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A case for liberalism in modern India

India, is a land of contradictions. It swings between two differing world views, both having
deep roots in its history. The first is its inherent liberal attitudes steeped in the philosophical
traditions of the land. The plurality of religion, language and custom are all hallmarks of a
liberal society. The secular ‘left’ have become the pseudo champions of liberty and plurality,
but wish to disembody these values from their roots – i.e. Hindu culture. The other end of the
spectrum are those steeped in a prescriptive theology, whether it’s religious or political. These
forces generally tend to be guarded against liberty, and witness individual autonomy and
freedom with disdain due to their reasoning of these forces being corrosive on human
character and social cohesion. Life is not without its absurdity. On this end of the spectrum
we have the political right, and religious right, comprised of Christian and Islamic groups, as
well as, social movements such as the RSS, which often put out a mild orthodoxy cloaked in
Hindu ideals. And yet, one would never suggest that the RSS and Islamic groups are on the
same side of the spectrum, and yet, I believe when we look at liberty, and only liberty, they
tend to sway in the same direction if only with differing momentum. I want to argue that the
RSS, a social movement looking to empower the average Indian citizen, and to re-root them
back into the philosophical traditions of that land, that is Hindu, ought to claim the liberal
position for itself. It needs to reclaim the liberal lexicon, the liberal argument for itself.
The secular left, I would argue, want to build an India on a Frankensteinian principal where
they want to disembody the innate plurality of Hindu culture for their political endeavours
of creating a secular democracy, but without any of the Hindu ‘baggage’. They have tried,
and continue to do so, to replace Hindu plurality with a pseudo western interpretation, in
order to hoodwink the Indian public into thinking that liberalism stems from the west, and
there is nothing of any real value in the old traditions. To build a modern democratic nation,
they say that Hinduism is at best a nice benign ‘mantel piece’, and at worst an outright
hindrance to development.
The orthodox right, seem to view liberty with a sceptical eye at best, stemming out of poor
reasoning and a concocted misrepresentative narrative of the liberal west, and at worst are
steeped in a medieval weltanschauung rooted in scripture or political ideology. There is a
spectrum here that is difficult to unpick. I will only look at the RSS, because only this
movement has the ability to socially engineer society.
In their attempt to preserve classical Hindu values, the RSS have inadvertently reacted to
the secular lefts ‘high jacking’ of liberty and have associated liberty as something anti-Indian
or at best, non-Indian. I believe there is an argument here for a certain realignment of the
RSS ideology and for them to reclaim liberty, in line with Hindu principals.
The RSS must reclaim liberty and plurality for itself, and the Hindu majority. Liberalism is
perfectly aligned to the deeper philosophical values of Dharma, and the RSS, as champions
of Dharma ought to reclaim this lost ground from the secular left, who only continue to
project a mutated idea of liberalism. In practical terms then, the RSS must rethink its views
on supporting ‘bans’ – ban on alcohol, or meat-production especially beef, dancing girls in
bars, and so on. That is not to say that the RSS ought to support such practices, but simply
that ‘banning’ vices will not resolve the matter, and is inherently against the grain of Hindu
liberal values. By forcibly denying a populace of a vice, one only adds urge to the already
strong base instincts of human nature. India must encourage liberty, even if on the face of
it, certain sections of the society use that liberty for vice. A test of true character is the
behaviour one adopts in the face of temptations, not when things are denied to them by
force. The RSS leadership ought to know of the failed attempts of illegalising prostitution in
Europe, or prohibition in 1930s America, and Hitler’s failed attempt at forcibly introducing
vegetarian diet amongst his SS officers.
The hallmark of a mature society is when it can channel, restrain, and promote, all the
various aspects of human nature in exactly the right measure. Here European society shows
all the hallmarks of a fairly mature society. It has a liberal mandate, albeit in a European
format. Under this liberal mandate, it allows homosexuality, prostitution (in measured
ways), alcohol, lap dancing clubs and so on. It has managed to create civic mechanisms
coupled with a mature population, educated correctly, to cope with the vast spectrum of
human behaviours, both good and bad. In Europe, society has not become some hedonistic
cesspit of sex, drugs and rampant individualism as some on the right may like to believe. On
the contrary, European society on the whole is rather balanced, courteous, focused,
progressive, organised, and where it has problems, it faces them head-on, with a longer
term focus. And yet, there is much European society can learn from Hindu values, but alas
not from Hindu society as it stands today. In fact, I would argue that Indian, that is Hindu
society, has much to learn from Europe, especially in terms of its civic mechanisms to handle
human behaviour. It must not blindly accept the European model, for that will not work. The
European model of liberalism is for a European mind-set; Indian society must look to its own
inherent liberal values within its own culture. India must develop a modern Hindu-based
If the RSS, and I believe only the RSS in India can reform society, genuinely looks to Europe
for its civic systems, and marries that up with the classical liberal Hindu values of a forgotten
and lost Bharat, and reclaims liberty for itself, then India can become a true liberal society,
fuelled by an indigenous spur to lead the world in ethics and culture, as it so purports to do.
The Frankensteinian model of the secular left needs to be defeated, but not through illiberal
means, but its opposite, by fighting on the side of liberty and pluralism.

Sachin Nandha