The stage of Tughlaq was set for a discussion on liberalism by the previous session delving into the history of coextensive rights and obligations and conservatism in India. This session on ‘The Remains of liberalism’ was presided over by speakers Ed Luce who is a Washington based columnist and commentator for the Financial Times and Mukul Kesavan who is an Indian historian, novelist, and political and social essayist. Joining them was Manish Sabharwal, Chairman of Teamlease and a Friend of BLF in the role of a moderator.
The conversation began with the basic yet big question of what liberalism means. Without disappearing down the rabbit hole, in his own words, Ed said that liberalism ideally means a system of checks and balances. Adding context to what liberalism means today, Mukul opined that liberalism has become whatever is left after majoritarianism is deducted from the equation. Furthering this line of thought, Manish raised the point on the tension between democracy and liberalism, upon which Ed commented that India was moving towards an illiberal democracy and Mukul noted the strain was caused by majoritarians basing themselves on a particular race or culture.
Speaking on whether there ever existed an ideal era for liberalism, Ed, quick with his easy wit answered – “…there has been no golden era of liberalism, maybe a silver era or a platinum era”. He went on to emphasize that liberal democracy is in mortal danger and there is a retreat going on in the West. Picking up on the western perspective, Mukul astutely added that the notion of populism is problematic because the division of Left populism and Right populism in the USA is misleading. He further said that in both India and the USA, majoritarianism has been cultivated and gave an example of The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. At this point, Manish asked that given the broad history of politics, do we really believe we live in special or unique circumstances per se? To this Ed said, “we are temporary narcissists and what is happening right now in the West is a conclusion of a build-up”. Mukul outlined that what we are looking at is the reconstitution of Republic and we need to acknowledge that the situation is bad. Relating that “A Nation is not given, it is imagined and reimagined”, Mukul acknowledged that what Sangh Parivar or RSS essentially did over the past 100 years is reimagine India.
Owing to the paucity of time, the discussion ended contemplating the remains. The back and forth between Ed’s and Mukul’s juxtaposing views on the reality of liberalism in the West and in India offered a critical and educative perspective.
About the Author: Charishma V is just another complex, creative pseudo-adult who can wear several hats. Her blog is at charishmavreddy. She currently writes for TheSeer. Instagram handle – @poetry_over_prose