India’s Machiavellian Democracy: Need for Cultural Liberalism & Secularism
The state of the world is not in good shape, and so of India. There may be ideological and normal analogies drawn by psephologists and journalists like Mehdi Hassan, Prannoy Roy, Shekhar Gupta, Rajdeep Sardesai and even other scholars and historians in the field of constitutionalism, politics and international affairs. It seems easier and mobile for a common person to seek the power of social media and get acquainted with knowledge.
That knowledge (or information) may be misleading because, in the moments of cognitive dissonance and volatility, it would not seem to be reasonable to take into concern the rationale of a conduct-based precedential understanding of events and realities. Even Arundhati Roy made a very pressing point, which many ideologically-lent people take it otherwise, in some Al Jazeera show on Narendra Modi, the Indian PM, that if Trump is somewhat a surprise for the US, Modi is the bi-product of an ingrained idea. I do not disagree with her on this — but we must not take it otherwise unless we understand how our democracy, if not in a bad shape, is at least in a vague shape. It reminds me of the British Raj, and in this article, I will hint about the Machiavellian side of the Indian Democracy. I believe India’s democratic spirit, its ideals of secularism, rule of law, political legitimation, free liberty and also market economics are seeing a change, but that change is not existential. I will enumerate on this in the article and will enunciate what we, as Indians, must adopt our own Machiavellian method to deal with our mixed and congested if not failed democracy, which the Europeans and Brits could not do despite contributions by philosophers like Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes and Henry Kissinger.
Misinformation is a knowledge, but knowledge cannot be the institute of guidance. Wisdom and rational conscience is something that guides, gauges and repairs knowledge and its harshness.
Secularism and Liberalism are Changing… For a Real Good
Dr Faizan Mustafa, the Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University, Hyderabad, proposed certain speculated and well-substantiated aspects of a Hindu Rashtra India could ever be. Although I would differ with him on the propositions related to secularism and liberalism limited to the op-ed he has written on The Indian Express, I would contend that both Indian Secularism and Indian Liberalism, as the established legal and social notions of the Indian polity, would be susceptible to a more transformational, less divisive and open phase of the Indian Constitution.
However, we have to ask — do we really need to see our legal, political and social problems in the name of a stringent ideological purity? I think we do not need to, because of the simple reason that ideological purity has ends, which at some threshold, do exhaust and become too rudimentary and unreasonable. For example, India under Prime Ministers Nehru and Indira Gandhi have followed a socialist model. When after the 1977 elections, the Janata Party government was formed, the then PM Morarji Desai deviated from India’s Socialist approach in Foreign Policy and had extended hands with Jimmy Carter, the then President of the US. He tried to extend certain reforms which were reasonable and maybe against the Socialist ideology of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s cadre in the Congress Party. However, Mrs Gandhi reverted it back to a pro-Soviet understanding. Until 1990, the License Raj was in existence, and India was not able to compete with the international community after the Berlin Wall incident, and the unipolarity of America. Under Dr Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao, India changed its economic ideology and catered a volatile, yet unbalanced capitalism to participate in the global supply chain. Even beyond economics, socialism had a participatory role in the Indian political atmosphere, in order to curtail Zamindars, and get a proper State-centric control for the welfare of the people.
“Society is always conservative. It does not change unless it is compelled to and that too very slowly. When change begins, there is always a struggle between the old and the new, and the new is always in danger of being eliminated in the struggle for survival unless it is supported. The one sure way of carrying through a reform is to back it up by law. Without the help of legislation, there can never be any reform in any evil. The necessity of legislation is very great when the evil to be reformed is based on religion.”
— Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol 12, 1993, ‘The Untouchables and the Pax Britannica’, p 115
Now, the same Prannoy Roy, one of the Founders of NDTV, who is in the league of journalists fearing Modi’s rise and India’s hardline nationalism, contended in his own book The Verdict: Decoding India’s Elections (2019) about the trends of voting in the past general elections held in India. Yogendra Yadav, head of Swaraj India and a former member of Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, has criticised the analogy as follows:
Indian elections have been identified with ‘anti-incumbency’. This book, for the first time, looks at the full range of evidence of all the Lok Sabha and assembly elections held to date, and finds no reason to believe this generalisation. There are three phases: the first phase (1952–77) was that of the ‘optimist voter’ when the incumbent party had 82 per cent chances of re-election in a state assembly election. Then came the age of angry voter (1977–2002) when this figure fell down to just 29 per cent. Finally we are in the Fifty-Fifty phase of the “wise voter” where the chances of losing and winning are about the same, depending on the performance of the government. This trend holds for parties, though incumbent candidates continue to hold moderate advantage.
