Political discourse in India today revolves around a single question: Are you a Liberal or a Right Winger? There doesn’t seem to be room for much else lately. You’re either a liberal who stands for equality and social justice or a “Bhakt” who cannot uncouple himself from India’s past. The Marxist or the Hindutva-vadi. The atheist or the Gau Rakshak. Nationalist or “Paki-lover”.
The difference between the two groups seems to stem from a single root cause – the identity of India. Liberals tend to view India as a single forcibly united political entity that emerged from colonial rule seventy years ago. The Right typically considers India to be a more complex historical entity – almost a person – several millennia old and defined by the banner of Hindu thought and civilization. Liberals seem to view the creation of India the political entity as a way to escape the past and keep up with the times. Keeping up is defined by Western ideals, we shall soon see. Right Wingers view the same event of independence as an opportunity to finally reclaim our identity after centuries of foreign rule. Both Islamic conquerers and European colonizers come under this umbrella.
Pseudo-Liberal India (we lack true liberals) would be built on the politics of appeasement. Shah Bhano, Mandal Commission, caste based reservations, and a general brushing aside of pre-Islamic history have happened in the past and worse will happen if we let it. This brand of politics will never allow Uniform Civil code to happen. It will focus on fracturing India along as many fault lines as possible in order to capture votes. Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, the Left and even the Dravidian parties are examples of this school of thought.
Tired of watching the rest of the world (read China) speed by, the Great Indian Middle Class voted for Change. What is Change? Change is Hindutva. Let us classify the history of India into two time periods – pre and post “invaders”. Now let’s regard anything succeeding the raids of invaders as an aberration whose effects must be erased. Hindu thought and philosophy, ancient literature and art must rule supreme. Out with PK and in with Bahubali. Out with NDTV. In with Republic. Out with Unilever. In with Patanjali.
The perfect example of the ridiculous fight we’re witnessing is in our approach to Yoga and Ayurveda. Every time a Western journal publishes something that validates traditional Indian healing, both sides are up in arms. The Right claims “India knew it all along”. The Left wants to buy the repackaged “scientific” truth and ridicules the traditionalists as blind followers. Both miss the point. Scientific validation of traditional systems is not bad. We need to learn why and how things work. That said, we can’t simply reject centuries old empirical truths just because we lack understanding (which is either lost or non-existent). Instead, India should be at the forefront of research into what works in Ayurveda and why.
Here’s the truth. Just as we cannot seek to erase a cultural identity several millennia old, we cannot erase the truths of colonization however much it may hurt our pride to not do so. Every colonizer leaves an imprint and no matter how much Subramanyam Swami wishes it, one cannot deny that a mosque once stood in Ayodhya too. We can’t do away with Cricket or the English language or the Gazal or Hindustani. We need to learn to make peace with history.
What we are living through is a giant tussle for the reset button that will shape the future of our country. It doesn’t matter which side wins, we all lose. Meanwhile, there is Republic.
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