Modi 3 and the fruits of fiscal Tapasya

 

The following post is contributed by @saiarav from X or Yajnavalkya from Medium

Modi does the unthinkable – goes to polls with a non-populist (revdi-free) budget

At the start of this year, I had written about Modi’s excellent economic stewardship during his second term amidst a period of extreme economic turbulence globally – a once-in-a-century pandemic followed by a major war which roiled energy markets and rapid rate hikes in the West to combat inflation (Modi’s fiscal masterclass). I had noted then that Modi:

“has achieved the near impossible of following a disciplined fiscal policy while not just maintaining his political capital, actually expanding it”

But I had fully expected that he would open up the purse strings during the election year budget this February notwithstanding his public remonstrations against the growing revdi (freebies) culture. And for good reasons. One, Modi had gone in for a ‘revdi’ at the end of his first term in 2019 (the cash transfer scheme for 120 million farmers). And the economic scenario in 2024 was decidedly more mixed compared to 2019 with greater level of economic distress among the poor. Two, recent state elections had seen parties winning based on extremely aggressive freebie promises. For example, Congress won handsomely in Karnataka last year with promises of a slew of freebies (or welfare programs if you like) amounting to more than 2% of the state’s GDP. So I must not have been the only person who was stunned to see that Modi had decided that the normal rules of politics does not apply to him. And as of today, his judgment appears to be spot-on because the only debate about the 2024 elections appears to be what his margin of victory will be. The reasons for this  – the so-called “akshat-wave” after the Ram mandir inauguration, the opposition being in absolute shambles, the ever-increasing political stature of Modi – calls for a separate discussion. In this post, I peer into the future and see what Modi’s fiscal statesmanship could potentially mean for the country.

A 10-year long fiscal tapasya….

For reasons that are not entirely clear, fiscal conservatism has been an article of faith for Modi throughout his career as an administrator. He has held on to it steadfastly during his entire 10 years as the the Prime Minister. For anyone familiar with Indian politics, it is easy to appreciate how challenging it can be to stick to fiscal discipline even during times of buoyant revenues. This makes his unrelenting fiscal focus all the more remarkable considering that for most of his tenure, he has been hemmed in by weak tax revenues. Therefore, to call Modi’s 10 year long commitment to financial discipline as a tapasya (penance) would not be out of place.

…might finally yield a Rs.20T (~$50bn) -sized fruit during Modi-3

And Modi is on the cusp of reaping the fruits of that tapasya in his third term. Barring unexpected shocks – electoral and economic – he could be presiding over a period where the economy has sizeable fiscal resources to pursue its socio-economic goals; a rare event in independent India’s economic history. Underpinned by a solid cyclical recovery in the economy and strong buoyancy in tax collections (direct taxes likely grew at 20% in 2023-24, twice the pace of nominal GDP growth), Modi-3 is not only placed very comfortably to meets its 2025-26 fiscal deficit target of 4.5% (vs. 5.8% in 2023-24), it will also have its disposal, up to Rs.4 trillion of fiscal space during 2025-26 for spending on new programs or projects (or >1% of GDP) after meeting its regular revenue and capital expenditure obligations. That is the base case which assumes direct taxes grow at 15% annually. In a bull case of direct taxes continuing to grow at 20%, the above figure could be as high as Rs. 5.5 trillion. Further, this figure will continue to swell with each succeeding year as the economy expands and revenue growth outpaces the growth in base expenditure. During Modi’s third term, I estimate that the central government will have up to Rs.20 trillion of aggregate fiscal space for new programs/projects. Also, note that many of the programs of the central government include contribution from the states, which means the total fiscal resources available could be well higher than Rs. 20 trillion.

(For those interested in the math behind the above numbers, I discuss the same at the end of the post)        .

Potentially transformative, but availability of funds is not enough

What can one do with an annual budget of Rs.4 trillion? Well, for perspective, the Jal Jeevan Mission which was initiated in Modi’s second term with an annual budget outlay of Rs.0.7T (Rs.3.5T over 5 years, 60% funded by centre) will have provided tap water connections to 160 million households by end of 2024 (110 million connections provided as of April 2024). No commentary required on how transformative this project has been for the 100s of millions of beneficiaries.

In the first two terms, Modi’s focus was primarily on building physical infrastcucture – road building under Gadkari has been an unqualified success while in case of Railways, huge investments have been made, it is still a work-in-progress with mixed results so far. Even welfare schemes had a physical asset bias – from toilets to piped water to housing. While the government deserves a lot of credit for strong execution, it has to be underlined that these are relatively low-hanging fruits from a governance perspective. As the priority areas inevitably shift from road and railways to more complex ones, quality of policymaking, human capital and management will be the key drivers of outcomes, and not just availability of funds. To wit, it is way more difficult to develop 20 high quality IITs or a few hundred Kendriya Vidyalayas compared to building 100K kms of roads. Or just throwing around money into PLIs will not deliver a successful industrial policy.

An opportunity for Modi to cement his legacy – a wide range of focus areas to choose from

What areas Modi will prioritize with the Rs.4 trillion per year (~$50bn) of additional resources is anyone’s guess because this is one government which revels in keeping its plans a total secret. One can only say two things with certainty -one, Modi will be extremely keen to cement his legacy with a couple of flagship projects/programs which has a transformational impact on society. Two, the consummate politician that he is, he will have his eyes firmly on what programs will drive the optimal political benefit for the 2029 elections (and all the state elections over the next few years).

The list of potential programs is endless. Below, I discuss briefly a few ones which I see as critical ones. I classify them into 3 categories: A) long term strategic B) medium term economic growth and C) quality of life. Obviously, most of these programs will tick all three boxes, the classification is based on how a politician like Modi would want to see it. Admittedly, some of the resources might also simply get used up in standard fiscal management as well – ie Modi might simply want to reduce fiscal deficit at a faster pace, or execute the long pending reduction on tax surcharges on the rich or fill up the job vacancies in the government.

 

  1. Long-term strategic 
  • Increase defense capex spend – In contrast to his public image as a hawk on national security, the the spend on defense capex has been rather modest. In fact, as a % of GDP, it has dropped from the levels seen during UPA. With the China threat escalating in recent years, Modi would want to increase defense capex by at least 10 bps (100 bps = 1%), if not 20 bps and get back to UPA levels. That would be 0.35-0.70 trillion increase in annual outlay.