So, Arundhati Roy’s position is quite reasonable in the Indian case because it is true that we are seeking a phase of the ‘wise voter’. Nevertheless, I am open to condone the fact that perception politics if does not define Indian politics, then at least gauges bridges and roads for politicians whether of the right, the centre or the left to leave their mark and win elections. Even the Mood of the Nation Poll conducted by India Today in 2020 suggests superbly that ideological purity does not drive our social issues anymore. While a good chunk of people in the polls believed that India is facing an economic crisis and that the CAA protests are not good for the country, they were also not against the dilution of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. They were worried about the economy but were not anti-Modi. By the way, the Indian Government recently this first week of April, had passed an order to undo some of the undoings of dilution of Article 370 regarding the domicile and job status in Kashmir, which as far as the government notification suggests, was revoked, funnily. It is the same thing when after the Iraq War, Jeremy Corbyn led a supposedly far-reaching Socialist uprising against Tony Blair, the Labor Prime Minister of the UK, but even in the coalition politics of the UK, where a first-pass-the-post system is utilized, Corbyn lost the votes of the middle-aged veterans in the UK, who had voted Labor earlier (the heartland voters), shifted to the Conservatives.
Now, it is undeniable that the media went biased against Corbyn and his election campaign in December 2019. The cruel reality of the state of media as well in India signals this. Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the same Indian National Congress, had proposed a good scheme as an election bid in 2019, which was NYAY. Even his party lost the election miserably, while Modi’s BJP still garnered votes in the range of 30–35%, which was credited to the Indian Media, but the voters were also affected by the February 2019 Pulwama Attacks and that they believed in Modi for some of his governance achievements and ignored the capricious fallacies in his public policy initiatives, from the Demonetization drive to the GST regime in mid-2017. Still, in times like these, ideological purity may be useful for a party, and may not be so useful for others. Nevertheless, we must note this down very carefully:
A Democracy is perhaps the best opportunity for an individual, a family and a community to paint the canvas of choices, aspirations and needs they have. How much could it be representative, limited or federal they are is not in the hands of the voters at all times, because if we fight for mere generalizations, we cannot seek a world of change, and face our problems.
So, what kind of Secularism & Liberalism would a Rising, New and Changing India adore?
I think the Indian people and their culture have two special characteristics, and this is beyond the identity lines that they are (1) Multi-lithic, i.e., they have multiplicity in their cultural fragments for a long time. From Hindus to Muslims, Dalits to Savarnas, and even among Christians, we have an array of diversity. We had our issues with the Caste System and even the mindset of discrimination. However, we have not seen any cognizably similar religious war like the Europeans and the Brits in the 15th and the 16th Centuries. Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Kingdom had his cavalrymen beyond religious lines. Akbar, the infamous Mughal Emperor had his Navratnas, among whom we know Abdurrahim (poet Rahim), who kept Tulsidas’ Ramacharitmanas safe in the hands of the Mughals, Raja Maan Singh, Birbal and others. We criticize Aurangzeb and we definitely should. But we must never forget Dara Shikoh, Shahjahan’s son, who wrote translations of the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and other religious works, and helped the Europeans learn about the pious content. We have present day-to-day examples as well, where people know themselves how to earn the solidarity of a community, which they shewed in the Delhi riots in February 2020 and even in the Lockdown situation India will surpass sooner if later. The other nature of the Indian Society is that it is (2) sociological, according to distinguished historians. The Indian people, for example in Pondichery, still embraced the French culture and revisited it to create their own way of life. Even Hindus in a post-modern age after 2000, have seen a tremendous change in their lives. They did not support the tragic and unreasonable customs that maligned and destroyed the spiritual and honest essence of their cultures. We know that Indian marriages, especially held by Hindu families used to be costly and bulky. Now, people living in semi-urban and urban areas are thinking and implementing cost-effective ways of implementing their traditional and customary practices.
Therefore, Indian Secularism would be different, reasonable and openly extroverted. It would not or may not have a theological or identity-centric separation from cultures, whether any, especially the Hindu culture, which itself is a big cluster of cultures and some religious sects in India, heterogeneously. It would not lack a sense of conviction against enforcing and upholding a command of individual responsibility, but would also have to endorse market economics by some sense of ethical autonomy among the people to learn, know and respect not on paper, neither on the basis of the socialist method of conduct-based respect, but via the street way, which of course is the populist method. However, if India adopts the populist method, then the populist method itself can, any time would lead to a case of political exhaustion, and then by the time populism becomes the source of political innovation and change for the masses, a pluralistic, responsible and open sense of street liberalism will come into existence. There will exist nasty, undemocratic and anarchic elements in the Indian society unless we take certain socio-psychological measures to teach them the right way of peace and understanding. How can this work? Let us understand this through an excellent Op-Ed on the Tablighi Jamat issue:
The Tabligh deserves to be condemned, but it is not as though they deliberately set about spreading the infection, after all, the first to be affected are fellow Tablighis and Muslims. […] Given its vast influence in the Islamic world, our intelligence services have good links with the outfit, evidenced by NSA Ajit Doval’s involvement in clearing the Markaz off its unwelcome guests last month. But this is a discreet contact and the Tablighis tend to avoid the limelight to the extent they can. As for politicians, they have been kept at distance by the Tablighi Jamaat. Since the outfit has no public interface and does not publish or declare any authoritative statement of its organisation or ideas, it has no way of endorsing or attacking any political party. That is by choice more than anything else.
