The cover story if Time Magazine, penned by Aatish Taseer, son of Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and late Pakistani politician and businessman Salman Taseer, asks a poignant question, “Can the World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?”
In the Time Magazine article, the author, the quintessential liberal, mourns the death of liberalism and the rise of populism across the world’s major democracies. The author comes across as a typical ‘liberal’ who has spent far too much time wrapped in the cocoon of his ‘Safe Space’. He fails to realize that Populism is on the rise primarily because liberalism has failed to adequately address the concerns of the people.
Liberal politicians have trampled upon the will of the people while for a majority of the masses, their cultural anxieties have peaked as their lives have worsened considerably. Under such circumstances, populism is only the natural resort for the masses who have lost all faith in the establishment.
The author in Time Magazine begins with the words, “Of the great democracies to fall to populism, India was the first.” It appears rather hypocritical for liberal intellectuals to describe the election of populist leaders to the highest offices of the country as a ‘fall’. In the end, they were elected democratically by the majority of people. And one of the fundamentals of the concept of democracy is that the crowd is wiser and more trustworthy than the individual. Therefore, to describe the rise of populism as a ‘fall’ appears to be casting aspersion of the institution of Democracy itself.
Taseer, however, does capture certain events and phenomena accurately, quite unlike his comrades. He correctly says that unlike ‘champagne populists’, Narendra Modi is truly a representative of his people by virtue of his humble beginnings. And there is certainly great wisdom in Taseer’s words when he says “It was no longer about left, or right, but something more fundamental.”
He writes in the Time Magazine article, “The nation’s most basic norms, such as the character of the Indian state, its founding fathers, the place of minorities and its institutions, from universities to corporate houses to the media, were shown to be severely distrusted. The cherished achievements of independent India–secularism, liberalism, a free press–came to be seen in the eyes of many as part of a grand conspiracy in which a deracinated Hindu elite, in cahoots with minorities from the monotheistic faiths, such as Christianity and Islam, maintained its dominion over India’s Hindu majority.”
He states further, “Modi’s victory was an expression of that distrust. He attacked once unassailable founding fathers, such as Nehru, then sacred state ideologies, such as Nehruvian secularism and socialism; he spoke of a “Congress-free” India; he demonstrated no desire to foster brotherly feeling between Hindus and Muslims. Most of all, his ascension showed that beneath the surface of what the elite had believed was a liberal syncretic culture, India was indeed a cauldron of religious nationalism, anti-Muslim sentiment and deep-seated caste bigotry.”
The author is correct on certain accounts and completely off target on others. First things first, the ‘deep-seated caste bigotry’ that he speaks of, although it exists in certain quarters, has been constantly eroding since independence. While caste itself as an institution that hasn’t been affected much by modernity, the tensions between different castes is largely on the decline and anti-caste bigotry is current on life-support, fueled by politicians like Mevani and C.P. Joshi and other caste-based political parties whose entire brand of politics is based on the most rabid form of casteism.
Therefore, to suggest that Narendra Modi’s victory is an indication of ‘deep-seated caste bigotry’ is nonsense. He is himself an OBC and the Prime Minister from a party whose core base has been Upper Castes since its inception. He has mostly focused on his Hindu identity. Even his candidature from Varanasi was indicative of his willingness to help Hindus transcend the barriers of caste, creed and regions and come together for the glory of their motherland. The BJP’s entire brand of politics is dependent on the consolidation of Hindu votes and the tactics being employed by the Opposition to defeat him in 2019 is caste-based coalitions like in Uttar Pradesh. Thus, the author is as wrong as the people who believed the Earth was flat when he makes that claim about caste.
Secondly, the author’s claim about ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’ requires a slightly more nuanced view. It is a fact that in Hindu dominated areas, Hindus and Muslims continue to maintain cordial relations. It’s in Muslim dominated areas or with a considerable Muslim population that we witness communal tensions. Furthermore, there are good reasons why a large section of Hindus is suspicious of a part of the Muslim community. If we are to foster cordial relationships between the two communities, we must have the courage to confront the situation as it is, no matter how problematic it may be.
The genocide of Kashmiri Pandits, the great crowds at the funeral processions of terrorists in Kashmir, the huge crowd at the funeral procession of Yakub Memon in Mumbai, the man responsible for the Mumbai Blasts of 1993, the regular calls for Jihad by radical sections of the community, the celebration of Pakistan’s victory over India in sports, the celebration over the death of our soldiers, the insane demographic shift in the northeastern regions of the country fueled by illegal Muslim immigration from Bangladesh, the great fundamentalism within the Muslim community, the refusal of a part of the community to assimilate with the rest of the country and the perpetual victimhood they live in, all of this is bound to make the Hindu community anxious given the history of partition.
Therefore, the ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’ that the author accuses Hindus of in the Time Magazine article is largely suspicion and anxiety fueled by the conduct of a part of the Muslim community itself. And if we are to foster cordial relationships, both communities have to meet each other halfway. Narendra Modi’s election victory only demonstrated that Hindus were sick of minority appeasement and have decided that they will not pay the cost of minority appeasement for a fragile communal harmony.
Thirdly, the author calls ‘Nehruvian Secularism’ sacred. Well, it might have been sacred to Indian liberals who believe Secularism is the only true religion and Nehru is its only prophet but for Indians, it has never been the case. At its core, Nehruvian Secularism is thinly veiled Western disdain towards the ancient culture and traditions of the Hindu community. The author, like his comrades, may worship Nehru as a prophet but that’s not how most Indians feel about him. Because of the entirety of his life spent away from the cradles of Lutyens Delhi, Narendra Modi realizes, like most other Indians, the absolute catastrophe that Nehru has been for this country.