  • Increased R&D spend – India’s R&D spend is abysmally low at around 0.6% of GDP compared to 2.4% for China. The spend has seen a steady decline from the 2008 peak of 0.9% and private sector has shown very little inclination to spend on R&D with their contribution being only around one-third of the total spend whereas in countries like China and Korea, the figure is more than two-thirds. A key policy objective for the government, apart from increasing its own direct spend, should therefore be to bring in major policy incentives to crowd-in private investments in this area. As it happens, the government has already signaled that this will be a priority area in the third term, announcing a Rs.1 trillion fund to provide long-term interest free loans for R&D work. But much more needs to be done.
  • Energy security – There are two parts to this. One, as a major importer of oil & gas with demand continuing to grow for the forseeable future, the country needs to own equity in oilfields and LNG plants abroad to enhance its energy security. For example, if India wants to secure say ~20% of the nearly 5 million barrels/d of crude it will import this year, that will mean an investment of $40 billion. Of course, the investment will be done via the government owned oil companies and it will be partly funded via debt. But it might still entail the government infusing a $5-$10 billion of equity.

The second part is investment in energy transition. So far, the Modi government has bet big on solar but now it has also stated its intention of expanding its nuclear fleet (add 15 GW by 2030). While investments in solar power has been largely driven by private players, the government will need to play a big role in setting up nuclear plants. A back-of-envelope estimate for the cost of the plants would be $50 billion and it would be reasonable to assume that the government will have to invest close to half of that amount.

  1. Medium-term economic growth 
  • A PLI-powered industrial policy – An easy prediction to make is that a turbo-charged PLI program will be the topmost priority for Modi-3. After all, the biggest failure of Modi- 1& 2 has been the inability to kickstart growth of the industrial sector and deliver well-paying manufacturing jobs to to a burgeoning labor force. Success or failure to deliver on this during the third term will likely be the most consequential factor in 2029. With the success of the modest sized PLI programs so far, Modi will look to bet much bigger sums on the program. But, at the risk of repetition, PLI itself will not be sufficient. A lot more work needs to be done in terms of improving ease of Doing Business, bringing down land costs, labor laws, building a skilled workforce and so on. One specific area where I really hope Modi-3 focusses on is building a vibrant EV industry (nah, not the two-wheelers, cars are the real deal). We are already a few years behind almost every major auto market globally on EVs. If China is the undisputed leader in EVs today, it is because the government has pumped in nearly $200bn into the industry via subsidies, grants and incentives over the last two decades.
  • Agriculture – The government would be keen on doing something transformative in this sector, not least because it is still the largest vote bank, but I am not sure ploughing in large sums of money will solve the structural issues bedeviling the sector. Having got their fingers burnt during the second term with the farm laws, it is unclear to me what major policy action they could take up for this sector.

 

  1. Quality of life
  • Urban housing and infrastructure – Another easy prediction to make is this (especially urban housing) will be one of the biggest focus areas in the third term given Modi’s penchant for physical infratsrructure. The political dividends will be way higher than what he has received for roads since the change will not just be very visible to the average voter, it will also have deeply positive impact on his day-to-day life. Modi has already delivered well on rural housing but urban housing will be way more challenging, not least due to scarcity of land and a large, ever-increasing migrant population. It will require well-thought out policies and mich greater co-ordiation with the state and local governments
  • Health and education – The public investment in health and education has been woefully short forever and that trend has continued thru the Modi years. Between the two, I think Modi will focus on health because the political benefits accrue faster and it is also relatively less difficult to execute compared to education. On paper, both these sectors can easily absorb, individually, an additional 0.5% of GDP (I.e. almost the entire Rs.4 trillion fiscal space) given the historical underspend in the sectors. But, more than any other programs, funding is a much lesser factor compared to the ability to build quality organisations which can deliver.

The fiscal math

Assumptions 

  • Nominal GDP grows at 11% (6.5% real and 4.5% inflation)
  • Direct taxes grow at 15% annually while GST grows at 13%
  • Divestment (both PSU equity and physical assets) per year of Rs1.25 trillion

 Fiscal deficit falls to 4.5% by 2025-26 and below 3% by 2028-29.

A few points:

  • 2024-25E total capex was Rs. 11.1T but this included equity infusions to BSNL and funds for the Science Fund which will not be repeated.
  • The Jal Jeevan Mission wich has an outlay of Rs 0.7T in 2024-25 comes to and end during the fiscal year, hence lower growth in revenue expenditure in the next year. That, in turn, adds to the fiscal space.
  • Run-rate capex is for ongoing projects across various sectors – more than half of it is for Roads and Railways. The assumption is that the allocation to the two sectors have peaked and will see more a modest 8% growth growth forward.
  • Higher growth baked into 2026-27 revenue expenditure to factor in 8th Pay Commission.

 

Indian Muslims and the partition vote

The following post is contributed by @saiarav from X or Yajnavalkya from Medium

The 1946 vote and the Muslim mandate for partition

The 1946 elections remains inarguably the most consequential election within the Indian Subcontinent. Jinnah’s Muslim League (ML)went into the polls with a single-point agenda of partition and the Muslim voters responded with feverish enthusiasm, delivering a crushing victory for ML across all provinces, thereby paving the way for partition. The party won an overwhelming 75% of the Muslim votes and 87% of the Muslim seats, and except for NWFP, its minimum seat share was 82% (see table below). Of note, provinces from current day India -places like Bombay and Madras, which had zero chance of being part of a future Pakistan – gave a 100% mandate to Jinnah.

(for those who are not aware, we had a communal electorate at that time which meant Muslim voters would vote exclusively for Muslim seats)

Ayesha Jalal’s Jinnah The Sole Spokesman, P.172
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1946_Indian_provincial_elections#:~:text=Indian%20adult%20population.-,Results,constituencies%20in%20the%20provincial%20legislatures.

Facts belie claims of Muslim society non-representation in mandate

As regarding the role (culpability?) of the Indian Muslim society in facilitating partition, establishment historians put forth two arguments. One, Jinnah had kept the Pakistan promise deliberately vague and hence the voters did not realise what they were voting for. Two, the overwhelming mandate from the voters cannot be taken as representative of the sentiments the whole society as only a tiny proportion of Muslims had the right to vote. The first one is a qualitative debate and can be debated endlessly. But the second assertion is easier to examine since we have actual voting and demographic data and that is what I will endeavour to do in this post. I reference one specific claim which is quite popular in social media — that the mandate was only from 14% Muslim adult population, based on an article written by a leading X handle, Rupa Subramanya, who has a rather interesting history with respect to her ideological leanings.