The treatment of minorities in India is not in good shape, but it would also not be appropriate if we consider that millions of minorities are being affected. If people think that the CAA is responsible for it, then they are flawed.
P Chidambaram, a member of the Congress Party, certainly gave a reasonable argument on the CAA protests that the youth are on the street for intangible demands, which is appreciated. If people feel the law is discriminatory, or the NPR-NRC nexus could jeopardize the citizenship and existence of an Indian citizen, especially Jews, Muslims, Atheists and other minorities, then they must not be driven by the hardline Left, which itself has no sense of what it is doing. For example, in one of the prolific lectures recorded at the NLSIU, Bangalore, a distinguished advocate argued the constitutionality of CAA, which is reasonable.
Why did you exclude Muslims? Is it constitutionally valid? Though the reason for this Act to come in place was religious persecution, the Amendment, however, makes no mention of persecution. Its absence is conspicuous.
His points were countered by the Queen’s Counsel, Harish Salve reasonably:
Polarisation between castes and religions is as old at least as the notion of modern India. I also find a growing polarisation between those who have enjoyed the perquisites of power over decades and between those who have replaced them.
Even on the CAA, there is a restrictive nature that the Indian Government wishes to endorse in matters of immigration and citizenship. I feel the BJP and the Government have failed in convincing Indians about the CAA’s perfection and its limitation of utility. Even if an Act, comes into being, which seems adverse — like the CAA, my understanding is that the administrative intent of the executive, in external and home affairs is very important. The NRC process, in my view, is impossible in India unless an incubation period of at least 10–30 years is appropriately given. However, the recommendations of the Census Act by Dr Mustafa of NALSAR, if are implemented by the Modi Government in precedence to Home Minister Amit Shah’s reassurances on the Categorization this March 2020, then the government’s object would not affect the NPR process in general. The CAA alone is not a discriminatory act because it gives certain special rights to the sovereign to discriminate. The classification, in general, would not affect any person’s right to be a citizen of India, because the law itself has a limited scope. After a period of time, maybe the law would turn out to be redundant. LK Advani, a leader of the BJP made an interesting point in 2003 when Dr Manmohan Singh had proposed for a citizenship policy for persecuted minorities:
We always say that a person who has to flee because of religious persecution is a refugee, bona fide refugee, and he cannot be regarded on par with the illegal immigrant who may have come for any reason, even for economic reasons. If he is an illegal immigrant, he is an illegal immigrant. So, I take note of what has been said and endorse it.
Even Subhash Kashyap, a former Lok Sabha Secretary in 2016 condemned the violent anti-CAA protests and said:
It [the CAA] can be questioned in a court of law. Or in a democratic way, you can also try to change it in Parliament, either by changing the complexion of the Lok Sabha in the coming elections or moving an amendment to the Act and getting a majority for it.
Therefore, like the voters are becoming wiser, the Indian Foreign policy commitments on citizenship, immigration, economic revitalization are becoming protectionist and competitive, secularism also is becoming practicable & competitive.
India’s State Compared to the National Socialists of Germany: A Flawed Obscurity by Principle
Comparing India to Nazi Germany’s law on discrimination is a fallacy and a blot. I would, however, would like to discuss the Enabling Act of 1933 that weakened the Weimar Constitution of Germany as well, so that we also realize how we should understand Secularism and Liberalism.
When the Reichstag in Germany was burnt, and accusations were put on the Communists for that, Hitler used the opportunity to enact power via decree via President von Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag. A general election was scheduled for 5 March 1933. A meeting was held between Hitler and 20 to 25 industrialists at the official residence of Hermann Göring, aimed at financing the election campaign of the Nazi Party. The National Socialist regime of Germany on 7 April 1933, two months after Adolf Hitler had attained power, adopted the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service and then implemented Reichserbhofgesetz (Eng: land heritage law or the State Hereditary Farm Law of 1933) a Nazi law to implement principles of blood and soil.
