Saturday, December 1, 2012

"liberals have historically been on the back foot"

A bit from Lounge's interview with Ramachandra Guha;

Am I right to think that liberals have historically been on the back foot when responding to the kind of extremism that, for example, has come into focus recently with the death of Bal Thackeray?
It was hard for liberals to stand up against the Shiv Sainiks when the Congress and the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) indulged Thackeray so shamelessly. These parties, in power, failed to uphold the Constitution, encouraging goons to beat up anyone who criticized them in print or in person. Within these constraints, some Mumbai writers and intellectuals have yet bravely stood up against intolerance and bigotry and for basic liberal and democratic values. Among them was the late and still much-mourned bilingual writer, poet and film-maker Dilip Chitre.
Thackeray was a particular phenomenon, though. He controlled an entire city. So you might have quasi-fascism in one city, or as it happens, quasi-fascism in one state, but India as a whole is still a place where it’s largely possible to speak your mind without fear of that sort of reprisal. It’s like this: The media gives space to extreme voices—the electronic media more so than print, and perhaps, although it’s not easy to say, social media even more than electronic. My sense is that the majority of Indians are scrabbling in the midst of this for some middle ground.
What are some of the books, or who are some of the writers, you’d recommend as a starting list for the inquiring Indian liberal?
Some of the books I would recommend for the inquiring Indian democrat (who could as easily be a conservative or socialist as a liberal) are André Béteille’s Chronicles of Our Time, Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India, Niraja Gopal Jayal’s Citizenship in India: A History (which will be out next year), M. N. Srinivas’ Collected Essays, and (for a wider, comparative perspective on the challenges to democracy from left-wing and right-wing extremism) François Furet’s The Passing of an Illusion. The inquiring Indian democrat should also look out, if he or she does not do so already, for the columns of Ashok V. Desai (inThe Telegraph), Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar (in The Times of India), P. Sainath (in The Hindu), T. N. Ninan (in the Business Standard), Pratap Bhanu Mehta (in The Indian Express), and Mukul Kesavan (wherever they are published).

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