The analysis that follow will show that at least one adult member (mostly male) from close to 40% of the Muslim households in British Indian provinces and at least 25% of Muslim adults were eligible to vote .

I cannot emphasize enough that this is not something which should be used to question Indian Muslims of today. The founding fathers of the modern Indian nation made a solemn promise to Muslims that they will be equal citizens of this nation and that should be unconditionally honoured. But as a society, we should have the courage and honesty to acknowledge historical facts rather than seek to build communal peace on a foundation of lies, as the left historians have done; Noble intentions are not an excuse. Talking of fake history, one cannot but marvel at the sheer degree of control over the narrative of the establishment historians that they have managed to perpetrate the claim about the 1946 vote for more than seven decades when there is hard quantitative data available on number of voters, the country’s adult population etc. One can only imagine the kind of distortions they would have done to medieval history where obfuscation would have been infinitely easier.

Some basic facts about the 1946 elections

I will start off with some facts and estimates which are broadly indisputable.

A) The 1946 provincial elections was limited only to British Indian provinces

The 1946 elections was limited to provinces directly ruled by the British which accounted for roughly 3/4 of British India’s population. While the provincial representatives in turn elected 296 members of the Constituent Assembly, the princely states nominated 93 members the constituent assembly, i.e in proportion to their respective population. With ML bagging 73 of the 78 Muslim seats in CA, the partition debate was as good as sealed.

B) 28% of the adult population of the provinces was eligible to vote

The total strength of the electorate was 41.1 million voters while the total population of Indian provinces was 299 million. Taking into account only the adult population (age of 20+, ~50% of the population), it implied 28% of the population were eligible to vote.

(data is sourced from Kuwajima, Sho, , Manohar, New Delhi, 1998, p. 47.)

C) An estimated 25% of the adult Muslim population of the provinces were eligible to vote

While I am unable to source the actual data for the percent of eligible voters within Muslim community, there is no reason to think it would be an order of magnitude lower than the overall 28% number. As I show in the Appendix, voter and turnout data indicates the number should be in the 25% range, if not higher; i.e. about 9 million Muslims out of 37 million adult Muslim population in the provinces were enfranchised.

D) Close to 40% of Muslim households had members eligible to vote

The 28%/25% voter ratio discussed above is skewed by the fact that very few women were allowed to vote. Only 9% of adult females had voting rights which in turn implied that 46% of adult males had voting rights. (Source: Kuwajima, Sho). If we assume the same proportion for Muslim females, that would imply little over 40% of Muslim adult males were enfranchised.

E) 75% of the 6 million Muslim votes went to ML

4.5 million Muslims voted for Muslim League out of a total 6 million Muslim votes cast from an electorate size of 9.2 million. Of note, there is no major urban-rural divide — the figure for rural areas is 74% vs 79% for urban areas.

Muslim mandate way more broadbased than projected in mainstream narrative

Based on the above data, at the very least, one has to concede that 25% of the Muslim society had a say on the issue of Pakistan and three-quarters of that group did vote for creation of an independent Muslim State. This severely undercuts the claim that only a tiny elite voted for Pakistan — Rupa’s 14% figure, for example, is clearly wrong **. But even the argument that the bottom 75% had no say on the issue is inaccurate because the voting rights were not just based on class, but also on gender. As noted above, close to 40% of adult male Muslims were enfranchised — in other words, 40% of Muslim households had an adult member who could vote. And of this 40%, three-fourths or 30% chose to vote for Pakistan. That clearly means that a much larger cross-section of the Muslim society had a say than just a tiny elite or the educated middle classes (or the salariat class as Ayesha Jalal calls it). This appears to be a more reasonable interpretation of a mandate given the context of the time when universal for women was still a new or evolving concept in many advanced democracies.

** The error that Rupa makes in arriving at the 14% figure is two-fold. One, she takes the adult Muslim population for entire British India (~44 million) whereas the elections were held only for provinces (~37 million). Second, she uses actual voter turnout (6 million) instead of the total size of the Muslim electorate (~9.2 million).

What are some of the counterarguments to the above interpretation?

A) What about the fact that the Muslims in princely states had no vote?

This argument, on the face of it, is not without merit. But one needs to be honest about framing it — this is not a case of a vertical class divide in enfranchisement but a horizontal regional divide. Therefore, the proponents of the non-representative nature of the mandate will have to make the case that the Muslim subjects of the princely states would have taken a significantly different view on Pakistan versus the ones in the provinces, just harping on the class divide will just not cut it.

Let us look at what the data can tell us. The adult Muslim population from the princely states would be another 8 million. Based on 1941 census data nearly 60% would be from three large states — Hyderabad (17%), Punjab (18%) and Kashmir (24%). Is there any reason to believe that the Muslims of Hyderabad or Punjab would have voted very differently versus their neighbor provinces of Madras Presidency or Punjab province? A debate on this issue is beyond the scope of this post but I would say that the burden is on those making the “non-representative mandate” argument to make that case.

For the record, if we take total Muslim population figure, then the proportion of adult and male adult enfranchisement of Muslim community would go down to 21% and 34% respectively

B) Muslim women were largely excluded

As noted earlier only about 9% of adult women were enfranchised. Assuming a similar (or lower) figure for Muslim women, indeed they had little say on the matter. One interesting aspect is that even among the Muslim women eligible to vote, very few seem to have turned up to vote. Only 15K of them voted which would be a turnout in the low single digits at best! But among those who did vote, more than 50% voted for ML, which is admittedly well below the overall support of 75%. But still, the fact is that a slim majority of Muslim women too voted for Pakistan. Also, electoral mandates need to be interpreted based on the context of that time and broadbased women suffrage was still at a relatively early stage even in more advanced democracies.

C) Hey! only 4.5 million out 37 million Muslim adults voted for ML

This would mean only 12% of adult Muslims expressed support for Pakistan. In a very narrow mathematical sense, this is, of course. right. But this is just not how electoral mandates are interpreted in any democracy. If one uses this yardstick, it would mean Presidents in one of the world’s oldest democracies, have been consistently elected with support of just a quarter of the electorate because voter turnout in US has generally been around 50%. The ones who had the right to vote but chose not to exercise it will need to be excluded from any interpretation of the mandate.