The author, again, is incorrect when he calls ‘secularism, liberalism, a free press’ the cherished achievements of Independent India. Our 72-year-old country has many many achievements to its credit, the ones mentioned by Taseer is definitely not. India was never secular. If Nehruvian Secularism can be passed off as secular, then Barkha Dutt can be passed off as Govinda in Bollywood movies. India never had a free press prior to 2009-10. An overwhelming majority of our press is still compromised and works out of the basement of 10 Janpath. India was never liberal, only the elites were, which is again not a very good thing.
In the midst of such wildly wrong assertions, the author does grasp certain things correctly about India. The country is a ‘cauldron of religious nationalism’. It is not too difficult to imagine why Hindu Nationalism is extremely popular, even mainstream now, in a country with a population of more than 75% Hindus with a history of religion-based partition and under assault from Christian evangelism and Islamic radicalization. Hindutva is our past, present and future. And it is an inevitable consequence of the world order.
The author is also correct in his assertion that Narendra Modi’s election victory is an expression of the distrust among Hindus regarding the traditional structures of Nehruvian Secularism. He is completely wrong, however, when he says Modi has “he demonstrated no desire to foster brotherly feeling between Hindus and Muslims”. It’s so wrong it doesn’t even require a critique.
Proving his liberal credentials, Taseer has littered the article with false assertions. He rakes up the Gujarat 2002 riots again and Modi’s alleged silence on the matter to claim that the latter is “a friend of the mob”. Taseer contradicts himself on several occasions throughout the article. He claims, “Not only has Modi’s economic miracle failed to materialize, but he has also helped create an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism in India.” If India was always a ‘cauldron of religious nationalism’ like he said earlier, then how could it be that Narendra Modi ‘helped create an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism’? Is Taseer claiming that certain religious nationalism is good and Hindutva, that is, Hindu Nationalism is poisonous?
Apart from these things, Taseer has worked hard to fuel the perpetual victimhood of Indian Muslims. He also attempted to promote Dalit-Muslim unity, an endeavour doomed to failure since Dalits are probably the biggest victims of Muslim violence in India. The article does make some salient points, however, it lowers its standards by pandering to the fake news narrative of comrades.
For instance, Taseer displays remarkable honesty when he writes, “In India, for decades to be left-wing or liberal was to belong to a monstrously privileged minority. Until recently, there was no equivalent group on the right, no New England Republicans, no old-fashioned Tories. It was easy to feel that being left-wing was the province of a privileged few who had gone to a university abroad, where they had picked up the latest political and intellectual fashions.” He then immediately proceeds to neutralize his honesty by embarking on a false mission to claim that Narendra Modi is waging a war against intellectualism.
That is the general theme of the entire article. It’s riddled with great honestly, completely unexpected of liberals, then immediately neutralizes it with good old fashioned false liberal narratives. For instance, he makes a good observation when he says, “Modi is right to criticize an India in which modernity came to be synonymous with Westernization so that all those ideas and principles that might have had universal valence became the preserve of those who were exposed to European and American culture.”
Then, he quickly negates the fact by claiming, “What Modi cannot–or will not–do is tell India the hard truth that if she wishes to be a great power, and not a Hindu theocracy, the medieval Indian past, mired in superstition and magic, must go under.” The Indian past was not mired in superstition and magic. Ancient India produced some of the greatest works of art, literature, science the world has ever witnessed. India suffered terribly during the Medieval Era due to foreign invasion but still, Hindus produced great Kings with great knowledge of statecraft and great poets and artists and craftsmen.
The unparalleled majesty of Hindu Architecture, the beauty of Indian Literature, the remarkable knowledge of statecraft of Hindu philosophers and Monarchs, these could not have been produced by a people mired in superstition and magic and lacking scientific temper.
Taseer also quotes the great Philosopher, Meta-physician and Historian Ananda Coomaraswamy to prove his point. Now, Coomaraswamy is the last person any liberal is expected to quote to prove his position. One of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, the Sri Lankan philosopher was a Traditionalist who had great reverence for Hindu philosophy, art and culture. In fact, Coomaraswamy was deeply critical of Western Modernity. Rene Guenon, someone Coomaraswamy was greatly influence by and who he influenced in turn, authored the book “The Crisis of the Modern World” after being greatly influenced by Hindu and Taoist philosophy where it was argued that the West has lost all sense of the sacred essentially. Coomaraswamy has himself authored great books such as “The Dance of Shiva” and “Introduction to Indian Art” which display his great reverence towards Hindu Traditions and culture. Therefore, to find Taseer using Coomaraswamy’s words to defend his position is bewildering.
Taseer also reserves scathing critique for politicians as well, only for their inability to confront Narendra Modi and the inevitability of his reelection.
Thus, to answer Taseer’s fundamental question in the Time magazine, “Can the World’s Largest Democracy Endure Another Five Years of a Modi Government?”, the India that he envisions won’t. The Nehruvian Secular State will be dead in another 5 or 10 years if Narendra Modi continues to occupy the seat of Prime Minister. And that is a great thing.
India is undergoing a tectonic shift. Our ancient philosophy, culture and traditions are finally receiving the credit and respect that they so deserve. A new era of progress and scientific development is upon us but we shall commit ourselves to it by keeping our feet firmly grounded on the foundations of an ancient civilization. We shall travel to the Moon and beyond but we shall not lose sight of our history and traditions. We shall conquer space and beyond but we shall not relinquish our cultural heritage. We shall march into this new era and make it our own but we shall not give up the identity that sets us apart. We shall make new discoveries in Science and be witness to great technological development but in the process, we shall not embrace the cultural traditions of the West. We shall not abandon our nation and its people to the false song of Nehruvian Secularism.