India: The Battle Between Champagne Socialists And Nationalists Who Brunch

Feb 28, 2016 · 4 min read

Soon after a long conversation about overt and covert support to terror groups, and the idea of freedom of speech, in India, with a research scholar friend in America, I went for a walk to Lodhi Garden. The garden, itself a metaphor for a certain idea of India, where the families of cabinet ministers and gardeners co-mingle in a space both manicured and rustic, medieval and contemporary, a space for many tongues and whims and make-out alcoves. It is, at once, a space for chatter and contemplation — even chatter as contemplation. As we walked, my friend and I talked about all that was being scrolled and trolled in our country. What, we asked ourselves, are the outlines to the freedom of speech? Does nationalism have a hue?

It seemed obvious to us what is happening in India. A deep subaltern rage has got fused, as it usually does, with political shenanigans. Neither the trashing of a young student by goon lawyers, nor the open support of teachers to global terror networks and ideologically brainwashing students would finally resolve India’s unique problem, we felt.

India has been polarised into positions that it has borrowed — as so many things — from the West. There isn’t really a true Right and Left in India. There is a loony Right and a loony Left. There is a political Right and a political Left but Indian society, so diverse and so old, reflects neither entirely. Perhaps that is true for most nations — apart from, say, North Korea. Every society that has flirted with extremes has fallen finally into the comfortable middle. Even in Spain, where there was so much euphoria among Leftists about the rise of the radical Left Podemos, the real story now is the sustainable success of the centrist Ciudadanos. There is no place in the world today where a majority of people dream of Communist (or fascist) revolution. The middle — that is where most of us are. Take me. I am a classic liberal — pro-gay rights, pro-women’s rights, pro-minority rights, demanding equality before law, pro-transgender rights, pro-animal rights, pro-abortion rights, and a proud feminist. But in economics, I am anything but Left. I am pro-free market, and pro-free speech but I also appreciate concerns that some might use this to create disharmony. It is a difficult subject but I am happy negotiating the complexity. After all, I am Indian. But I am uncompromising about national security. Uncompromising about dealing with terrorists. I don’t like the national interest threatened or blackmailed. What constitutes national interest? I am happy to debate that.

As we walked far away from Facebook, my companion said, ‘Well, think of this — here you are walking in Lodhi Garden, and there is your researcher friend, neatly ensconced in an American university. Neither of you really are doing anything to solve the problem on the ground?’ What does that mean, I asked? ‘The Maoist terrorists are doing their indoctrination. The police and the companies who fight them in central India are fighting. All of the real stuff is going on while you, your friend, the fiery teachers of JNU, who will neatly retire to their cosy bungalows in the Aravalli hills paid for by the state — the same state they abuse and want to overthrow, and the students, after all this screaming and shouting will mostly work for massive corporations and make a lot of money, or stay on campus and keep shouting. The lawyers and cops will go back to making anyway they can, as will the politicians. Which of you are really solving the problems of poverty, hunger or lack of jobs in the areas where problems of insurgency occur?

‘It is quite a joke, really.’

There is truth in that. If you count, the entire narrative about India, the so-called idea of India is created every day, by a set of perhaps, at best 100 people around the world (and don’t worry, I am not not blaming myself, I am a minor part of this set). But the question is — what are we actually solving on the ground?

What is happening in India is a explosion, an eruption of challenging points of views to a consensus that has existed for a very long time. This always happens when economic liberation comes. This loud racket will continue for a decade or so at least. Governments will come and go, as they always do, but India will go on. But beyond the noise, India survives and thrives, and this is where the real change is happening — in fact, in spite all of us who pretend to determine ‘the idea of India’.

If at all, we ought to try and participate in that process. The ideas of India actually are getting created while we are debating the ‘idea of India’.

My companion and I then went for brunch at Khan Market — where all debates on austerity and socialism and spirituality in Delhi are destined to end. All Communists — and capitalists — finally end up in Khan Market. What China is to Karl Marx, Khan Market is to the infamously Leftist Jawaharlal Nehru University.

There, over eggs and cereals, we discovered that what is happening (at our little corner called Delhi) in India is that the hegemony of the champagne socialists is ending. The nationalists who brunch have now found their voice.


Written by

World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Award-winning author of eight books incldg Recasting India, first Indian book to be nominated for the Hayek Prize.

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