In India the political doctrine of nationalism is on an upsurge, taking giant leaps forward, changing the socio-political framework and causing tectonic shifts. This has been a trend in global politics. The quintessential example of this being the defeat of liberal political forces across the globe. Congress, who calls itself a liberal political front, losing the battle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalistic force of BJP in India; Jair Bolsonaro, who has been repeatedly called a ‘fascist’, ‘authoritarian’ by libertarians, winning majority in Brazilian general election; the victory of Boris Johnson in Britain; Increasing threat of trade war between nations all insinuates and indicates a certain surge in nationalistic feelings over libertarian doctrine across the globe. Liberalism across the globe seems to be in a crisis and what makes it even complicated is that the liberals are making it even more complicated. With a meagre understanding of both doctrines’ on-ground implications, it would be byzantine to get a grip of changing dynamics in Indian politico.
Background to Liberalism and Nationalism
To grasp the paradigm shift in India, it is important to understand the fundamentals of both the doctrines. Liberalism is more than one thing. Maurice Cranston says, “a liberal is a man who believes in liberty” (1967: 459). Liberalism, a social and economic philosophy originating in 17th and 18th century West, is an idea of liberty, freedom and self-determination for an individual, less centralised free government, Laissez-fair capitalistic economy and minimal interfering establishment.
Liberalism is the culmination of rationale social thinking in Western society that promoted a sense of the importance of human individuality, a liberation of the individual from complete subservience to the group, and a relaxation of the tight hold of custom, law, and authority. Liberalism, significantly earlier ones, was derived from the social ideologies of individualism – propagating for individuality and minimum state interference in an individual’s pursuit of Socio-cultural-economic goals – and embedded adversarialism. Adversarialism cherished contradictions and disagreements as a notion of growing knowledge base and propagating independent thinking. Libertarians, therefore, argue for a system of governance where a central government can protect civilians from harm and ensure law and order under the umbrella of justification.
Nationalism, the ideology of the nation-state, stands for the sense of togetherness of people in terms of ethnic, religious, linguistic, territorial, and other unities. Nationalism inspires to work towards a self-governing state and government controls aspects of the economy to promote the nation’s self- interest. Nationalism is a political-social doctrine of responsibility, fundamental duty and devotion towards the nation-state, national interests, nations culture and fellow nationals. And the doctrine of fiercely espousing or holding political sovereignty for the nation and national control of the economy. Protection of national interests, the promulgation of sovereign nation-state and promotion of national identity are central ideals of the ideology of nationalism. Nationalism evokes a strong sentiment of sovereignty, responsibility, unity and autonomy in those affiliating to a common nation.
Both the ideologies, in India’s context, seldom came in economic conflict as both argued for open market and capitalistic economy. But both of the doctrines locked targets over each other when it came to Socio-politico India. In the 21st century India, the skirmishes have intensified. Nationalism seems to be winning the battle and has cornered the liberal doctrine. Liberalism’s failures is paving the way for nationalism’s rise.
How Liberals aid Nationalism in India
Pseudo-Secularism – an artful and ostentatious nepotistic formula for the promulgation of inequality, injustice, discrimination, favouritism, duplicitousness and embedded hypocrisy – is one of the prime reasons behind the rise of religious nationalism. The establishment’s approach, however exceedingly fawning and obsequious, for handling the mix of multi-religious diversity sprayed across the vast canvas reflects spuriousness and banality. An enmesh of unequal ideals and selectivity under the veil of secularism has been masqueraded into the system, which has created a sense of marginalisation in the majority. This marginalisation, exclusion and discrimination of Hindus, via the manipulated imposition of ideals of secularism, created a fire ground for nationalism to thrive. As nationalists demanded fair two-way system of secularism, majority of Hindus, except for elitists, chose nationalism. Narendra Modi in 2019 through surfing the same wave reached to the zenith with the largest electoral majority in decades.