Conclusion — acknowledge history and move on

Partition has a cast a long shadow on Hindu-Muslim relationship and perhaps it was a wise decision in the immediate aftermath to underplay the Indian Muslim community’s role in it. But a fiction cannot be the basis for a permanent peace. At some point, we will all have to collectively acknowledge the historical facts and have the maturity to move on. One additional problem also is that this fictional narrative about the mandate further feeds into the Muslim victimhood that they had chosen a secular India over a Islamic Pakistan and have been betrayed by rising Hindu majoritarianism. A honest appraisal of history might perhaps lead to a more constructive political strategy.

Appendix — estimate of eligible voter percent within Muslim community

A) The Muslim population in the provinces was 79.4 million. Given higher birth rate among Muslims, the adult population is lower than the national average — using Pakistan’s 1951 census data as a proxy, I estimate the adult Muslim population to be 47% or 37 million.

B) Total number of Muslim votes cast was 6 million (Ayesha Jalal)

C) Average turnout across communities was around 65%

D) If one assumes a similar turnout for Muslims, then the total electoral size for Muslims comes to 9.2 million which implies 25% of adult Muslim population was eligible to vote. It is quite likely that the turnout was much lower because the turnout amongst Muslim women was abysmally low (Ayesha Jalal)

So it is reasonable to conclude that at least 25% of the adult Muslim population living in the provinces were enfranchised in 1946.

Browncast with J Sai Deepak

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

The podcast was a good experience – a free flowing discussion without much structure. Retrospectively I felt I could have intervened more on some points or countered some of the answers, but I am overall happy with the discussion.

I hope I have this opportunity again to discuss a few more things with Sai.

 

The Die is Cast: the death of Indian Liberalism

More than 2 years ago I had appeared on the Brownpundits podcast to elucidate a moderate liberal opposition to the Juggernaut of BJP under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi. My political position back then is clear in this interview. My political hope for the 2019 election was a reduced majority for BJP in 2019 to counter some of the nasty excesses which come up in Indian politics when a political party gains absolute power. I was sympathetic to moderate/liberal Hindutva – as in I would have preferred a Gadkari over Modi for what it’s worth. Being a skeptical person by nature, I had never swallowed the whole agenda driven home by Indian and Global Liberal Media viz Cow lynchings or Saffronisation of textbooks or so-called Intolerance debate. My primary criticisms of the BJP government from 2014 to 2019 were the abuse of independent institutions – especially the courts and reserve bank and especially the win-at-all costs mentality when it came to elections – including Hindu-Muslim polarization during elections.

In spite of all my public and social criticisms of the Government and Hindutva project, for most part of the election campaign I considered voting for BJP as the alternative to Modi appeared scarier than anything Modi offered. However, the nomination of Sadhvi Pragya from the Bhopal seat was something I could not digest.


It would be clear to the regular followers on this blog or my followers on twitter or elsewhere that my political orientation has somewhat changed, so let me attempt to flesh out what has been the change and how it came about. One blogpost which summarizes my political/social position in 2020 as liberal is here.


Article 370:

The position of Congress and a whole lot of “opposition” on changes to article 370 (apart from AAP/BSP) is objectively disconnected from ground reality (as was their criticism of Indian government action in Balakot). Nationalism in Indian context has never been associated with the bad odour of European Nationalism, but this reality seems increasingly lost on Indian Liberals.

CAA NRC protests and Delhi Riots:

I had described CAA as “the Straw that broke the camel’s back” back in 2020, but the CAA agitations themselves had raised serious doubts in my minds about the Liberal project wrt protests. In retrospect Islam wasn’t just the rock that broke liberalism, but Islam was the rock used by Liberals to attempt to break Hindutva while Liberalism itself became collateral damage. The unconstitutional and often violent protests which led to loss of crores worth of property and finally riots in the national capital were not merely supported but actively encouraged on by Indian Liberals. I had a written the following article calling out the illiberalism of the liberals over the Bloomsbury Delhi riots fiasco. In essence the position a huge segment of Indian liberals espoused was “Free speech till I like it”. I unsubscribed from Newslaundry after a lot of to and fro debates in the letters to Newslaundry section. I continued with my subscription of Swarajya and the Print. I would see this as my transition from Center-Left to Center. 

Only the truly deluded would call a riot where 25+% dead are from the majority community (with apparent state support) a pogrom or carnage, but this was a fairly mainstream view in Indian liberal circles.

Covid

The covid lockdowns truly brought out two extremes in Modi Government’s responses to the problem from the knee jerk overreaction in 2020 to the casual underreaction in March-April 2021. A lot of blame that the government received from all sides was justified, but where justified outrage gives way to sedition or atrocity-porn is often difficult to discern. Yet from the coverage of 2nd wave, it’s fair to say that Indian liberal media (in sync with western media) was extremely unfair in handling India – much to the detriment of Indian image worldwide.

While initial vaccine policy of the Modi government was rightly panned by commentators on all sides of the spectrum, till this day I have not come across a serious liberal voice who is happy with the vaccination program undertaken by the Modi government (an exercise unlike any other in the history for its sheer scale).

Farm Laws: 

The Government subsidised policies like (i) Rice production in Northwest India, or the (ii) Sugar production in UP and MH have been among the worst agro-economic policies in the 21st century. There is almost a global economic consensus in the need jettison the MSP driven subsidies, for their economic as well as environmental impact. In early 2021, traders, landowners and farmers from 2.5 states with immense help from inside and outside the country, brought a government with majorities in both houses of the parliament on its knees. If a government with comfortable majorities, popular mandate cannot introduce reforms which are popular with the majority of Indian electorate (including farmers), it speaks volumes of the Negative Veto that immensely small minorities can hold over the strongest government this country has seen in 3 decades.

If a Modi government with 304 seats in the Lok Sabha (350 for NDA) cannot bring in much needed reforms, a BJP minority government wouldn’t even be able carry out attacks it carried out against Pakistan. So much for the moderate centrist position for checks and balances. In essence, India remains a democracy with extremely weak state where heckler’s veto is so mainstreamed that moderate centrism is nothing but naiveté at best.

Journalistic integrity (Eg: Lavanya suicide): 

I had published this rant when the Lavanya controversy broke on social media. To this day I do not cannot say with certainty if the episode was exactly as represented in the Hindutva social media, but it did make the hypocrisy of coverage pretty clear to me. On its own, this episode isn’t a particularly outrageous one (among a pattern of Liberal media coverage) but this particularly made the Liberal media pattern clearer to me than it had ever been before. The constant gaslighting of atrocities on Hindus owing to fears of Hindu majoritarianism across the board has gone unnoticed for long enough.

