In response to our post, My Country, Always Wrong?, challenging anti-nationalist (not anti-national) attitudes of Indian liberals, Dilip makes a strong retort. Game on!
First, a summary of Dilip's argument. He rejects chauvinism masquerading as patriotism. If India's project is self-evidently superior (our claim) then, he wonders, isn't it strong enough to withstand valid criticism? He dismisses our fear that liberals' India-bashing is driving Indians into the open political arms of cultural bigots. Finally, he suggests that real patriotism is about calling our nation to the greater things she is capable of.
We too reject chauvinism and bigotry (of all kinds, everywhere) -- indeed, we've written against it with some passion. See Shiv Sena Shoots Off Its Loony Mouth, Lynching of Books, Chaos in Bangladesh, Shame: Taslima Nasreen Revisited, Indian Beheaded in Saudi Arabia, The Arrack of Ostriches, Azadi Begins at Home, Blogger Freedom in Iran, Pogrom in Gujarat, and on and on and on.
But, rejecting blind obeisance to whatever our flag is should surely not blind us to the facts over which the flag flies.
We know India's political system is superior to our neighbors'. We can either minimize this out of exaggerated modesty or, as we advocate, we should assert our political values of freedom and tolerance all across our neighborhood by persuasion where possible, and by force where necessary. For liberals, such assertiveness is anathema, even though this is precisely, what Dilip calls, the greater things India is capable of.
Instead, liberals want to sue for "peace" with neighborhood dictators and chauvinists. Because free India has sometimes erred in its conduct, liberals make an equivalence with our infinitely worse foes. Equating India with the gutter of our neighborhood surely will leave us all filthy. We want to raise our neighbors to political modernity; liberals seek to pull us down in their mire. Who, then, among us calls India to the greater things it's capable of?
Does India have failings? Of course, it does -- and yes, our freedoms to criticize are essential for India to relentlessly erase these failings. We don't believe in smothering political ideas just because we happen to detest them to our core (see Narendra Modi). Criticism of India's failures versus its highest ideals isn't subversion; rejecting the factual superiority of the Indian project, that enables such criticism, is.
As to whether such criticism has led millions of Indians into the willing arms of cultural bigots, we must again point to facts. Apart from Indian-on-Indian bigotry, these political forces have few other ideas to offer. Yet, they were given the keys to Delhi, and to (the supposedly cosmopolitan & maximum) Mumbai, and to industrial Gujarat, and even the Hindi heartland. Surely Dilip, being a hands-on journalist, has read and heard the rhetoric that made this possible. Cultural bigots won in the past, and will again, by successfully painting secular liberals as a threat to India -- and millions lapped this up.
Now, Dilip has the luxury of writing off such people for being easily seduced by bigotry. We don't. These people are the millions of Indians who vote and elect our governments. We have to persuade them by making credible arguments that simultaneously allay their fears and uphold India's superior values. Absent this, as liberals tend to do, we end up debating meaningless abstractions in our cushy lives where riots never happen. This is why Indian secularism has taken the blows it has taken in recent years.
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