Libertarian Hindu hatred festered liberalism instead of fostering. This might be the biggest reason behind the rise of nationalism over liberalism in today’s India. Hinduphobia, a term rarely used, is a manifestation of anti-Hindu sentiments and hatred towards Hindu culture. This, a character generally associated with liberals, Islamists and communists in India, is one of the strongest polarising cause for the majority of Indian specifically those ones living in rural India. Whenever a Muslim was lynched by a Hindu, libertarians transformed into canon guns blasting the fortress of an entire religion of Hinduism. But whenever a Hindu suffered in the hands of Muslim, was lynched on grounds of religion, as in the case of Ankit Saxena, Chandan Gupta, TN Ramalingam, Bharat Yadav, Dr Narang, Dhruv Tyagi, the liberals remained silent and activism was put to rest for those moments. This selective trait and uncontrolled practice of favouritism, has gone under the skin of Indian masses steering them towards nationalism over liberalism.
One more ailing limb in the gangrenous body of Indian libertarians is the mindful chicanery – the wanton sabre made from the mendacious metal of spuriousness – that has turned the majority of Indian populace away from believing in liberalism. The mix of chicanery is the artful blending of character and fundamental principles with a little added salt of verbal deception. As in the case of humanising terrorism. When the liberals address terrorists with unnecessary humanising verbose of they being a ‘son of a schoolmaster’, a ‘Dhoni fan’, a ‘PhD Scholar’ and when they do a caste-based classification of Indian soldiers who lost their lives on the line of duty; their chicanery remains on full-on display. When the liberals chose to defend the Islamic veiling practice of hijab or burqa, while at the same time ruthlessly attacking the Hindu veiling practice of ghoonghat; they display their mix of hypocritical chicanery and dishonesty to the cause of true liberalism. As a counter to libertarians vindictive propaganda, hoi-polloi chose to side with national interests rather than chicanery.
Hypocrisy, one of a tangled feather in the enmeshed hat of libertarians, the expert art of deceit, is the one of the biggest driving force behind the depreciation of liberals in India. Double standards and contrasting stance involving the same issue but different groups and excessive outrage over one crisis but numb silence over the other, has been the trait of liberals. Liberartians embedded hypocrisy streamed the majority to choose nationalists over them. Faced with the need of showing true liberalism over favouritism, the liberal ostrich burying its head under the sand of silence is an unsurprisingly common sight for the majority of the people in India.
Entitlement, an unambiguously identifiable character of a liberal in India is his/her elitist nature. Elitism, despite being fundamentally illiberal and undemocratic, has become a consistent preference of liberals. Subscription to the idea of equality, freedom and equal opportunity was supposed to be the essential prerequisites for becoming a liberal, but in India, this essentiality was not entertained. Liberals, through their elitism, created a system of exclusion. Liberals camps over a institution of favouritism and elitism, which rightfully creates a feeling of resentment in the hearts of those excluded. The feeling of resentment spawned by this elitism and exclusion —which rapidly morphs into deprivation and injustice the further you move from the urbanite culture – is a fissile material for demagoguery of all kinds. The entitlement also forces or inspires conformity in the social circle, harming the fundamental liberal ideas of adversariality. The supposed harbingers of freedom, the galloping horses of liberty, turned out to be a unconventional fallacy. Liberal’s elitism further steered nationalism towards becoming the doctrine of masses.
Liberartians in India also, surprisingly, espouses and exercises a buffed up form of authoritarianism – the advocacy of strict obedience to authority (in this case the liberal elitist’s collective will) at the expense of personal freedom. They, in sharp contrast to liberalism, promote subversion and artful coercion to any individual, idea or institution challenging their ‘set of rules’. In their quest to hide the liberally illicit realities, they go on to exercise authoritarianism, trying to subvert, sledge or change the outcome of social undertakings through quite the illiberal means. Authoritarianism again created exclusion which festered liberal ideals and fostered nationalistic ones.
Nationalism in India is taking giant leaps forward and is suddenly becoming a household doctrine, a kind of movement through out the nation. Nationalists aim for holistic development; complete integrity; sovereignty; safety and security; and preservation of Indic culture. India’s nationalism is a protective shield against the malevolent anti-India forces. It is wrong to assume that nationalism forced the decline of liberalism in India, while in reality, it is the liberalism that steered the rise of nationalism. Liberartians through their hypocrisy, pseudo-secularism, Hinduphobia, authoritarianism and elitism has created a base ground for nationalism to further and foster. Liberalism in India has been the biggest bolstering force behind the rise of nationalism.
Columnist and undergraduate student from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Two time state topper in Science and Art of Lecturing.