Hijab Controversy: 

The fact that in year 2022, a dozen girls under the influence of now banned PFI, can hold schools at an impasse over their “right” to drape themselves in a modesty garb (not the headscarf – Hijab is translated loosely as a modesty garment). On the liberal side, only Shekhar Gupta had understood the potential significance of controversy. Given the stance Indian liberals took during the Karnataka Hijab controversy, their silence on Iranian Anti Hijab protests isn’t surprising but consistent with the Faustian bargain they have committed.

Kashi Vishwanath – Nupur Sharma controversy:

The court verdict of the Kashi Vishwanath excavations notwithstanding, the claims of the Hindu side regarding the existence of Shivling in the Wuzu khana is something difficult to digest for even the most irreligious Hindus (like myself). While it’s imperative to disassociate the acts of medieval religious fanatics from Muslim population today, all the actions of the previous 300 years (if the continued existence of Shivling in Wuzu khana is proven) cannot be wished away. I had personally never been a fan of so-called Truth and Reconciliation program, as I favored the view that contemporary problems don’t need to have their solutions in the history, but this episode has thrown a heavy wrench into that pet-theory of mine.

The Nupur Sharma episode which followed, particularly the antics of “Fart-Checkers” made the binary even clearer with principles being were jettisoned wholesale. An example below:

Munawar Faruqi continues to gain meaningful livelihood in India, Nupur Sharma has no option but to spend the rest of her life as Salman Rushdie did in the 90s and 2000s. A dozen or so Hindus who have committed the act of “blasphemy” have already given up their lives in last 10 years of Hindu resurgence. 100 years after the ethnic cleansing of Kohat Hindus over blasphemy the house of Congress MLA was torched in BJP ruled Karnataka over Newton’s Third Law Blasphemy. What has changed in last 100 years? Additionally, in 2022 the Umesh Kolhe and Kanhaiyalal murders are objectively worse as they weren’t even accused of blasphemy themselves.

An important point worth noting here is, Umesh Kolhe was murdered on 21st June, the news of his death at hands of Islamists only became public on 2-3rd July after Shinde-Fadnavis wrestled the political reins of Maharashtra from the hands of the “Secular” MVA.

Indic/Bharatiya movements:

While I have my disagreements with the Decoloniality movement – crystalized in J Sai Deepak’s India that is Bharat series (my reviews: book 1book 2), the movement is one of immense consequence. My own views have changed a lot over last 3-4 years on topics like Temple control, “Coloniality and its legacy” etc after honest engagements (with disagreements) with these thoughts. The colonial hangover is something which has impacted minds of all Indians growing up to a large extent – be it due to Textbooks, Media, Pop-culture. However, once we become aware of some of the inherent biases of these institutions, the impact they had in shaping us will be somewhat eroded with time.

Kashmir Files: (My Review)

Objectively speaking Kashmir files can be proved to be less biased than Haider. While Kashmir files has no positive Muslim character, Haider has no positive Pro-India Kashmiri. Haider was a concoction of imagination while Kashmir files is based entirely on facts (though it can be accused of being selective). Yet Haider was well received by Indians of all ideological spectrum (when it was initially released) while every attempt to discredit Kashmir files was made by the almost the entire Liberal Media and Entertainment industry. Clearly a film like Kashmir files could not have been released hadn’t it been for the overwhelming majority enjoyed by BJP at the Centre.

Love Jihad:

Data points about Cow theft lynching in the range of noise were enough to make India “Lychistan” globally, while statistically significant cases (in the range of hundreds over last 7-8 years) of inter-faith abuse/fraud – more colloquially known as Love-Jihad, was looked at as a conspiracy theory by even Hindutvavadis till a few years ago. Now thanks to the fearless reporting by the likes of Swati Goel among others, “Love Jihad” cases are coming to light at a truly alarming rate. Personally, I have been hearing such cases for at least 2 decades, but I have never taken these rumors or conspiracies seriously. From a purely sociological perspective, it seems an inevitability given the trajectories of various communities in India.

History and perspective:

What one gains out of reading world history is context. Systemic Oppression was a norm and not an outlier in all societies just its flavor varied according to culture. A member of so-called Oppressor Group, guilt tripped into the real and imagined sins of his ancestors will inevitably gain a different perspective about his/her history once he/she reads world history more thoroughly. The “enlightened” position of jettisoning all traditions – lock stock and barrel, appears over the top after getting 30000 feet view of history. As a result, one learns to love and own their own culture without the necessity to always feel ashamed for the past, thus being more committed to defending it.

Coming to recent history, the Pakistan movement remains incompletely studied in school curriculums as well as pop history. Books like Creating a New Medina, MJ Akbar’s Tinderbox (Review by Maneesh Taneja) and now J Sai Deepak’s India Bharat and Pakistan are shattering the hold of mainstream and popular historians the popular discourse. After reading both sides of the history of Islamic exceptionalism in India, one can’t help noticing the unnerving parallels in the events leading to the Khilafat movement in 20th century to events in 21st century.

Being judgmental of the Indian leaders of the 20th century may be unfair, but not learning from their mistakes would be downright foolish. For all the mistakes they may have committed with the benefit of hindsight, the likes of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel in all likelihood understood the unique problem posed to Indian civilization by Islamic exceptionalism. Their tactics and strategies may have been proven wrong, but one can at least say they understood the problem they were facing. Can the same be said about the “Secular” leadership today? Or does the RSS with its moderate face in 2022 play the role of Indian national congress in 1940s and 1950s? Maybe – Maybe not, but the “Secular opposition” today is far removed from the position of even Nehru, let alone Gandhiji or Sardar Patel.

the Other side:

All the points mentioned above cannot whitewash any of the fair criticism (of which bucket load exists) of the Hindutva movement in general and the Modi government in particular. I continue to hold the view that the Abrahamisation of Hinduism is undesirable. I also continue to think the Hindu view of Cow-protection is extremely unpragmatic in the 21st century market driven economy with a population of 1.3 billion. The Bilkis Bano remission cannot be anything but a blot on Indian civilization as a whole. I am extremely skeptical of the apparent resurgence of Hindu orthodoxy visible on Twitter (though one can’t be sure of its implications on the ground). My reservations around the cult of personality of the Narendra Modi remain as strong as ever but it would be childish to deny the fact that Hindutva needs Modi. Almost all the criticisms of authoritarian tendencies one can make of the BJP are criticisms one can make of the opposition with more fervor. (Ketaki Chitale, Arnab Goswami, Bengal violence etc etc).

the Die is cast:

I had read Rajiv Malhotra’s “Breaking India” 7 years ago, I had agreed 50% with his thesis (though I was a BJP supporter back then). More importantly I had found the remaining 50% far-fetched, overstated and conspiratorial. I don’t think I need to re-read the book to claim that I would agree with around 80-90% of the book’s thesis today. From celebrity activists expressing solidarity with Farm law protestors to 9/11 being chosen for Dismantling Global Hindutva, the global anti Hindu/India conspiracy angle doesn’t appear far-fetched if one keeps an open mind and consumes information from all sides of the spectrum. Links of the Communist-Missionary nexus with protests like Sterlite copper plant or the Dravidian or Ambedkarite movements is now out in the open. The manufactured controversies around Mohammad Shami and Arshdeep Singh were so transparent that I am astounded more honest people from the Liberal side haven’t picked it up. Ditto for the call of Arab intervention in Indian domestic affairs – an act even Owaisi condemns in public.