The Nazi Minister of Agriculture, R. Walther Darré, in his early propaganda, on the Land Heritage Law, responded to questions on the Law:
We demand that each farmer freely submit to relentless discipline; we order him as a soldier in the battle for food — but we must give him freedom, so he can fulfill his national obligation. We can make strict economic and cultural demands only on farmers who live freely on their own soil . (emphasis added) (Der Deutsche Volkswirt, VIII (Jan. 19, 1934), 676.)
Here, we can see an utmost racial policy advocated by the National Socialists of Germany, ie., the Nazis which itself, manipulates the German origins of Legal sanctity, and controls economic rights of the people not in the Leninist way of the Soviets, but the Hindenberg-Hitler way, whose some and not all signs we see in People’s Republic of China’s economic approaches at most and to a certain extent. Chris Calton writes:
Neither Lovin or Saraiva would be considered capitalist apologists (extremely far from it, in fact), but they recognize, just as Mises did, that the Nazis paid only lip service to property rights, while in reality, they established a command economy that fully fits Mises’s description of “socialism of the German pattern.”
Now, historically, it has been proved in European Politics, that the Left-Right model has only given worsening consequences to a polity. A very interesting analysis on the Second World War is worth sharing:
The fact that the capitalists and entrepreneurs, faced with the alternative of Communism or Nazism, chose the latter, does not require any further explanation. They preferred to live as shop managers under Hitler than to be “liquidated” as “bourgeois” by Stalin. Capitalists don’t like to be killed any more than other people do. […] What pernicious effects may be produced by believing that the German workers are opposed to Hitler was proved by the English tactics during the first year of the war. The government of Neville Chamberlain firmly believed that the war would be brought to an end by a revolution of the German workers. Instead of concentrating on vigorous arming and fighting, they had their planes drop leaflets over Germany telling the German workers that England was not fighting this war against them, but against their oppressor, Hitler. […] What is wrong with Western civilization is the accepted habit of judging political parties merely by asking whether they seem new and radical enough, not by analyzing whether they are wise or unwise, or whether they are apt to achieve their aims. Not everything that exists today is reasonable; but this does not mean that everything that does not exist is sensible. The usual terminology of political language is stupid. What is “left” and what is “right”? Why should Hitler be “right” and Stalin, his temporary friend, be “left”? Who is “reactionary” and who is “progressive”? Reaction against an unwise policy is not to be condemned.
Therefore, the European Union politics has still not recovered from its left-right bourgeois-proletariat syndrome as of now, and so Greta Thunberg, Jeremy Corbyn, and Matteo Salvini. A balanced and real approach of foreign policy and adherence to rule of law can be understood by a beautiful pair of opponents in EU politics, who we have known for a decade or so. That pair is Vladimir Putin & Guy Verhofstadt. While Verhofstadt knew about Russia’s dominance intentions, Putin has been as Russian as the Soviets have been and has aimed at the mistakes the West has made in history. Putin is an autocrat undeniably, while Guy Verhofstadt is a lawyer, who advocates a communitarian, liberalized and federal approach of Europeanism. Often, the former Belgian PM has criticized Junker and Tusk, the former Heads of the European Commission and the European Council respectively. He has been at the centre of encouraging a pro-EU consolidated defence project to end the American reliance. His influence is shared by Emmanuel Macron, Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Merkel, and is being attributed to leaders like John Bercow of the House of Commons, the UK, Alexis Tsipras from Greece and even his opponent Nigel Farage. Now, under Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, after Brexit, even if Europe is divided on some issues, it is taking the approach of owning the moment of pragmatic reality, and reserving its cliche affair with the principles of ideal morality, which is good for a Schengen Area, a Common Market, and a protectionist data regime backed by the GDPR. If Europe can change and mend its ways, so India can too.
Now, there is ample evidence that India is democratic, and even the minorities especially Muslims have seen an increased representation in the Indian Parliament. The incidents of Mob Lynching and trolling on Social Media do create political imageries, but as humans in an evolving ‘realpolitik’, we must be prepared to fight our evils, and relinquish the old method of failed pro-European method of judgementalism in politics, in order to avoid constitutional and social redemptions in the Indian Society. Unless a Centrist coalition of parties or a party that endorses India’s spiritual heritage comes out, you would never see Modi and Shah leave the Indian politics.
The best example of Centre politics we can see is when we can (a) soften the Secularism v Hindutva battle for long; (b) End Populism or at least decapitate it; (c) endorse a sense of public accountability and trust in issues of governance and economic powerhouse to uplift the poor and the needy and (d) Eliminate the Left-Right concept forever in order to strengthen the concept of dissent and servility in politics at a better level of humility.
How and what that could be? Well, I would discuss that in my next article.