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Indian liberals and their illiberal ignorance

Intellectuals are meant to fearlessly question and critique everything. In India, they are seen doing the opposite.

 |  6-minute read |   16-11-2018
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In a recent Facebook post, I had criticised Pakistani liberals. But, in my opinion, most of the Indian self-proclaimed 'liberals' and 'intellectuals' are as rotten (though in a different way) as their Pakistani counterparts. Let me explain.

The Pakistani 'liberals' dare not speak the truth out of fear of religious extremists like Tehreek-e -Labbaik.

tlp_111618105114.jpgPakistani liberals fear extremists like Labbaik. What's our excuse?

But India's liberals have different constraints.

Firstly, there is the subjective constraint of a lack of scientific understanding in them. Secondly, there is the objective constraint of not wanting to give up their middle-class comforts.

Because of these two constraints, our 'liberals' and 'intellectuals will not go beyond certain limits.

A genuine intellectual will question everything.

But these are the things our 'intellectuals' will never question or go beyond:

(1) They will never question the parliamentary system of democracy, as doing so may endanger their own creature comforts (as they may be branded revolutionaries, and hounded like the Bhima Koregaon accused). 

But in India, parliamentary democracy, in practice, really means (in most parts of the country), appeasing and appealing to caste and religious vote banks. Casteism and communalism are feudal, backward forces — which must be destroyed if the country is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them. China has no parliamentary democracy and it is rapidly advancing, and has already become the world's second superpower, while we are embroiled in Ram Mandir, ghar wapasi, cow protection and caste politics.

It is thus obvious that we have to replace parliamentary democracy by some alternative system, but what that alternative should be, and how it is to be achieved, are questions which our 'intellectuals' and 'liberals' will never ponder over.

For them, parliamentary democracy is a holy cow — and it is sacrilege to even think of going beyond it.

(2) Freedom of speech and 'azadi' are the battle cries of our 'liberals' and 'intellectuals'. But they do not realise that freedom of speech and azadi can only be a means to an end — not the end itself.

The end must be raising the standard of living of the masses and giving them decent lives. If freedom advances this end, it should be supported, if it obstructs it, it should not.

To give an example, Arundhati Roy, who is often touted as a great intellectual and liberal, always harps on azadi for Kashmiris. But she never examines whether such azadi will raise the standard of living of Kashmiris?

roy_111618110446.jpgWould a genuine intellectual really think Geelani can be an answer? (Photo: Twitter)

The truth is that the separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and militant leaders like the late Burhan Wani are (and were) Islamic fundamentalists. If Kashmir becomes azad under their leadership, it will revert to the dark Middle Ages, with women being compelled to wear burqa and sharia law imposed, including stoning to death a woman for adultery and chopping off limbs for theft.

Kashmir would move backwards instead of forward.

Have Arundhati Roy, Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and our other azadi lovers ever thought of that?

Our 'liberals' and 'intellectuals make a fetish out of freedom, but as I said before, all freedom of speech can't be allowed. There must not be freedom to spread communal or casteist ideas, or superstitions like astrology.

(3) Indian 'intellectuals' and 'liberals' never say that a cow is just an animal like a horse and that there is nothing wrong in eating beef (almost the whole world eats it, including people in some Indian states). Similarly, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid will never condemn feudal customs and practices like sharia and burqa, perhaps thinking it may adversely affect their Muslim vote bank in some future election.

burqa_111618111105.jpgWhy can't we even debate if the burqa is feudal or not? (Photo: Reuters)

But why don't those Indian 'intellectuals' who will not contest elections condemn them? Do they want to display their 'secular' credentials?

(4) A characteristic of a genuine intellectual is that he or she questions everything. But for Indian 'intellectuals', there are certain 'holy cows' which must never be questioned. Among these are Gandhi, Syed Ahmad Khan, Allama Iqbal, Tilak, etc. Questioning them invites trouble.

When I wrote blogs expressing my objective views on Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose, both Houses of Indian Parliament unanimously condemned me, without even giving me a hearing. This was expected by me of a body where many members reportedly even have criminal backgrounds — but should not even a single one of the tribe calling themselves 'intellectuals' and 'liberals' have come to my defence? In my blogs I gave my reasons for criticising Gandhi. I have repeatedly requested that great 'intellectual' and 'liberal' Ramchandra Guha who has been praising Gandhi sky-high for quite long, to refute my reasoning in my blogs, but he avoids doing so. 

ram_111618112056.jpgHe's Gandhi's foremost defender, but why not openly debate the subject? (Photo: Twitter)

(5) It is obvious to everyone in India that several of our political 'leaders' are shameless crooks who have no genuine love for the country, but are in politics for power and pelf, and are also experts in polarising society on caste and communal Iines, but few of our 'intellectuals' condemn them wholeheartedly. Some even curry favour from them. Others criticise selectively, for obvious reasons.

(6) There are two historical facts about India which most of our 'intellectuals' and 'liberals' are ignorant about:

(a) India is broadly a country of immigrants, like North America, and this explains its tremendous diversity. Probably 92 or 93 per cent Indians are descendants of immigrants, not the original inhabitants of India.

(b) India is passing through a historical transition period, from feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society. Presently, we are neither' totally feudal nor totally modern but somewhere in-between.

A transitional period is a very painful turbulent period in history, for the old society is being torn apart, but the new society has not yet been put in its place. My guess is that the transitional period in India will last for another 15-20 years, and during this period, there will be tremendous turmoil and violence.

All this our 'intellectuals' are ignorant about.

(7) India's national objective must be to become a modern industrial state, like China, for only large-scale, widespread modern industry can generate the wealth we need to give our people a high standard of living, employment and decent lives.

Today, we have all that is required to be a highly industrialised country, a huge pool of technical talent (our IT engineers are largely manning Silicon Valley, and American universities are full of professors in science, maths and engineering departments), and immense natural resources.

Why then have we not yet become a modern industrial power, like Western countries?

collage_111618114628.jpgWhen will we become an industrial power? (Photo: Reuters)

I doubt that our 'intellectuals' have any answer to this question.

(8) And finally, what answer do our 'intellectuals' have to Needham's Grand Question as applied to India? 

Have they even heard of it?

Also Read: Shashi Tharoor at sea: The 'liberal intellectual' falters on Sabarimala

Assembly Elections 2018
Assembly Elections 2018

Writer

Markandey Katju Markandey Katju @mkatju

Former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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