The Fall of Liberalism in Bharat

The political-social doctrine of liberalism, once flourished across the major parts of the globe, is in troubled waters throughout the world. Once the driving force of western political and social discourse, the basic moral ground of establishment, the fundamental principle of many constitutions, is becoming overshadowed and overtaken. The quintessential example of this being the defeat of liberal political forces across the globe.

Congress, who calls itself a liberal political front, losing the battle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalistic force of BJP in Bharat; Jair Bolsonaro, who has been repeatedly called a ‘fascist’, ‘authoritarian’ by libertarians, winning majority in Brazilian general election; the victory of Boris Johnson in Britain; Increasing threat of trade war between nations all indicate a slide away from liberalism and contradiction from liberal idea of state.

Liberalism across the globe seems to be in a crisis and what makes it even complicated is that the liberals are making it even more complicated. 

Background to Liberalism  

To know why the doctrine of liberals is failing around the world, specifically in Bharat, it is important to grasp what exactly makes liberalism and what are its fundamental principles. Liberalism is more than one thing.

Maurice Cranston says, “a liberal is a man who believes in liberty” (1967: 459). Liberalism, a social and economical philosophy originating in 17th and 18th century West, is a idea of liberty, freedom and self determination for an individual, less centralised free government, Laissez-fair capitalistic economy and minimal interfering establishment. 

Liberalism is the culmination of rationale social thinking in Western society that promoted a sense of the importance of human individuality, a liberation of the individual from complete subservience to the group, and a relaxation of the tight hold of custom, law, and authority. In this context, liberalism stands for the emancipation of the individual from coercion. 

Liberalism, significantly earlier ones, was derived from the social ideology of individualism – propagating for individuality and minimum state interference in individual’s pursuit of Socio-cultural-economic goals – and embedded adversarialism. Liberals have maintained that an individual should be left free and at complete liberty to endeavour and pursuit his own goals, without any social or political interventions. As liberalism propagates individualism – the practice of an individual being left at liberty to pursuit his own goals – as a collective good for society and state. 

Classic liberalism derived its values and essential characteristics from the early practice of adversariality. Adversarialism cherished contradictions and disagreements as a notion of growing knowledge base and propagating independent thinking. 

Classic Liberalism, as a political doctrine, envisaged individualism as a core to all political undertakings. It recognises government and system of governance, but it also recognises the dangers posed by the misuse of political power and loopholes of the system. Libertarians, therefore argue for a system of governance where a central government can protect civilians from harm and ensure law and order under the umbrella of justification. 

Liberalism has always been very wary of governments. For them regulations is subversion and limitations is coercion in individual pursuit. Liberals have typically maintained that humans are naturally in “a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions…as they think fit…without asking leave, or depending on the Will of any other Man” (Locke, 1960 [1689]: 287).

Liberals have also argued that “the burden of proof is supposed to be with those who are against liberty; who contend for any restriction or prohibition…. The a priori assumption is in favour of freedom…”. Modern liberals such as Joel Finberg, Stanley Benn and John Rawls being few of them. This might be called, as an Stanford University paper makes it, “the Fundamental Liberal Principle (Gerald F. Gaus, 1996: 162–166): freedom is normatively basic, and so the onus of justification is on those who would use coercion to limit freedom.”

As in the modern world the liberalism’s chief task is to make the society and government remove obstacles or tackle hurdles that prevent individuals from living freely or from fully realising their potential. Such obstacles include warding off terrorism, ensuring security, eradicating poverty, disease, discrimination, and ignorance.

Story of Liberalism in Bharat and its concept of Bharatiya State 

Bharat’s liberalism has evolved, through the years, through the multiple stages of materialism, social reforms, political independence, economic liberalisation and social western adaptations. The idea of freedom, liberty and adversariality has always been present in the Bharatiya culture and critical thinking throughout the history in some way or the other. But the modern doctrine of liberalism is not the continuing ancient philosophical thought rather a western adaptation. 

The Bharatiya liberalism is a plain adaptation of its western counterpart with little upgradations in the context of vastly multifarious and complex Bharatiya society. This explains why the ideology has seldom fostered in the Bharatiya hoi-polloi as a successful cultural philosophy. The Bharatiya liberal intelligentsia has murky and meagre understanding of classic liberalism and its founding ideals of individualism and adversariality. Fundamental Principles of Liberalism and the social contract theory, propagated by the likes of Thomas Hobbs, remain in the dark shadows of ignorance for majority of libertarians.

There has never been a clear thought and original understanding in Bharat about this western adapted doctrine of liberalism, which has been the driving ideology in the west in the same time frame. The fundamental trait of Bharatiya society has been resistive to any major ideological shift if it does not resonate with the common masses.

