No proof required: Confessions of a self-styled liberal

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Published: October 17, 2015 2:28:14 AM

Modi knows that the liberal media is gunning for him; then why give them a beefy opportunity?

These are difficult times to be in India, but not for everybody. On the extreme right, the Hindutva types are having a field day because they have never had it so good. When LK Advani, Mr. Hindutva himself, states that Indian society is growing intolerant, one has to accept it as verification of a change in trend (but with due recognition for his pronounced biases against the Modi-led BJP government).

In the extreme left, the down and out Congress is enjoying the lifeline provided to it by the BJP. It has a new-found belief that it will again “save” India. The Congress, of course, is the original anti-liberal because it needs no documentation that its liberality, whenever it existed, was anything but morality or ideology—much more political expediency. Remember the Sikh riots, or the Shah Bano case, or the opposition to a uniform civil code, or the opening of the gates of Babri Masjid or even the banning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses? Or, very recently, not even allowing Rushdie to speak at a literary festival? Given that the resignations of turmoil authors are so in fashion today, it is useful to recall the bans in place under the Congress. It was precisely these acts that have emboldened Hindutva to spread its wings. Indeed, much of the political correctness in vogue today was started, initiated, and expanded by the anti-liberal Congress.

While born a strict vegetarian to Sikh-Hindu parents, I was brought up in a truly liberal household. Most important aspect of the household for our troubled times—both Hindu and Sikh gods were revered and celebrated, but it was drilled into us that religion was a very private and personal matter. My parents saw me turn non-vegetarian and eat and relish meat, including beef, but they kept their religious beliefs intact by noting that the beef being eaten was American (where I attended college)—whatever it was (is), it was definitely capitalist, so both a prime socialist like Indira Gandhi, or a gau mata devotee, would not disapprove.

Part of the liberal belief I imbibed was that India did not deserve to be partitioned—and indeed, had no reason to be partitioned. What is the difference between a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Isai (Christian) other than the changing of religion under some kind of duress or promise of emancipation? If Tamils and Sikhs can live together under one “roof”, why not East and West Punjabis, or East and West Bengalis? I can understand the basis for Punjab and Bengal being separate nations, but not the manner in which, and the basis on which, India was partitioned.

I have a beef against so-called liberals who will raise a hue and cry about any wrongs that BJP and Modi will do, but were grotesquely quiet when their own “liberal” party, the Congress, committed crimes. Let us not debate whether Rajiv Gandhi explicitly or implicitly sanctioned the pogrom against the Sikhs. It was under his watch—he was responsible. Being responsible does not mean you are complicit—just, that you are responsible. Which is why the tradition of hara-kiri existed in Japan, or the tradition existed in India of ministers resigning when something major went wrong under their watch. Of course, the argument holds on Modi being responsible for the 2002 riots—because the riots happened under his watch as chief minister.

English media is the vehicle through which double standards in India are propagated. The simple reality is that the English media is out to get Modi (and the BJP) at every opportunity. If one read only the English newspapers, and watched only English news channels, one would have missed out on the fact of Angela Merkel, the second-most powerful leader in the world, visiting India. It was Dadri, and more Dadri; all other news was irrelevant. The BJP and Modi would like to assert that Dadri was just another communal incident, one amongst many, and one not even in a BJP-ruled state. This extreme view is the mirror image of the media thinking that only Dadri was worth discussing. Neither extreme is in the liberal corner, by definition.

And by staying stoically silent (until very recently), PM Modi encouraged speculation that in his silence is his acquiescence. It gets worse—at least, for the liberal. His toadies (as Salman Rushdie affectionately calls them) defend Modi’s inaction (in deed and speech) on the grounds that a prime minister cannot be expected to talk about each and every incident, and hence, that he did not speak on Dadri was not unfortunate, just a reality. Modi further dirtied the muddied waters (what happened to Swachh Bharat?) by stating that happenings at Dadri were sad but what has “the PM got to do with it”.

But that is the problem. Granted that Modi cannot speak on every incident. However, it is the choice of incidents that he does speak on which is worrisome: an operation on a cricketer or the cold-blooded murder of an innocent man? The choice of what is tweeted about is revealing—and damaging to Modi.

There is an old Hindi saying which I am sure Modi is aware of—Aa bael, mujhe maar (Come bull, gore me). Modi knows that the liberal media is gunning for him; then why give them a beefy opportunity?

If I were opposed to Modi, this is exactly what I would do: Derail his growth and development agenda by only discussing the obvious wrongs committed by Modi/BJP. But there is no logic or sense or sensibility in the world which says that Modi should fall for this obvious trap. So, why is he falling for it? We can rule out stupidity or lack of political judgement. Which leaves open the possibility that Modi does not “judge” the bad as bad, because he actually believes in the hatred they are trying to propagate.

There is a lie, or belief, and one advertised heavily by the English media, that Modi has to condone the bad from within his own party because the bad (there are many—Sangeet Som, Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Prachi, Mahesh Sharma, to name just a few) “allowed” Modi to win the election in 2014. This is as much a Congress and Opposition propaganda as the suggestion that Indians still vote by their caste. My simple question—who else would the bad in BJP have voted for if not the BJP? Analogously, who else would the bad in the secular parties, including Congress, have voted for (and there many bad there as well) if not for the Congress?

There is no explanation, or defence, or excuse, for Modi for not having been forthright, and immediate, in his condemnation of the lynchmen of Dadri or condemnation of those whose intent is to ban or blacken. It is imperative that he speak out, and speak out even on incidents which happen in UP. (Incidentally, there is no single “state” a PM belongs to; So, what is the BJP argument that he cannot comment on hate-crimes committed in a state?)

Modi and the BJP should realise that there is a heavy cost to the nation, and to the laudable growth and development agenda, imposed by their illogical stubbornness. So far the culturally ignorant Union culture minister, Mahesh Sharma, has not been censured for his outrageous comments and beliefs. What are the bets that the Congress will demand his resignation or else “no Parliament, no GST Bill”?

The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, and contributing editor, The Financial Express

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