I generally avoid using larger than life words like civilizational cause and arc of history or existential crisis. But the 2.5 front war is here, and it is not a merely political war but a civilizational one. In this context, Liberal Idealism which I once espoused appears to be just another face of pompous and self-righteous naiveté.

As Christopher Hichens famously put it

The barbarians never take a city until someone holds the gates open to them.

The DIE is CAST, Indian liberalism is dead. We might as well pick sides.

 

Book Review: India, Bharat and Pakistan – a Not so Gentle Reminder

Lawyer and author J Sai Deepak is back with the book of his India that is Bharat Quadrology. I had reviewed his first book India that is Bharat almost a year back – you can find my review here.

The Summary: 

J Sai Deepak’s second book dissects the time from the fall of the Mughal empire to the Khilafat movement relying heavily on the tools developed in the first book and a vast number of primary sources. The author also investigates the trail of the Islamic doctrine consolidated during the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri (compiled on orders of Aurangzeb) back to the 13th century Islamic scholar Taymiyyah and Syed Ahmad Sirhindi (a contemporary of Mughal Emperor Akbar).

The two figures covered in detail among the post Mughal Ulema are Shah Wahiullah Dehlawi and Syed Ahmad Baraelvi – the two giants who have shaped the Islamic revivalism in the 18th century. The establishment of Wahhabi power center in Northwest of Punjab, establishment of the various schools of Islam in North India – Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Ali-garh and the British crackdown of Wahhabism are all discussed in sufficient detail before jumping off to Syed Ahmad Khan and the modern genesis of the two-nation theory. The author then covers all the important events from the Partition of Bengal to the Khilafat movement – relying heavily on primary sources. The book ends with a summary of the Khilafat riots – especially the Mopla massacre.

My 2 Annas:

It took me 3 weeks to complete the first section of the book. I completed the rest of the book in 2 days. I think this statement itself is a review in a nutshell. If I had to give a one phrase review for book 1 it would be “Overstated yet immensely Consequential“, if I have to do the same for book 2 it would be “About time or Oh My Gods“. This is not to say I don’t have disagreements with the book – especially some of author’s conclusions, but the overwhelming thrust of the book is something I strongly agree with.

Firstly, the book busts all the popular notions of two-nation theory and it being solely a creation of the British. The author effectively traces the modern origins of the two-nation theory to Syed Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh movement at the very least. The book also covers some of the lesser-known events from the 19th century – the Wahhabi movement and the conflict in the Northwestern frontier province. The book makes it abundantly clear that Islamic revivalism was less a reaction to Colonialism and more a reaction to Hindu and Sikh resurgence. The fact that both the British and Muslims saw each other as closer religiously and hence more acceptable/worthy instead of the “Hindu” is driven through via a vast number of primary sources. 

The common trope among the secular (even Hindutva discourse) about the Syncretic nature of Sufis is addressed (though I felt the author didn’t fully go into this question).

Location 528

Pan-Islamism and its proponents – especially Al-Afghani are also covered in the book.

Secondly, the book also goes into origins and progress of “Moderate Nationalism” under Indian National Congress right up to the ascendency of the “Mahatma”. I had expected the author to be slightly unfair to the Indian National congress and especially the role of Gandhiji but to my surprise he hasn’t. Though some conclusions may seem a tad unfair at times but because the author relies heavily on primary references the “judgement” is moderated. Most importantly the support of Khilafat which is put firmly on the shoulders of Gandhiji in Hindutva circles, is clearly shown to be a mainstream view of Indian National Congress years before ascendency of Gandhiji, absolving Gandhiji of some of the blame.

The inability of the “Indian nationalism led by Hindus” in dealing the Islamic exceptionalism both before and during the period of “Hindu-Muslim” harmony is on display in the book. The author compares “Coloniality” of the Hindus to the “Rootedness” and “Intransigence” of Muslims for these defeats. Whereas there can be no doubt that Muslim “Intransigence” was important, I find the blame laid on “Coloniality” not watertight.

Take example of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kemal Pasha “Attaturk”. Both were modernizers who tried to jettison the past of their respective countries. What separated them both wasn’t any rootedness or lack of deracination – but a personal attribute, namely political ruthlessness, incidentally something Mohammad Ali Jinnah shared. Kemal Pasha not only broke the tradition of the Khalifa but also forced the Roman alphabet overnight on the Turks. Similarly, in India the two heads who had the most clear-eyed vision of the thread of Islamic exceptionalism were Dr Ambedkar and Veer Savarkar (both “Modernists”). I would instead put the blame on Hindu naivete which is an unfortunate byproduct of Hindu Pluralism – we simply never understood the other. Most of our ReConquistadors (with notable exceptions) did not pursue Reconversions.

Another thing I found mildly irritating in the book (continued from book one) – is the use of the term Middle eastern coloniality/consciousness. Ironically the term “Middle Eastern” itself reeks of its Western Colonial origins. I would have used the term Islamic or Arabic instead, but this is sematic disagreement which doesn’t matter much.

a Not so Gentle Reminder:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results“.

The disagreements with the author’s conclusions notwithstanding, the book is a not so Gentle Reminder for the India that is Bharat. In retrospect, the compromises Bharatiya nationalism offered, from accepting disproportionate Muslim representation to supporting the fanatical Khilafat movement, may have worked against the Indian civilization itself. While it may be unfair to excessively blame the Bharatiya leaders from the past, it’s imperative to call out those who are flirting with the same approach in the 21st century (incidentally my position a few years ago). Essentially the Hindu leadership made a Faustian bargain and sold their brains. Though Swatyantraveer Savarkar is almost absent from the book, he cast a long shadow in my mind while I read the book.

