The unmoored liberal & others

Keki Daruwalla

PITY the liberal. His mooring rope has been cut or stolen. The pegs on the banks of the Ganga, Volga or the Danube have disappeared. Where the hell does he hitch his boat? I, for one, am in a quandary. In the good old days when Life and Time, Encounter and our desi Quest were lambasting the Commies and their political practice, we believed them but held back, though they gave us ample reason to believe them. The Soviets first invaded Hungary in 1956 and executed Imre Nagy (pronounced ‘Naudge’ in Magyar), the liberal Prime Minister. Two years later in 1968, they invaded Prague and the Czechs gave them a hard time. But the Soviet army was the Soviet army. Frankly, we did not believe all we heard. We bought our Turgenevs and Tolstoys, sturdily bound, from pavements in Connaught Place for at the most 10 rupees. And the vocal leftists extolled Dange and said all this was CIA propaganda. And lo and behold, there were genuine press leaks to say that Encounter and Quest were infiltrated by the CIA. Cuba was a terrestrial version of paradise, the Left would have us believe. Then a firing squad shot Nicolae Ceausescu, the President of Romania, and his wife. That was 1989, on Christmas, Good Governance Day, as some of our ministers would style it later in the first flush of nationalist triumph. (Be it known that all BJP victories are nationalist. They have yet to find a name for Congress wins, as in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, where after the elections the rightists purloin the victories.) Then the Berlin Wall fell, USSR broke up, and Gorbachev was followed by the sozzled Yeltsin. He may have been very infrequently drunk, but a reputation for drinking can knock the ground under a politician’s feet. In one century, the hammer and sickle rose and fell.

The Social Democrats on the European continent tried to ‘humanise capitalism’, promote social justice. Sweden led the way, after all the Social Democrats had founded a party there in 1880! But now it is a solitary country which professes socialism. Then came the rightists. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the first edition. It must be noted that this is a personal History of Political Philosophy, which could be disputed. As rightists tighten the screws on liberty, and ecology (look at Brazil), we in India may pause for breath.

As Donald Trump and his lumpen followers (70 million, if you please) went haywire on Capitol Hill, we need to ponder. Here is a man who avoided the Draft, has half a dozen bankruptcies on his record, had even his allies on tenterhooks about how he would react to any situation. He has one of the worst records on climatology, withdrew from the Paris Accord, a worldwide agreement to face global warming. The American press goes in detail about him being parsimonious with the truth. He initially said that coronavirus was not a serious worry, America believed him and now the US leads the world in deaths. He is being called the worst President America has had. Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the mob at Capitol Hill with Nazi mobs.

How did our Prime Minister, during the ‘Howdy Modi’ celebration, amid our mostly Gujarati NRIs, turn a deaf ear to the cry of ‘Abki bar, Trump sarkar’? On such trips, doesn’t the Prime Minister have a complement of MEA senior officers to advise him? India gave Trump quite a reception. Some rightists wanted Trump to carry back a good impression of India, and so wanted peaceful protesters out of the way. That triggered some MLAs into action and we got the Delhi riots. About 50 people died, and the police hunted down victims and threw them in jail, including a pregnant scholar.

Then we invited the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro., to grace our Republic Day parade last year. He is outrageously into climate change denial for decades, and fires rage in the Amazon. The National Institute for Space noticed 39,194 fires in 2020 in the Amazon region, the largest rainforest in the world, providing 20 per cent of the planet’s oxygen. Any threat to the region’s ecology is a threat to the planet. Sao Paulo, the biggest city, was plunged into total darkness because of the smoke from the fires. Bolsonaro and his Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, have retrograde views and are known for stubborn climate denialism. There is global outrage against their policies and views. According to reports, Bolsonaro told an Opposition lawmaker, “I wouldn’t rape you because you are not worthy of it.” He graced our Republic Day. Did our Ministry of External Affairs sit quietly when the PMO invited him? Or was the MEA overruled? Are we now an accredited member of the rightist club? Is bashing up the leftists, as we did in JNU with the help of masked goons, now the official policy?

We started with the poor liberal, now orphaned. If the left and the right have let him down, what about the centrists? We have had centrists for over half a century. And they can tilt every which way, remember opening of locks in Ayodhya and later Shah Bano? And the scams. I have written a jingle on the subject.

Reporter: Sir, why did you make money hand over fist?

UPA II: Simply because we couldn’t resist.

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