The Illiberal liberals
India, the world’s largest democracy, and the United States, the world’s most powerful democracy, have been sharing, of late, a remarkable phenomenon of widening political chasm between those who claim to be “Left Liberal” and those whom they oppose politically and ideologically. In India, these “Left Liberals” refuse to accept Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister who assumed office democratically through elections. Similarly, in the United States, these “ Left Liberals” cannot accept the fact that Donald Trump is the lawful elected President. So everything Modi says and does in India and everything Trump says and does in the United States are opposed bitterly by these ladies and gentlemen in the name of what they say “dissent”. If you believe them, India and the United States have come under the spell of fascism, and every measure, whatever are its merits, must be undertaken to throw the Modi regime in Indian Ocean and the Trump administration in the Atlantic Ocean. And what is worse, in the process, the opposition parties in the two countries – Democrats in the United States and a myriad of parties, including the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress in India – have joined, rather totally identified themselves with, these Left-liberals. These parties are least interested with the statecraft(how the nation or country should be run effectively if they come to power tomorrow); their only obsession is to remove Modi in India and Trump in America.
The latest manifestation of this dangerous phenomenon is the character assassination of Justice Bret Kavanaugh, who was appointed as Associate Justice in the US Supreme Court last week after a really dirty confirmation process in the US Senate. There were contrasting narratives – one from Psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford and one from Justice Kavanaugh. Apparently, both of them were school mates and at a party 36 years ago the former says that she was sexually abused by the latter. Obviously, the preliminary FBI report, as mandated by the senate following the eruption of the controversy, could not establish the truth of a 36-year-old accusation that led to a series of “Me Too” episodes, including some in India now. Why did the victim come public after 36 years? Why did not she raise her voice when Justice Kavanaugh became a federal judge many years back or when he was White House Staff Secretary under President George W Bush? However, the Democrats seized upon the opportunity and literally arranged mobs to harass the Republican Senators so as to reject Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination. And the full might of the mainstream “liberal media” such as New York Times was there to back them up, even after they failed in stalling Justice Kavanaugh’s upward journey.
Democrats’ campaign was also aimed at the nature of the overall composition of the US Supreme Court ( One Chief Justice and 8 Associate Justices). Let me quote a typical “liberal” columnist( Mark Joseph Stem in Slate)in this regard: “By all indications, Brett Kavanaugh is about to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, where he will become part of a five-justice conservative bloc that will swiftly roll back decades of progressive jurisprudence. His confirmation will be a major victory for the Republican Party and its leader, Donald Trump, who will soon succeed in entrenching GOP control over the court for at least a generation. But as soon as Kavanaugh takes the oath, he will plunge the Supreme Court into a legitimacy crisis that could weaken its power over the long term. This crisis will become particularly acute if Democrats retake Congress and the presidency but find their reforms stymied by a reactionary judiciary. The broad consensus over the court’s authority to interpret the Constitution will crumble.”
Just see the dangers inherent in the above logic. Supreme Court and the American constitution are safe as long as people supported or backed by the Democrats/liberals are in charge. The Conservatives have to accept their superiority. So for decades, it was alright as conservatives lost and lost and lost and lost, but still confirmed the legitimacy of the system. But as soon as the conservatives win, it is a time for a war on the judiciary.
It is the same logic we are witnessing in India too. We are told that as long as our universities, institutions and the government are manned by the so-called liberals, Congress supporters and the Leftists, everything is fine. But despite our being a democracy, where the contest among alternate ideas should be a sign of good health, if these come under the control of the BJP and its supporters, then the country comes under fascist rule. The Court becomes ineffective. The election commission becomes partisan. The universities and government-controlled think tanks decay.
And yet these people have guts to tell us that they believe in “dissent”! The truth is that dissent is great when they are in a minority; but they will never grant that right to their opponents when in power or authority. No wonder why one Shazia Ilmi( a BJP member) is not allowed to speak at her Alma Mater—Jamia Millia Islamia on a seminar on Women empowerment or General Bakshi and Tarek Fatah ( fighting terrorism and orthodoxy in the name of Islam) being prevented by the Mamata Banerjee –government from participating in a seminar organised by a prestigious club in Kolkata. In fact, if you count incidents over the last four years, it is the so-called Left and Liberals who have been at the forefront of movements to shut down debates on college campuses and to restrict freedom of speech. They are at the forefront to bend the Constitution, make up laws through questionable court rulings, and generally abuse the rules and the Constitution in order to force their way. And if you oppose, then they use for you effortless adjectives such as saffronite, bhakt, racist and male chauvinist.
If one analyses carefully the nature of our public discourse in the last four years, it is increasingly becoming obvious that people tend to challenge the character or motives of a person who has said some something or floated an idea, rather than the idea itself or what he or she has said. This is what is called argumentum ad hominem. Here, we malign the character of a person we do not like, even if he or she speaks the truth. We often hear something like this – “We all know he or she is a liar and Hindutva type ; so why should we believe anything he says?”
It is also argumentum ad hominem when someone’s arguments are discounted merely because he or she is supposed to benefit from the policy that he or she is advocating. We get suspicious when a Brahmin argues against the reservations or a Yadav argues for reservations or a Muslim opposes the idea of a uniform civil code. The correct way in all these cases should be to judge the merits of the argument and not who makes the argument; but the Left/Liberals do not believe in that.
There is also an extreme version of this phenomenon when people tend to put words into mouth of the person they do not like by saying the person has said something, which in fact was not said. In most of such cases, they justify their version of what their targeted person has “said” on the basis of their own interpretations. But then interpretation is not a fact; although by repeating it many times this interpretation is eventually made into a “fact”. This is called argumentum ad nauseam (argument to the point of disgust; i.e., by repetition). One may give one example in this regard.
One is Prime Minister Modi’s much-talked about interview to a foreign news agency in 2013 (then Chief Minister of Gujarat). While asked on whether he was sorry for the communal riots of 2002, Modi had said , “Another thing, any person if we are driving a car, we are a driver, and someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will be painful or not? Of course, it is. If I’m a chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.”
But this was interpreted by Modi’s political opponents and a section of intelligentsia that he compared Muslims to dogs. “For Modi, the life of a Muslim is not more than a life of a puppy”, so ran the news headlines. And this “interpretation”, repeated consistently, became a “fact” in the global media.
In other words, what we know to be “reality” in our media or public discourse is often nothing more than interpretation driven by beliefs, values and attitudes. The “truth” here is nothing more than the familiar expression of habit, which, in turn, is because of things repeating themselves. And what is more, the habit is so strong that we do not even wonder “what if?” or “what else?” or “why not?” As a result, we unthinkingly categorise some politicians or analysts as communal, casteist and reactionaries or Left radical, anti-nationalists and anarchists. Accordingly, we treat what they say with utter contempt. As a result, what we are told to be “realities” actually becomes a roadblock to our own growth.
By Prakash Nanda