While it is true, the Bharatiya society has been tolerant of differences, has promoted healthy arguments and contradictions and has propagated all ways of thinking, but it has rarely been what may be called in today’s term as individualist or liberal. It has always, predominantly, held the belief of putting collective social will over individual thought. 

Bharatiya society has shown different shades from being surprisingly liberal to being extraordinarily conservative or from incredibly democratic to being unimaginably absolutist, all at the same time at different places. This is what made us extremely diverse and multifarious and labyrinthine to the ones who were unfamiliar with it.

The western liberalism was one such – unfamiliar to Bharatiya culture – ideology which was adopted in Bharat with even lesser implications and murky understanding. Without the proper enlightenment about both Liberalism’s Fundamental Principles and Basic values of Indic culture, it was a gordian task for the doctrine to make it to the masses. 

Early liberalism in Bharat took roots during the social reform movements of the middle and late nineteenth century. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and organisations as Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj carried forward the agenda of reforming the orthodox and conservative Bharatiya society. Banning of old social practice of Sati and bringing in new norms of widow remarriage, all were part of the same movement. The movements, though not classically liberal, were proponents of liberty and gathered a huge mass in Bharat, particularly western and eastern Bharat. 

True liberalism has been the dominant intellectual tradition in the freedom struggle and has been the default setting, an en masse social ideology, sprayed across the vast canvas throughout the independence movement. The essential values of liberty, freedom, self determination, became the essential values of almost each ideology during the years of freedom struggle. But the problem was gathering mass support for the ideology as a one, this seldom happened.

Almost everyone espoused the basic ideals of liberalism, it was sprayed across a vast canvas, but it was never able gather or unite itself and become a go to force, as with the nationalism. And hence despite being valued and respected, liberalism failed in converting itself into a one powerful political force.

The political influence or reach of liberalism in Bharat has been meagre. With only party that associated itself tooth and nail with it, Swatantra Party, suffering an untimely death. The party reached its zenith when it became the main opposition in 1967 and the very next election it was crushed by Bhara’s populist socialist Congress. Communism and Socialism, surfing with the wave of populistic measures, was the go to ideologies till 1991, but there has never been a fundamentally liberal political front ruling the country or even a state. 

Post 1991 economic liberalisation, we have theoretically removed socialism from most of our system. Communism is dying its own way, falling in its own grave. And political parties who ruled the country post 1991, have been the most liberal ones. But still liberalism was not able to make its ground.

In fact in past 5 years, it has suffered a deep cut with the rise of nationalism. Clouds of uncertainty surrounds the basic values and identity of liberalism in Bharat. It has, as an working social philosophy, degraded and deprecated even further in past years. What explains this fall of liberalism in 21st century Bharat? 

What Fails Liberalism in Bharat?

Hypocrisy, one of tangled feather in the enmeshed hat of libertarians, the expert art of deceit, is the one of the biggest driving force behind depreciation of liberals in Bharat. Double standards and contrasting stance involving same issue but different groups and excessive outrage over one crisis but numb silence over the other, has been the trait of liberals. This selective trait and uncontrolled practice of favouritism, has gone under the skin of Bharatiya masses hurting their sentiments.

Religious hate crimes, however unfortunate they may be, brings the show time with itself for liberals as they exercise their power of selection whether to outrage or to ignore. Whenever a Muslim was lynched by a Hindu, libertarians transformed into canon guns blasting the fortress of an entire religion of Hindu Dharma. But whenever a Hindu suffered in the hands of Muslim, was lynched on grounds of religion, as in the case of Ankit SaxenaChandan GuptaTN RamalingamBharat YadavDr NarangDhruv Tyagi, the liberals remained silent and activism was put to rest for those moments.

Faced with the need of showing true liberalism over favouritism, the liberal ostrich burying its head under the sand of silence is an unsurprisingly common sight for majority of the people in Bharat.

Entitlement, an unambiguously identifiable character of a liberal in Bharat is his/her elitist nature. Elitism, despite being fundamentally illiberal and undemocratic, has become a consistent preference of liberals. G. Sampat puts elitism as one of “three defining characteristics of Bharatiya liberalism that foredoomed it to failure”, estrangement from the ideal of equality, and the intellectual bad faith inherent in its conception of secularism, being the other two.

Subscription to idea of equality, freedom and equal opportunity was supposed to be the essential prerequisites for becoming a liberal, but in Bharat this essentiality was not entertained. Liberals, through their elitism, created a system of exclusion. Liberals camps over a institution of favouritism and elitism, which rightfully creates a feeling of resentment in the hearts of those excluded.

