Another letter written by 61 celebrities like Prasoon Joshi, Kangana Ranaut, among various other celebrities was written to the PM a couple of days later, which condemned the previous letter for their ‘selective outrage’ against hate crimes.
Reading the two letters which were released publicly, one could note a stark difference in their respective tones. While both letters were written by liberals of our current era, one of them sounded more balanced. And the other? In my opinion, it was anything but.
I found that there are a few things common among the signatories of the first letter. They’re not only people who became journalists, film-makers, and activists but are also insistent and privileged. They claim to be ‘real liberals’ but ironically defy all laws of the concept.
Liberalism requires open-mindedness and acceptance of differing viewpoints. However, a dangerous definition of liberalism is becoming the norm. I strongly feel that today, ‘Liberalism‘ has morphed into an extreme ‘left-wing predilection’, rather than a freedom-based political ideology, as it was supposed to be.
Moreover, liberalism demands non-partisanship. I think today’s ‘liberals’ project and express selective outrage.
Last but not the least, liberalism is about tolerance (especially towards contradicting points of view), a concept I think ‘liberals’ disregard blatantly. Acceptance cannot be unilateral. Allow me to be blunt: defining conservatives as the counterpart of liberals equates them to evil, which I would say is not the best way to have meaningful interactions in society. A truly liberal mind should be open to varying perspectives, especially the ones it doesn’t agree with. Self-aggrandising an open mind while condemning others —conservatives, for example — based on their personal ideologies, sounds odd to me and doesn’t add up.
In my view, the signatories’ dislike of Narendra Modi debases their arguments and takes over their intent of making an actual point.
This is in no way to say that BJP and Narendra Modi are beyond criticism. They have collectively made mistakes on economic policies, have suppressed dissent, and also robbed institutions of their creative expression, which is nothing short of scary. They have parochial views on gender and caste and can be accused of various other things.
In my view, the BJP is far from being liberal but it is fortunate because the opposition is even more regressive. Other parties in India like The Congress, for instance, have violated every liberal value by placing their loyalties on a family over anything. States like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar are laced with family-driven politics and have deprioritised merit over personal gains.
In such a situation, the duty of ‘public intellectuals’ should be to raise the level of debate, and not resort to mud-slinging and ideological ‘axe-grinding’.
In our country, minority communities need protection from the wicked and senseless lynch-mobs who defy laws to establish their religious superiority. But all criticism on the issue of hate crimes loses its merit if it’s not balanced and conveniently chose to ignore certain sides of a situation. States like West Bengal are plagued with caste-based violence and no ‘intellectual’ writes open-letters to the Chief Minister of the state.
In my opinion, what liberal intellectuals should do at such a time, is to discuss and substantiate issues, and not ideologies. A true liberal should be ‘left’ when it comes to freedom of the press or freedom of speech, and a true liberal should be ‘right’ when it comes to the inflow of FDI in the country. Getting trapped in a ‘left-right wing’ war is detrimental for the country and its people, and puts a stop to having any healthy and constructive public debate.
True liberals are demarcated by balance, openness to differing points of view and of course fair-mindedness.
On those counts, I feel the 49 liberals have sadly failed the test.