Why India shifted rightwards

Leading American political theorist critiques Nehruís state-sponsored model of secularism

ashishm

Ashish Mehta | August 7, 2015



A short tract by Michael Walzer, a leading political theorist better known for his masterpiece ‘Just and Unjust Wars’, should be of interest to the Indian readership. The American public intellectual poses the question that has become all the more relevant lately: How do we explain the shift from the values and ideals that won India independence to a different set of ideals that took over three-four decades later. Simply put, in 1947 Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism was the order of the day, but by the late 1980s Hindutva had started gaining an upper hand. How do we explain this shift?

Curiously, a similar shift has been seen in two other nations that won freedom around the same time. The author states the problem thus: “My project in this book is to describe a recurrent and, to my mind, disturbing pattern in the history of national liberation. I will discuss a small set of cases: the creation of three independent states in the years after World War II — India and Israel in 1947–48 and Algeria in 1962 — and I will focus on the secular political movements that achieved statehood and the religious movements that challenged the achievement roughly a quarter century later.”

In other words, it’s the story of how India failed Gandhi. Today’s India, Israel and Algeria “are not the states envisioned by the original leaders and intellectuals of the national liberation movements, and the moral/political culture of these states, their inner life, so to speak, is not at all what their founders expected”.

In his tentative theorisation, Walzer turns to vast literature on the question – in India’s case, starting with Ashis Nandy’s critique of top-down state secularism, and also referring to the work of Partha Chatterjee, Akeel Bilgrami, Martha Nussbaum, Rajeev Bhargava and others. Thus, what we have is a highly charged-up discussion, even if it is within space limits (the book is based on three lectures by the author).

Among the various explanations discussed, the main strand is that the founding fathers and their freedom struggle had failed to entrench those values deep down in society, leading to the washing away of the surface. Paraphrasing Bilgrami, Walzer writes, “For the national liberationists, secularism was an external standpoint from which Indian society could be transformed. The secularist project didn’t emerge from society itself; it wasn’t the product of internal arguments and negotiations.” He quotes Aditya Nigam to argue that Hindu (and Muslim) orthodoxy was “never defeated in open battle in society at large”.

That conclusion is, of course, debatable. More interesting – and relevant – answers would come from the way the secular project was unfolded by the state, especially after Nehru. An argument can be made that Indians at large had put a tentative faith in Gandhi’s secularism, and even Nehru’s, but the “vote-bank politics” of the Indira-Rajiv years made secularism hollow, creating a void that Hindutva was only too eager to fill. Still, Walzer’s thesis, cutting across three nations, makes a valuable reading. It should start a conversation.

Comments

 

Other News

3% of medicines are of poor quality: Survey

 More than three percent of medicines in India are ‘Not of Standard Quality’ (NSQ) and 0.0245 percent spurious, reveals a survey report on drugs quality by the ministry of health.  The survey carried out by National Institute of Biologicals (NIB), Noida found that out of the

BEL unveils new weapon system for MBT Arjun tank

 Bharat electronics limited (BEL) has launched a new weapon control system — Remote Controlled Weapon Station (RCWS) / Air Defence Weapon Station (ADWS) for 12.7 mm gun of MBT Arjun Mk II battle tank during recently concluded Aero India 2017 in Bengaluru. The new weapon control system

Sasikala camp in talks with OPS faction

 The Sasikala camp is in talks with the O Panneerselvam (OPS) faction and they are trying to win them over, says an AIADMK insider. Negotiation have started between the main AIADMK, which is with Sasikala, and the splinter group that is supporting former chief minister OPS. The party insider

Stories to read over the weekend

On October 1 last year, Mehtab Alam Ansari, 30, who worked as a tailor in Delhi, had arrived in his village, Chepa Khurd in Barkagaon tehsil of Harazibagh district, to celebrate Eid with his family. That morning, he was nearing Dadi Kalan, a neighbouring village, to meet an acquaintance when he hea

ONGC to invest of Rs 7,327 cr for five projects

  State run enterprise oil and natural gas corporation limited (ONGC) has decided to invest Rs 7,327 crore to develop five projects to produce oil and gas. The decision was taken in its 290th board meeting held on February 23. The projects include development of R-Series fields, incl

Shiv Sena may again ally with BJP

The civic election results could well have long term implications in Maharashtra’s politics, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doing dramatically well and the Shiv Sena failing to get a simple majority.   The Shiv Sena won 84 seats, while the BJP bagged 82 seats. Th

Video

Digital Transformation Summit

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter