Why India shifted rightwards

Leading American political theorist critiques Nehru’s 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

Food security: Solution lies in traditional food

After spending almost a month among tribals of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, I can confidently say that by restricting ourselves to Public Distribution System (PDS), we cannot solve the food security issues of the country.   The problem is graver. In a district like Mandla, where aboriginals like Bai

Wholesale price index inflation down

The annual rate of inflation, based on monthly Wholesale Price Index (WPI), stood at 2.60% (provisional) for the month of September, 2017 (over September,2016) as compared to 3.24% (provisional) for the previous month and 1.36% during the corresponding month of the previous year, authorities said.

Digital India to provide 20-30% increase in India’s GDP by 2025: Alphons

Digital India program has the potential to provide an incremental 20-30 percent increase in India’s GDP by 2025. Since its launch in July 2015, significant progress has been made in several initiatives under Digital India, said union minister KJ Alphons. Several of the flagship project

Senior railway officer Achal Khare on the bullet train roadmap

Achal Khare, MD, National High Speed Rail Corporation, is a man with big responsibility – of realising India’s dream of running a bullet train. In conversation with Vishwas Dass, Khare lists various challenges before the NHSRCL – the executing agency of the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high speed

Why bullet trains are unsuitable for India

Many will be surprised to know that 80 years ago, trains ran at a faster speed in North America and Western Europe than in India today. On the shorter distances (up to 500 km), daytime inter-city trains achieved average speed of 120 to 130 kmph, and on the longer routes (more than 1,000 km) speed was only

Biting the bullet train

If all goes well, India’s first high-speed train would zip by in  December 2023. In fact, railways minister Piyush Goyal is even confident that the 508-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed rail (HSR) project would be completed much before that, by August 2022 – on the country’s 75th indepe



Video

Finally Talwar’s out from Dasna  jail

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter