Saturday, April 29, 2017

Reimagining Liberal Values of India

There is an urgent need to present a set of pragmatic, doable and understandable liberal ideas to the people of India, otherwise ‘We, the Liberals’, will fail the makers of Modern India.

I am an Architect by qualification, practiced for 5 years in one of the best-known architectural firms of India. Was good in what I did. Later, moved to Political Communications. Although, no one in my family is remotely associated with active politics, but I was always interested in politics- Congress party in particular, because the one person, which inspired me the most at the time of my ideological baptism, was Sonia Gandhi. My understanding of socio-political events began when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, and the Congress was out of power. Every event which unfolded in front of me, be it the ‘India Shining’ campaign or the Tehelka Scandal or be it the 2002 Gujarat Riots- all had an indelible impact on my political conscience. I studied Architecture in Gujarat, and have lived there for 5 years, so I have some idea of the state, which was engulfed in extreme right wing Hindutva propaganda, following the 2002 Gujarat carnage.

This year, Sonia Gandhi, completes 20 years in active politics and I complete 20 years of constantly following her journey. Without any political biases, I can say that- in 10 years during UPA, her contribution along with the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh was immense in the field of social empowerment, removing poverty and hunger and economic growth.

In that period, we did not have vigilante groups telling us what to eat and what not to eat, the fringe did not become the mainstream then, we did not have government funded ‘Anti-Romeo’ squads creating ruckus whenever they found a girl and a boy moving in public together. During that very period, we did not have innocent people lynched if they were transporting cattle or Dalit students committing suicide because the university management boycotted them on caste basis.

We did not have influencers dance to the tune of the incumbent and neither did we have the mainstream media shamelessly following the instructions of the ruling party.

The main issues which captured the imagination of the people and the discourse in general were issues ranging from the National Advisory Council to Special Economic Zone, from the Nuclear Deal, on which the UPA -1 Government almost gave up power to Lokpal and perceived corruption on which UPA-2 was voted out.

The mainstream discourse was hardly about Gaumata, Beef, Mandir, Romeos, Love Jihad or Azaan. These issues were at the best left to the already sidelined Sangh Parivar and the fringe on both the sides of the spectrum. During those 10 years, we never heard, people getting lynched by vigilante groups in the name of cow protection, neither did we hear about leaders of the ruling party calling Godse, a patriot.

We all know, that during that period, the sidelined and fragmented elements of Sangh Parivar, indulged into suspected and proven activities of terrorism, symptoms of which were first discovered by a now martyred police officer named Hemant Karkare.

The moot point for invoking that decade (2004-14) was that even though it was not a perfect time for India, the mainstream agenda was not at all bigotry and sectarianism.

The ‘Argumentative Indian’ discussed, deliberated and debated about issues which mattered us- Right to Information, Space odysseys like Chandrayaan & Mangalyaan, Petrol deregulation, Inflation, Lokpal, SEZ’s, Global Financial Meltdown and how India is dealing with it, GDP Growth, Forest Rights Act, Food Security, AADHAAR, FDI in Retail, Nirbhaya and so on. Criticism was part of our discourse and the political commentators, civil society and the media left no stone unturned in actively taking on the Government of the day on these issues.

In the last three years, the so called ‘Argumentative Indian’ is talking more about Jingoism, Beef, Cow Slaughter, Raamzaada and Haraamzaada (sic), Love Jihad, Religious Demographics, Mandir-Masjid, Azaan, Invoking ‘Soldiers at the border’ at the drop of a hat, Intolerance and so on.

One can blame the media and the commentators for not questioning the Government on the real issues which face the country- of jobs, of rampant unemployment, of fudging GDP numbers, of agrarian crises, of a flawed Pakistan policy, of endangering India’s National Security, of destroying our forests in the name of mindless development, of benefiting its crony friends in every which way possible, of denigrating almost all Institutions, of massive failures in economic policies and on the Foreign Policy and so on. These things are being conveniently brushed under the carpet by a suave media management and public relations strategy of the Government that keeps the media on its leash.

I personally feel that, although the media and other ‘independent’ institutions can be given a fair share of blame for brazenly and almost shamelessly batting for the ruling dispensation, the blame should be shared by us – Liberals also.

The Congress party has raised various issues on the public forum- almost on all important issues. Be it the scams indulged by the BJP ruled states or be it the assault of institutions (including the judiciary) or be it on the economic policy front or on the front of securing our borders and fighting Naxalism. Be it on Pakistan or on the mismanagement of the railways. Be it on the Land Acquisition Act or on the non appointment of Lokpal. Be it the NIA going soft on Sanghi Terror cases or on the question of atrocities on Dalits. But somehow, it has not been able to join the liberal voices in cohesion to take on the Government.

‘We, the Liberal’ voices of India, have somehow failed to set a liberal idea in the discourse, that could capture the imagination of the ordinary Indian.

A set of ideas which might be able to influence the citizens of India, more than the ideas which are right now presented by the Right Wing BJP.

A set of ideas which influence the powerful young electorate so much so that they reject the ideas of bigotry, fundamentalism or the idea of India as a theocratic nation.

A set of ideas, which repackage the ideals on which the bedrock of Modern India is built upon by our founding fathers.
A set of liberal ideas, so strong enough to influence the hearts and minds of people, that they realize that sectarianism can never be an answer to economic progress and real jobs.

The amplification of such ideas is a pre requisite to save the foundation of India. The Congress, which under Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh brought the golden age of Rights based paradigm in this country during UPA, can be the only vehicle on which these ideas can be mounted. We, in the Congress party need to present powerful solutions, alternatives, a solid vision, a fresh agenda in front of the people. 

This new manifesto should be a workable, pragmatic, doable, concrete and robust, so as to replace the present crass bigotry which has crept into our society. Liberals have to take the lead in reimagining a new agenda. If we do not contemporize the ideals on which India’s Constitution is built and present it as an alternative, we might fail the makers of Modern India.

As Tagore would say,

“Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls……”

“Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit….”

My Father, Let My Country Awake.