A New Idea Of India: Individual Rights In A Civilisational State is a recently published book, written by Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri, published by Westland. As the title suggests, the authors argue that post-independent India must correct its foundational principles and begin with individual rights. Towards that end, the authors lay great emphasis that India is a civilisational state and not merely a post-colonial entity.
The authors rely on their personal experiences in both their personal and professional life to recommend a series of policy prescriptions that would set the stage for an overhaul of the narrative about the idea of India dominates discourse today. Following is an excerpt from the book that has received much appreciation from intellectuals across the political spectrum.
On Kashmir, Pakistan and Karl Popper
The philosopher Karl Popper wrote in his classic work The Open Society and Its Enemies that if we want to see tolerance thrive, it is very important that we do not tolerate intolerance beyond a point.
I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.
There is an inherent tension between, for example, support for absolute free speech and other liberties and the dystopia that may be caused by irrational and possibly violent intolerance of the chronically intolerant. Ideally, we would not like this tension to exist and prefer individual rights to be fully guaranteed by the State at all times. But there are cases where the exercise of such individual rights can lead to the demise of the very State that is supposed to protect these rights. How then does one square the circle once again?
Let us go from the abstract to the specific and consider the case of Kashmir. The issue there is much less complicated than has been made out by umpteen talking heads and commentators, who cannot see the obvious reality right in front of them due to their desire for political correctness.
The Kashmir valley, an area of about 4,000 square kilometres, has an overwhelming demographic dominance of Sunni Muslims, a dominance that was secured by the violent and brutal expulsion of Kashmiri Hindus from there in 1990. The area being adjacent to Pakistan, a few want to secede from ‘Hindu’ India in the name of their religion.
The media often conflates this relatively small area with all of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, which has a total land area of over 222,000 square kilometres. There are obviously geographical, historical and legal factors that can be debated about this region until the cows come home, but the fundamental sore point for Pakistan is, how can a Muslim-majority border region be a part of India and not of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?
How should India react to Pakistan’s revanchism? One school of thought says let us not hold any people, even if within a small valley, against their will. But then, what would be the implications of a second religious partition for India? It would imply that a minority that becomes a majority in an Indian state can never be truly Indian, and this may cause further fissures within the rest of India.
This is not just a hypothetical scenario. Demographic changes in Kerala, West Bengal and Assam are moving in that direction, as census data from 2001 and 2011 show. In West Bengal, the Muslim population increased by 21.8 per cent between 2001 and 2011, compared to 10.8 per cent for the Hindu population. In Kerala, the Muslim population increased by 12.8 per cent between 2001 and 2011, compared to 2.2 per cent for the Hindu population. In Assam, the Muslim population increased by 29.5 per cent between 2001 and 2011, compared to 10.9 per cent for the Hindu population.
Should India just wait for that to happen? Obviously not. No State would tolerate that, and the civilisational state of India, that is Bharat certainly would not. For Bharat is nothing without Dharma, as Sri Aurobindo said in his 1909 Uttarpara speech80 before he retired to a life of spiritual exploration.
It is important to contrast the secessionist demands of the Sunni Muslim Kashmir Valley with such demands in, say, Catalonia (Spain), Scotland (United Kingdom) or Quebec (Canada). Any successful secession in the latter cases would result in a new nation–state within the broader West. In the first two cases, the new countries would be within not just the West but also within the European Union. Even a free Quebec would almost certainly be absorbed into NAFTA’s successor trade framework and the NATO security grouping. There is a civilizational logic to these inclusions and exclusions. Turkey, for example, could never enter the European Union and is plausibly going to leave NATO as well.
The renowned British philosopher Roger Scruton remarked while building on the work of constitutional jurist Jeremy Rabkin, ‘The nation–state has been the greatest guarantor of freedom in the modern world, precisely because it establishes a territorial, rather than religious, jurisdiction. It is this that enables the nation–state to treat citizenship, rather than creed, as the criterion of membership.’81 Still, his view must be seen in the European historical context of medieval religious wars.
It is important to belabour this point—if Northern Ireland unites with the Republic of Ireland and breaks with Union of England and Wales (and perhaps Scotland), as is plausible in the next few years,82 it is partially because of demographic changes (for the first time in centuries probably Catholics outnumber Protestants), but also because of ideological changes, namely, the Republic of Ireland as part of the larger civilisational entity of the European Union and in keeping with the zeitgeist of secular modernity, has given up draconian restrictions on abortion and has had a mixed-race prime minister from the LGBT community.
No heretics are of course being killed, and there is no de facto concept of religious speech being declared as blasphemous by the State. With the sharp edges gone, the two Irelands can focus on the commonalities of their shared ethnolinguistic, Christian and now liberal heritage, egged on by the decision of Brexit.
Seen from this civilisational framework, any new Western country would simply mean a rearrangement of internal civilisational boundaries akin to the creation of a new state such as Telangana or Jharkhand within India. On the other hand, the so so-called freeing of Kashmir—whether through ‘azaadi’ or formal merger with Pakistan—would mean the loss of territory to a hostile civilisational unit. That is the reality.
Let us, for a moment, see Kashmir as Northern Ireland, Pakistan as the Republic of Ireland, and India as the United Kingdom (in which case, the rest of India is Great Britain). Some people can argue that for demographic and geographical reasons, Kashmir (more specifically the Valley districts) should go to Pakistan. But there are many objections to this. First, the Partition was never about a one-to-one mapping to religious demographics even though that was the broad principle. Second, Pakistan is not like the Irish Republic in this thought experiment.
Pakistan has not even remotely experienced any period of secular–liberal Enlightenment which would make the minorities, including many Shias and Muslim liberals, in the Valley comfortable about joining that setup (and even independence would be practically joining Pakistan, given the Valley’s landlocked geography). Third, even if Pakistan were to miraculously go through a genuine secularisation process, the principle of self-determination applies significantly less to a democratic, pluralistic setup such as India’s as compared to a theocratic or authoritarian one.
If the United States can sacrifice around 6,00,000 of its young men in the sparsely populated 1860s and temporarily suspend civil liberties to preserve the Union and break the back of slavery, India can, and will, fight to keep the Union and defeat theocracy. Finally, quite simply, Kashmir is integral to India’s civilisational heritage, given its millennia-old Hindu and Buddhist history.