The feeling of resentment spawned by this elitism and exclusion —which rapidly morphs into deprivation and injustice the further you move from the urbanite culture – is a fissile material for demagoguery of all kinds. The entitlement also forces or inspires conformity in the social circle, harming the fundamental liberal ideas of adversariality. The supposed harbingers of freedom, the galloping horses of liberty, turned out to be a unconventional fallacy. 

Libertarians in Bharat, also, surprisingly, espouses and exercises a buffed up form of authoritarianism – the advocacy of strict obedience to authority (in this case the liberal elitist’ collective will) at the expense of personal freedom. They, in sharp contrast to liberalism, promote subversion and artful coercion to any individual, idea or institution challenging their ‘set of rules’.

Liberals have made it pellucid on multiple occasions that they don’t, predominantly, promote healthy critique, argumentative behaviour and prudent discussions as they threaten their set rules. And hence this tendency to hide the liberally illicit realities, they go on to exercise authoritarianism, trying to subvert, sledge or change the outcome of social undertakings through quite the illiberal means. 

One more ailing limb in the gangrenous body of Bharatiya libertarians is the mindful chicanery – the wanton sabre made from the mendacious metal of spuriousness – that has turned the majority of Bharatiya populace away from believing in liberalism. The mix of chicanery is the artful bending of character and fundamental principles with a little added salt of verbal deception.

As in the case of humanising terrorism, when the liberals address terrorists with unnecessary humanising verbose of they being a ‘son of a school master’, a ‘Dhoni fan’, a ‘PhD Scholar’ and when they do a caste based classification of Bharatiya soldiers who lost their lives on the line of duty; their chicanery remains on full on display. When the liberals chose to defend the Islamic veiling practice of hijab or burqa, while at the same time ruthlessly attacking the Hindu veiling practice of ghoonghat; they display their mix of hypocritical chicanery and dishonesty to the cause of true liberalism.

No matter how much the club of liberals attempt to rationalise it, the fact of the matter is those verbose did more harm to the nation than good. They were prime reasons why a huge majority of people choose not to side with them – essentially choosing other socio-political doctrines. This duplicitousness of liberal club in Bharat has forced many liberal minded people to stay away.  

But the biggest reason behind the fall of liberalism in today’s Bharat is their embedded Hinduphobia. Hinduphobia, a term rarely used, is a manifestation of anti-Hindu sentiments and hatred towards Hindu culture. This, a character generally associated with liberals, Islamists and communists in Bharat, is one of the strongest polarising cause for the majority of Bharatiya specifically those ones living in rural Bharat. And in this age of quick information sharing, no one’s hatred remains in the dark lights for long and it reaches everyone everywhere.

Just few days ago, liberals of Bharat – the supposed defenders of right to religious freedom – were on a overtime turn to demonise the sacred Hindu god Lord Ram by trending #NoToJaiShreeRam on social media (Jai Shree Ram is a Hindu slogan meaning victory to Lord Ram) after the hate crime incident of lynching in the state of Jharkhand.

Whenever an unfortunate tragedy occurred instead of standing for human values, secularism and liberalism, liberal class of Bharat took it on a mission mode to hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. Making derogatory remarks about Hindu gods, mocking the Hindus by calling them ‘cow piss drinkers’ (a derogatory remark predominantly used by radical terrorists to mock Hindus) and making fun of almost everything Hindu; has polarised the majority away from liberalism in Bharat. 

What’s the future of liberalism in Bharat  

Witnessing such a swift fall in the liberalism in Bharat, one would wonder where is the doctrine of liberty heading towards? What lies in the pandora box of time for them? The pattern establishes the answer to such questions. I believe if liberals of Bharat does not adopt and subscribe to the ideals of true liberalism, the time ahead will be more difficult and harsher. The general view about liberals has degraded and it won’t take much time before the general view about liberalism as a Socio-political doctrine depreciates too. 

If liberalism is to succeed in Bharat, it has to blend itself with the basic ideals of Indic culture, has to widen itself for the multifarious society of Bharat and needs to promote a sense of responsibility for the betterment of national interests. Liberals need to do away from their hypocrisy, elitism, authoritarianism, chicanery and Hinduphobia and grasp up with the fundamental principles of liberalism. Adversarialism, non-favouritism, secularism and realism must become the prerequisite to becoming a liberal. Liberals in Bharat just need to become truly liberal.

(Featured Image source)


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About the Author

Yogendra Thakur
A student and two time state topper in Astrophysics and Art of Lecturing. Primary focus areas are Indology and Economics.