Another popular trope I felt the author could have busted was the trope that Islamic intransigence in India is largely the legacy of “it having been spread by the sword”. The Mopla carnage was undertaken by descendants of Arab traders who came without any major conflict. Maybe violent intransigence and exclusivity is a feature not a bug.

The book becomes unputdownable after the Lucknow Pact, as the Hindu-Muslim unity discussed here which didn’t even last a decade remains as relevant today as ever. The riots covered in the end of the book – especially the Mopla carnage is almost unbearable to read reminding the reader of Kashmir. The letter by Annie Beasant to Gandhiji stands out. The book also brings into focus some of the lesser-known riots like Kohat. Incidentally the trigger for the Kohat ethnic cleansing was blasphemy, a topic which continues to remain as relevant as ever.

As I write this review a century after Mopla Riots, raids are conducted on Popular Front of India members while the PFI supporters can call for Hartals with partial success in Malabar coast. If the first book was a red pill in a blue jacket (Akshay Alladi (@akshayalladi) / Twitter), this is a केसरी (Saffron) pill in a green jacket.

I have skipped over many topics from the book in this review for brevity, but I would urge the reader of this post to buy and read this book in its entirety and engage with the uncomfortable facts it lays down infront of us.

The book ends with the following quote

Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The above line becomes even more relevant especially give the way history is taught in India. I would end this review with a quote (in one of its many forms) most people reading this review would recognize.

अश्वत्थामा हतः इति, नरो वा कुंजरोवा !

Khalid Baig on Indian Nationalism and Islam

 

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode Gaurav chats with Khalid Baig – an Indian Nationalist on a wide range of topics – Indian nationalism, Hindu-Muslim relations, Hindutva and bright future of India. Khalid Baig and Amana Ansari Begam also run a very popular Youtube show called India This Week By Amana & Khalid – YouTube.

We also chatted to his co-host Amana Ansari Begam a few months back – Amana Begam Ansari on Muslims and Women in India – Brown Pundits

 

Kashmir Files : Short Review

Short Review
#KashmirFiles – forgive my typos and terseness – i posted this in a hurry
 
I was pleasantly surprised by how effective the movie was in conveying what it started out doing. I had a very low bar after Tashkent files. Some would take umbrage to the Loud direction at times. Personally I think that was vivek agnihotri’s choice and overall the Loudness has the desired effect. Having seen more gory scenes in Visual medium and read more graphic details about Kashmir Pandit I did think the violence was NOT overdone though Loud at times. Rather some of the more ghastly things documented were not shown. RAPE which was common and effective tool used by Kashmiri Islamists to scare Pandits wasnt depicted in the movie. Anupam kher shines, among his finest performances. I even liked Mithun’s role. Darshan Kumar also pulled through on a tough role (though with glitches).
Overall acting is just above average – especially by actors in crucial moments in the film which somehow let me down – especially during the final monologue. It could’ve packed more punch with a flawless monologue like that of Kay Kay from Gulaal but it didn’t. 
As a result I didnt get emotional watching the movie (except maybe the Biscuit scene by Anupam Kher) while I had shed some tears while reading Pandita’s moving memoir. To the readers, I would still recommend Pandita’s book over this movie but this movie will reach places which a book could never do. Book Review: Our moon has blood clots | by Gaurav Lele | Medium
Sad that a fine mind like Pandita has not *yet talked about the impact of the film (probably due to history with the director).
 
But most importantly the movie does what only a movie can (not books or newspapers or even podcasts). So it’s a very necessary counter weight movie especially in company of Haider and Mission Kashmir. The criticism I had watching was the absence of positive Kashmiri Muslim characters who helped Pandits risking their lives (though the final monologue makes that point along with many other nuances). Personally I think that’s not fair depiction but award winner “Haider” didn’t have a single positive Pro India character – all Kashmiris who were pro India were corrupt – so maybe judging Kashmir files with that level of harshness itself isn’t fair.
In that space #KashmirFiles corrects a lot of narrative around the Kashmir in general in Pop culture and also tells the stories of the Kashmiri Hindus with focus solely on their plight.
 
There are some errors and unbelievable plot points. The characters (5 dinner table characters) appear half baked and under acted at times. In many places multiple character arcs are fused into a single character which leaves things undercooked.
I also felt the #Article370 part is overplayed and made simplistic and dumbed down. That part almost feels like propaganda for current BJP government. Ofcourse it’s part of story so that’s fine in a story. #KashmirFiles
Personally I felt the multiple Amarnath killings should have also been part of the film – whose aim was to further prevent any attempts to lay claim to Hindu legacy of Kashmir. But @vivekagnihotri can’t get it all inside the movie.
JNU is naturally shown caricaturish – but frankly I care far more about Kashmiri Muslim caricature than JNU caricature. Also don’t think the bright minds of Azadi in JNU would be seed any space in one monologue :). But maybe that was wishful thinking by director. The use of CAA protest fame song – Hum Dekhenge is at times not loud but effective nonetheless.
 
In summary the movie shifts the Pop Culture pendulum on Kashmir to its end powerfully (probably overcompensates a bit), but is no means is it a complete film – its a message meant primarily to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri Hindu community. But it does so (with exception of the final monologue) making a caricature of Kashmiri Muslims as either fanatics or cowards when there have been documented instances of Kashmiri Muslims risking their lives for India in general and Pandits in particular. But that is what you get when the only person willing to voice this issue honestly is Vivek Agnihotri – when Bollywood in 30 years came up with ZERO films on this tragedy and what they managed at last was the PC and poorly made Shikara. In that context you have to not only live with Kashmir Files but somewhat embrace its core message.
 
Kashmir files uses a lot of Hindu imagery and symbolism – sometimes subtly sometimes overtly. I felt the use of Shiv makeup Anupam Kher was deliberate – especially in the light of retrospective offense taken by newly aware(woke?) Hindus about the Shiv scene from PK. 
#KashmirFiles has started a conversation and hopefully later entries in the debate will add more nuance which is missing in the movie.

Hindutva, Asabiya and Apostacy

This particular blogpost is triggered by the following thread

It has been fashionable for long to use historic Hindu pluralism as a defense against claims of rising intolerance. The above Twitter thread was spawned by comparisons (premature IMO) of Hindutva rage at Beef eating by “members of the one’s tribe” to the Islamic practice of Takfiri and apostasy. The fears of liberals like Dhume may be exaggerated, but the potential of Apostacy and Takfiri memes arising in Hindutva needs to be inspected.

