Eminent Indian liberal columnists like Shiv Visvanathan, Pawan Varma, Santosh Desai had cautioned their lot against perverting secularism, sneering at the majority’s culture and faith, holding nationalism in contempt, distorting history. Each bit of introspection went unheeded last 5 years
It was the summer of 2014. Ears burning with the most momentous defeat ever, enemy’s confetti still on the shoulders of their Brioni suit, a few Indian liberals set out to introspect.
One of the earliest and stirringly honest pieces was by Shiv Visvanathan in Hindu, ‘How Modi defeated liberals like me’.
“Narendra Modi sensed this unease, showed it was alienating and nursed that alienation. He turned the tables by showing secularism — rather than being a piety or a propriety — was a hypocrisy, or was becoming a staged unfairness which treated minority violations as superior to majoritarian prejudices,” Visvanathan wrote. “He showed that liberal secularism had become an Orwellian club where some prejudices were more equal than others. As the catchment area of the sullen, the coerced, and the repressed became huge, he had a middle class ready to battle the snobbery of the second rate Nehruvian elite.”
His piece aptly captured the coerciveness of India’s English-speaking elite and how it made the majority ashamed of what was culturally natural to this land. It captured the unfairness inbuilt in our political correctness.
“The activism of Hindutva groups was treated as sinister but the fundamentalism of other religions was often treated as benign and as a minoritarian privilege,” Visvanathan wrote. “There was a failure of objectivity and fairness and the infelicitous term pseudo-secularism acquired a potency of its own.”
The arrogant don’t learn
Many liberals spoke in Visvanathan’s support. It seemed the sting of a course-altering defeat had injected sense into them.
But hubris has a short memory and a quick need to rebuild itself.
Soon, liberals got back endlessly cracking jokes on gau mutra (cow urine, sacred to Hindus which the Pulwama bomber raged against), sneering at images of Rudra Hanuman calling it an expression of aggressive Hindutva, even lamenting that India’s cricket wins fuel hyper-nationalism.
Achievements of Hindu history continued to be ridiculed, even when Columbia university acknowledged that plastic surgery started in ancient India.
Instances of Muslims being lynched by cow vigilantes were plastered across mainstream and social media, and rightly so. But when, for instance, Hindu priests’ tongues were cut off in UP’s Araria by cow smugglers, our so-called seculars lost their speech.
Over the last five years, the debauchery of secularism has only increased. Hatred for Narendra Modi, like black magic, has made seculars do things that the wise from their own ranks had warned them against.
A warning on muted history
Liberal author and politician Pavan K Varma sounded a similar caveat in his 2016 piece in Times of India, ‘Rethinking Indian liberalism: How liberal complacency and politically correct cliches have led to a backlash’.
“Thousands of temples were destroyed and mosques built in their place by them, often with the debris of the demolished temples…obliterating or mutilating a huge chunk of ancient India’s architectural heritage. The loss was irreparable,” Varma wrote. “The gradual and enriching synthesis that occurred between Hinduism and Islam happened in spite of this wanton destruction, and not because it did not happen.”
He wrote about the reticence in ‘progressive’ historical writing to give space to the Hindu imagination. “For instance, the great kingdom of Vijayanagar with beautiful Hampi as its capital, flourished for two and a half centuries from 1336 to 1565 CE as the last Hindu bastion against Muslim invasion, but has hardly received its due in our historical memory. At its apogee, Vijayanagar comprised a vast territory from the river Krishna to the Indian Ocean. But it merits but one paragraph in The Discovery of India, and no one has thought it worthy to name at least one road in New Delhi after the Vijayanagar king Krishnadevaraya, perhaps one of the greatest rulers in Indian history.”
Of laughter and forgetting
Vanquished rulers and elite often die sooner than their egos. In spite of the pearls of realisation the tide of the 2014 defeat may have brought, liberals soon went back to peddling fresher versions of the discredited Aryan Invasion Theory and prove Indian civilisation was shaped by enlightened ‘saviours’ from the West.
Prominent liberals went to the extent of circulating fake paintings of Krishna citing the moon. Or suggested that a Muslim shepherd boy had discovered Amarnath Yatra. Both lies were busted by True Indology, a handle that has become immensely popular for exposing falsehoods and selectively of Left versions of history.
Price of mocking nationalism
On May 18, 2014, liberal columnist Santosh Desai introspected in Times of India: “The politics spawned by Nehruvian liberalism has evoked a simmering sense of rage. For some time now, the self-described cultural mainstream has been seething at what they see as the contemptuous rejection of their way of life and their ideals by a group that deals in ideas that have no natural cultural resonance with the Indian reality.”
To this day, columnists like Sandipan Deb have been warning liberals not to hold nationalism with such contempt and miss out on a rich tradition.
Again, this has gone unheeded. By mocking everything from Uri surgical strikes to Doklam to Balakot airstrikes, India’s self-proclaimed liberals have possibly done a Herschelle Gibbs on themselves before the 2019 general elections.
When Gibbs dropped Steve Waugh’s catch in 1999, Waugh is believed to have walked up to him and said, “You just dropped the World Cup, mate.”
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Last Updated Mar 17, 2019, 11:00 AM IST