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Prejudice of any kind has no place in politics

Author: Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 6, 2021
URL:   https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/narendra-modi-india-democracy-politics-liberalism-7260440/

Lambasting and lampooning the government unreasonably doesn’t make one a revolutionary. It reflects a lack of open-mindedness, flexibility and spirit of accommodation.

Recent events at Ashoka University will make one infer that the term political correctness has nothing to do with political power as such. This is because in India, at least, an ominous and omnipresent politics of prejudice — evolved over the years as a subset of power politics — has almost overpowered our democratic polity. Thanks to those who look at prejudice as politics, our political discourse has been adulterated to such a grotesque extent that illiberalism masquerading as liberalism is sadly basking in glory.

As a consequence, repeatedly earned popular mandates are being ignored to allow prejudices to have the last laugh. True, democracy is not only about elections and popular mandate is not everything. However, the converse is equally true. Democracy is also not about ignoring mandates all the time for long-held prejudices. Sadly, so-called liberals are embracing an illiberal approach and, many times, blindly opposing everything that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing. Regardless of whether Modi needs it or not, one is aghast not to see even a single word of appreciation, coming from those who had opposed him earlier on ideological grounds, for the remarkable success of his government on different fronts. According to some, the confrontationist approach has become a prerequisite to earn your democratic credentials. If you agree with the government on some counts or praise some of its initiatives, you become a suspect first and an untouchable later.

The echo chamber created by those indulging in this politics is so strong that today, in some intellectual quarters, political correctness has become synonymous with opposing the government. Lambasting and lampooning the government unreasonably, each time and every time, doesn’t make one a revolutionary. In fact, it reflects a lack of open-mindedness, flexibility and a spirit of accommodation.

All this makes one sit up and think of two key questions: Why have things come to such a sorry pass? And, how can one get rid of these perversions?

Firstly, let’s appreciate that an illogical and unhealthy binary in the form of the ruling and the opposition parties is embedded in the Westminster model of democracy that we borrowed from the British. This has almost rejected any space for a genuine bipartisan approach. To put it bluntly, the Treasury and the Opposition are the most undemocratic labels that this system compels one to adopt, in the name of democracy. This has contributed to the creation of boundary walls disallowing resilience and some kind of give-and-take, an essential ingredient of a democratic polity. Sadly, this binary approach adopted by some politicians has permeated in almost all walks of life, including in literature, theatre, arts and, more tragically, in journalism. Either black or white, leaving no space for grey.

This politics of prejudice originated much before Independence and acquired legitimacy post the Avadi session of Congress party in 1955 when several socialists and communists joined the Congress party. Their entry into the Congress ensured unstinted political patronage to the Left-leaning members of academia, media, world of arts and entertainment and intelligentsia in general. Except for the brief period of Emergency of 1975, this patronage not just continued but increased, giving the left-of-centre elements a total free hand to establish their hegemony, to be converted into a monopoly soon.

RSS was already a bad word. Later, it became a pariah. From dissertation subjects acceptable to PhD guides to selecting recipients of Padma awards, from themes of TV serials to the vocabulary used in news items, everything that shaped our public discourse had the dark shadow of the politics of prejudice. All in the name of democracy and liberalism. Notably, even after two RSS Swayamsevaks making it to the top, prejudiced minds refused to change.

Where do we go from here? To start with, ideologies never tell you to practise thought-untouchability. Hence, at least after over 70 years of independence, our democratic polity needs to graduate and remove all the cobwebs of prejudices. Both idealism and ideology are ever-evolving. They cannot be moribund as the process of thinking can’t happen with a closed mind. Over the decades, people have understood all ideologies and experienced the rule of parties adhering to them. Tragically, although a realisation of strengths and limitations of the ideologies has influenced changes in our policy approaches, people continue to embrace prejudices. It’s painful that not just politicians but academics of high repute, and also eminent journalists, haven’t been able to free themselves from prejudices and preconceived notions.

Prejudice is the mother of injustice. For the largest democracy of the world, the earlier we put a stop to this continuation of injustice, the better.

-This column first appeared in the print edition on April 6, 2021 under the title ‘The illibral liberal’. The writer is MP, Rajya Sabha and former national vice-president of the BJP     


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