Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My Country, Always Wrong?

If Indian liberals were to have a theme song, my country, always wrong would be its name.

Because, in many ways, we too are liberal -- albeit mugged by reality -- this sob-song of our co-travelers on India's road to secular modernity is enormously frustrating.

Sure, India is fallible -- but it's a nation unlike any other in our extended region. Our people are justifiably proud of our freedoms -- these freedoms make our system unique and superior to our neighbors'.

Liberals don't quite see it this way. They hissingly question even factual assertions of our superior freedoms, and demand we dilute our nationalist pride by recalling occasional Indian failings.

Indian liberals thus construct a parade of horribles and cherry-pick a few egregious examples of Indian lapses to diminish the self-evident superiority of the Indian project (vs. those of our neighbors) -- this is a profoundly subversive act. [Note: The italicized words are taken from the conservative dissent in a US Supreme Court ruling from earlier today; the language is terrific, and it applies well in the context of our post.]

Fortunately, most Indians can see through this subterfuge. They remain patriots at heart and their politics embraces nationalism. They are, however, puzzled by the constant drip-drip of India-bashing by our liberals who strain to find nuggets of good in our awful enemies, while dismissing the entire ocean of our nation's greatness.

This suicidal liberal attitude discredits liberalism itself. Consequently, India's instinctively nationalist heart turns away and, in desperation, opens itself even to faux-nationalist evangelism of India's cultural bigots.

If we are to sustain a secular, modern, and tolerant public space in India, our fellow liberals need to re-assess their constant India-bashing. If they don't feel comfortable making this sacrifice, well, then they should consider relinquishing, to secular-nationalists, their self-seized mantle of being secularism's defenders. Absent this, liberals risk tainting secularism by their association -- this would be a horrible tragedy.

As they might say in American, Indian liberal dogma don't hunt no more!


Kumar said...

I agree with your remarks about Indian liberalism. Borrowing Jeanne Kirkpatrick's contemptous dismissal of American liberals, Indian liberals are the 'blame India crowd...blame India first, last and always'.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Primary Red, someone has to call some of the bluffs in your post, and well ... creaking bones and all, I'm your man! For now.

First, I question the implications behind your phrase "patriots at heart": that those who "recall occasional Indian failings" are not "patriots at heart", and conversely, those who sing India's praises are automatically "patriots at heart." To me, patriotism defined like this is a patriotism I want no part of. The idea that critics are automatically anti-national is an empty one. People who take it upon themselves to decide who is and isn't patriotic take themselves, and their countries, down dangerous paths that have been trodden before.

Second, that pointing out a "few Indian lapses" can "diminish the self-evident superiority of the Indian project" seems strange. Because if the superiority is "self-evident", why should pointing out the lapses matter? Besides, the assertion that this is "profoundly subversive" is itself empty. How? Are you subversive if you back away from constant songs of praise to your country?

Third, you say: Consequently, India's instinctively nationalist heart turns away and, in desperation, opens itself even to faux-nationalist evangelism of India's cultural bigots.

If you are really saying people turn to bigotry so easily, then I would argue that those people had no idea of India to begin with, less confidence in themselves, and I have little respect for such people. Oddly enough, the bigot who tells me he believes in his views for what they are, gets more respect than the guy who says "In desperation, because I disagree with you, I have decided to follow these bigoted views." Give me the full-fledged bigot any day: at least I can grapple with him.

Finally: I live in this country, quite the most fascinating one in the world. I chose to do so. I would never live anywhere else. I know plenty of others who would say the same things. I think I speak for them when I say, I'm proud to be called liberal (if that's what you want to call me). And what's more, I believe I do my country the greatest service if I call her to the greater things I believe she is capable of.


Blog Archive