India, with all its diversity, stands for. The onus to find answers to the question is not just on a political party but on each one of us from under the debris of lethargic liberal snobbery.

Postscript : This is not a critique of the liberal class. In the words of Ahmed Faraz, tuu khuda hai, na mera ishq farishton jaisa/ dono insaan hain/ toh kyun itne hijaabon mein milein. (You are not God, and my love isn’t angelic/ We are both human/So why meet hidden behind the veil?)

The writer is a national spokesperson for the Congress

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