By Vijay Vikram
One of the misfortunes of having an intellectual sympathy for the political Right in India is that one automatically finds oneself in the company of unbecoming Hindu goons, be they online or in the field. As legitimate political activity in India is set on a default left-liberal setting, it is in the normal order of things quite problematic to find a desi political animal to engage with who is possessed of a sense of public service and a strong sense of national identity. The ones who do represent the aforementioned themes and other programmes dear to the heart of the Indian political animal often also couple these admirable political sentiments with quite a nasty anti-cosmopolitanism, not to mention a general distaste for Muslims. The latest brouhaha over a 95-year-old Indian painter’s decision to accept Qatari citizenship is a case in point. Without going into the stultifying details of this non-controversy, it is possible to illustrate the dilemma faced by the urban nationalist. On the one hand, there is the establishment media with all its shrillness busy bestowing titles of greatness upon Mr. Hussain, on the other, we have the cyber crusaders intent on punishing the nonagenarian for his treachery. Can you be a man of the Right and refuse to rain abuse on M.F. Hussain? For a child of that Indo-Persian synthesis called Hindustan and an advocate of assertive political action, this can cause a fair degree of cognitive dissonance.
If the choice is between urban cosmopolitanism however – a distinctly apolitical concern – and a movement that promises vigorous and ambitious national reform, the political animal ought to waste little time.
In an India that does not maintain a conscious commitment to the secularism that was so dear to her founding father, the only meaningful political-reformist impulses are to be found within that broad church called the Hindu movement. There is little doubt that the secularist project held enough promise to animate independent India’s Oxbridge-educated nation builders and for that matter, much of the professional elite. The vision of a progressive, religion-blind, postcolonial power was surely an attractive one for the champagne socialist. However, the democratising impulse inherent to Nehru’s nation building project ensured that a genuine commitment to secularism was gradually overwhelmed by the parochialism that comes naturally to a feudal society such as India. Nehru’s all-encompassing pan-Indian vision was to founder dreadfully on the rocks of region, religion and caste. Secularism in India means little more than being nice to Muslims and Christians. Although this is an admirable sentiment, it surely cannot form the basis of a comprehensive national philosophy.
The history of independent India’s politics is the history of the Congress ceding the nation-building imperative to the political Right. Why this has happened is a matter of debate. Perhaps the Congress, post-1947 really was a facade built around the gigantic political personality of Nehru and once he went, so did the fire of his guiding philosophy. One can scarcely accuse his daughter and her heirs of having much of a political Weltanschauung. Perhaps it can be accounted for by the vigorous activism of the Hindu right and the religiosity of the Hindu masses that in another era, Gandhi used to great effect.
Two points are clear though: India is a nation that still needs building and because the secularist project has run out of steam and fails to inspire the desi political animal, the only prescriptions for audacious political renewal are to be found in proposals put forth by modernisers from within the Hindu camp. There may be passionate men and women with an avowed commitment to Indian secularism residing in Delhi and Bombay who would contend the latter claim. What they fail to realise however is that they expend so much energy in fighting off the march of the Right and its pernicious agendas that they have little time to indulge in visions of societal renewal and meaningful political engagement. Machiavelli’s ideal of the political animal – one who sought the fulfilment and the glory that comes from the creation and maintenance by common endeavour of a strong and well-governed social whole – seems lost in the mediocre soap opera that is Indian politics.
The tasks facing the desi political animal then, are certainly not straightforward but necessary. He must utilise the energies unleashed by the right to create an atmosphere conducive to su-raj or good government. In practical terms this means committing oneself to policy affairs. In more normative terms, it means emphasising the will to power that comes naturally to overtly political movements. In the end, an Indian committed to political renewal has only one natural home, the Right, warts and all.
Vijay Vikram is Editor and Co-Founder of Centre Right India, an initiative dedicated to increasing political awareness and nurturing an intellectually vibrant right-of-centre tradition in India. This post is reproduced from Centre Right India with permission of the author.