Historically, Hinduism (especially Brahmanical) had a concept similar to Takfiri. However, unlike Islam, this concept in Hinduism was mostly associated with Ritual purity and orthodoxy and rarely had political manifestations. I am naturally talking about social ostracization. This ostracization was not only limited to the Untouchables, but also to those Savarnas who went against the prevailing orthodoxies and customs. About this, we have a good number of examples in the Medieval period (especial Bhakti movement) but not many in the ancient period. Dr. Ambedkar in his book on Shudras claims that beef-eating was weaponized  (and hence political) by Brahmins to make the defeated Buddhists or Broken men “Untouchables”. As these claims are unsubstantiated or out of date with the current scholarship, it’s safe to assume Hinduism had no equivalent of political apostasy, unlike the Abrahamic faiths.

It is one thing to hound, oppress and kill the Other but to justify in-group political violence needs the emergence of concepts like Apostacy and blasphemy. However, it is important to note that the emergence of Apostacy in Islam cannot be understood without the concept of Asabiya (In group solidarity/ brotherhood) and the repercussions of the overthrow of the Ummayads by the Abbasids. Without strong Asabiya and its political implications, it is probable that strong defense mechanisms in Islam like Apostacy and blasphemy would not flourish. All cultures and systems which have strong Apostacy like memes tend to have strong Asabiya – even in non Abrahamic faiths, as such examples are rife in Medieval and Modern China. Closer to home, the secular Marxist-ish LTTE also came up with ideological justifications for hit jobs against Tamil “traitors”.

It must be noted that the Indian revolutionaries had by and large avoided the “traitoring” of the brother during its long years of fight against the British. Designs at assassinations of political moderates (like Gopal Gokhale) were almost always given up on principle. This was only to change with the biggest assassination of Modern India, that too under the guise of protecting India and particularly its Hindus. However, most of the Hindu population vehemently condemned the actions of Godse and co. Incidently this assasination also resulted in a huge setback to the attempts of developing an Asabiya which were gaining traction among the Hindus since the late 19th century.

However, the Hindutva of the 21st century, especially after the rise of the Modi and RSS is no longer a movement with insignificant Asabiya. Over a century ago, the greatest Indian leader of his time, Lokmanya Tilak had once said something along the lines of this – “What would the son of an Oil-presser do in the parliament ? Pass laws ?” Today such a person is not only THE leader of the nation, but also the Hindu Hriday Samrat. Changes in the fabric of Hinduism have been fantastic and Hindus have achieved some sort of Abasiya which they never had at any time. If the latest voting patterns show us anything, it’s that at least in national elections, Hindus are increasingly voting over caste lines in favor of a strong Hinduva leader. One of the cores of Hindu traditional society, the Varna system has changed much more in the last 100 years than it did at any such period in the last millenia.

At such a dynamic time in the history of Hindu society, claims of “over the past millenia” hold less water than they did even a few decades ago. There exist far more incentives to have strong Asabiya in modern democratic nation-states than ever before. As a result, it is only fair to extrapolate that far more incentives and mechanisms exist today which can select controls like Apostasy and Blasphemy to a degree. That doesn’t mean that Hindu(tva/ism) will become like Islam and India like Pakistan, both material and philosophical constraints will continue to prevent this IMO. But its not insane to expect the Apostasy and Blasphemy will NOT remain irrelevant in the Hindutva project. Especially given the sorry state of the Rule of Law in the country, it is not very paranoid to be vigilant about such trends. To what degree is this justified, we cannot comment today. Five years ago, I would have been more alarmed by the potential of such norms getting established given the killings of rationalists (Dabholkar and co), which took place in a span of 3-4 years. Even though these murders did not result in a spree of killings as many had feared they were a rude awakening nonetheless.

Hence I argue that to assume such norms would NOT take root in the coming decades with increasing Hindu Asabiya is unwarranted. And this can be argued only because the norms “over the past millennia” have changed drastically in the recent times.

Liberalism – A brief history

Glad to contribute on Brown-pundits

Thought I’d start with an essay I’d written some time back on the history of Liberalism –

I tweet @shrikanth_krish

Liberalism – A Short History

The rise of populist “right wing” movements around the world has caused many commentators to bemoan the decline of the “Liberal world order”.

Notably Lord Meghnad Desai, the British Labour Peer in the House of Lords, wrote in his 2017 book – “Politicshock” –

“Brexit and Trump mark the collapse of the liberal order worldwide, a phenomenon which saw its beginning with Modi’s rise in 2014”

But what was Meghnad talking about? What is this “liberal world order”? It is one of those nice sounding words of modernity that everyone wants to appropriate, but few offer a precise definition. It is a term which is so universally attractive and capacious that individuals who embrace it often range across the political spectrum.

What does it mean? What are its principles? What is its history? How has it evolved over time? What are its limitations? What is its prognosis in the 21st century? And why is it that many pundits are worried about its health all of a sudden in the past couple of years?

Let us first make an attempt to understand what it means. One of the reasons Liberalism is extremely hard to define is because of its immensely complex history and the internal contradictions that do exist among liberals on many fundamental political questions.

Continue reading Liberalism – A brief history

The Middle Path: Towards a Liberal Conservatism in India (Part 1)

I listened with interest to Brown Pundits’ recent podcasts with Gaurav and Tony on the current state of Indian politics. I could relate to some of their agonies and predicaments, although I profoundly disagree with some aspects of Tony’s worldview.  Slapstik’s recent post Indian woke wears saffron also contains some good insights on the nature and roots of the current Hindutva movement. In this post, I have picked on three strands of Slapstik’s argument: the comparison between Hindutva and woke culture, the genesis of the Bhakti movement and the nature of the leadership of the Indian National Congress both before and after independence.

While I share Slapstik’s assessment of the importance of the Bhakti movement, I do not regard the Bhakti movement as a radical rupture from the pre-Islamic Dharmic traditions. I also argue that by only highlighting the role and influence of the liberal modernist elements of the Indian political leadership in the colonial and early post-colonial periods, Slapstik overlooks the equally if not more salient part of the leadership that sought its inspiration from the country’s indigenous Indic heritage. In doing so, I seek to highlight the deep and abiding roots of India’s Dharmic consciousness that is characterised by cultural continuity.

Continue reading The Middle Path: Towards a Liberal Conservatism in India (Part 1)

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