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Why liberals and conservatives need to stop the cock and bull fight

Pia Kahol
Pia KaholNov 04, 2015 | 16:29

Why liberals and conservatives need to stop the cock and bull fight

The birth of the Indian conservative has been long overdue, and liberals - if they had been alert at all - ought to have seen it coming. Unfortunately, Indian liberals became too elite and did not venture into forgotten neighbourhoods, dark alleys and hidden corners. They ignored the slums and ghettos where conservatism prospered. While they talked about the poor in their bungalows in posh colonies, the so-called fringe elements worked with the poor, gave them hope and  recognition. Truthfully, the poor needed company and the conservatives were there first.

Since liberals were always well intentioned, it is still hard for them to digest this turn of events. In turn, liberals might cite India's progress in the last 68 years. Surely, things have improved. With liberalisation of Indian economy, the poor are not so poor, and middle class is not so middle class and so on. Everyone is looking up. What use is the talk of religion, regionalism, communalism, ancient past, Indian epics, Sanskrit for modern India? How will such regressive rhetoric take India forward? How can these people bring down everything India was built on for 68 years?

It is even more astonishing to the liberals that their rebellion is being seen with so much disdain among their countrymen. Are the Indians dismissive of free speech? Are they endorsing intolerance? The answer is "no". They are simply dismissive of elitism and are intolerant of general incompetence.

Liberals are at least partially responsible for such indifference themselves. They would never have lost so much face had they not become bed fellows of the government machinery. (In fact, several of our published writers are actually former civil servants.) The Indian liberal was perhaps lulled into inaction due to the lack of opposition. While the world embraced capitalism, Indian intellectuals continued to look the other way. Leading world writers wrote tomes about the romanticism and subsequent disillusionment with communism, but the Indian intellectual still endorsed its primitive form that had already failed on the world stage.

In fact, not only did their ideology fail on social and economic fronts, there was little innovation in Indian art, philosophy, and literature indicating further the complacency in the liberal folds. Indian science too cannot boast of much success. Even today, our theatres are dominated by the likes of Brecht and books are written on the plight of poor. Even liberal "art" movies - a brand that long became formula - are either overtly communist or poverty porn. Where is the recognition of the angst of the new India? Where are the depictions of strife of our modern life? The bitter truth is even art needs money and contradictions to flourish.

Liberal ideology of the years past has expired and along with that the reign of the liberal elite. Ironically, today even those people the liberals were discussing and portraying have rejected the liberal ideas. They don't want charity. The new world is full of aspiring millions who want change. They have wants, not just needs. They do not see themselves as helpless gentry that need to be saved by the only school teacher in town. They believe their children deserve better than someone's left overs. They have no patience for defeatist mind set of the India's liberals. Their aspirations go beyond the proverbial "Roti, Kapda aur Makaan". They want to know who they are, they want to discover India, and they want to feel good about themselves. Indians are tired of being told to become and look up to Macaulay's elites.

On the other hand, our conservatives - long ignored - are feeding on this yearning. They had been pointing to an alternative account of India all along. Finally, the conservatives are vindicated. They see the Indian vote as affirmation of their ideology. They are rewriting history, reorganising institutes, and have discovered novel ways to demean liberals by new terms like "sickular" instead of secular (Does that mean if you are secular, you are sick?). They are here with a vengeance: they shall do to the liberals what was done to them. The liberals are the new marginalised group. Let the liberals beg for mercy; let them know what it feels like to be dismissed on a constant basis. But the conservatives too are mistaken. Indians did not vote them into power for personal vendetta. They voted them so they could change status quo and try out fresh ideas.

Granted that India has two political sides: the conservatives and the liberals and they are locking horns on who is more Indian than the other? They are debating the idea of India, they are discussing the identity of an Indian. But is this all? Is the entire discussion to be based on clichés like liberals are secular and conservatives are religious fundamentalist; that liberals are anti-nationals and conservatives are nationalists? Will it answer the questions of a large majority of Indians who are neither communalists nor communists?

One should not take lightly the intelligence of the Indian voters who are mostly rational thinkers and fair judges. They want nation's prosperity, not bickering. They are omnivores and to brand them as anything else is denying the nature of their DNA. People's personal choices do not trouble them. They are frustrated with India's lack of sanitation and infrastructure. They are proud of Indian culture and crafts and history and well versed with world's issues and philosophies. All in all, Indians want a country they can be proud of at home and on the world stage. And they want from thinkers and politicians plans and actions that shall get them there.

Average Indian is increasingly getting worried that real development goals are being hijacked by the primitive partisan fight. His and her neighbourhood still smells of sewage and the road to work and school is riddled of potholes. He and she are concerned that India's daughters are still unsafe and children still uneducated and unhealthy. India's elites will have to reinvent themselves and refine their contest if they want to stay relevant to these people. Indian politicians and thinkers, more than anything, need to urgently work out a cohesive suite of ideas for these voters and readers before he or she loses patience with both sides.

Therefore, the cock and bull fight between liberal and conservative elites needs to stop. There is a need to admit perhaps that conservatism - like liberalism - is here to stay. On the other hand, our country, having grown up on liberal ideology since birth, has a good appetite for beef and eggs that shall not vanish overnight.

Both sides - liberals and conservatives - need to define in depth their ideologies and development plank to keep the argument alive and audience engaged. At the very least, our politicians and intellectuals should acknowledge the need to choose their pickets wisely and get to work immediately.

Last updated: November 04, 2015 | 16:29
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