Book: Why I am a liberal

Author: Sagarika Ghose

Publisher: Penguin/Viking

Pages: 397

Price: Rs 599

We are living in difficult time where the words like liberal and liberalism need to be defended. One needs to be liberal in thinking and practise. Today, in the Indian context, we see people and the state becoming more and more illiberal. Mahatma Gandhi had a world view of his own in the matters of politics; religion, etc. But, he did not believe in imposing his own ideas on others. Incidentally an atheist Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of Independent India.

Sagarika Ghose’s new book Why I am a Liberal: A manifesto for Indians who believe in Individual freedom is extremely important in the present scenario. The author says, “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was, in many ways, the most successful liberal politician of all time.” Liberalism in India has a long history. The legatee of questioning was narrated even in Upanishad. The foundation of Independent India is based on liberal thinking. Our forefathers and foremothers were liberals.

The liberals believe in limited government. The biggest challenge before liberals is of the Big State. Sagarika writes, “The most visible manifestation of the state is the government of the day. When a government takes over all aspects of the state it becomes what we are calling the Big State. In India today, everywhere you look: government, government, government. Everywhere you turn: government chains, government chains, government chains.”

The liberal thinking gives importance to individual freedom and liberties. The liberals respect all religion. They are against politicization of religion and misuse of religion for the electoral politics. The liberals must speak against religious and all other kind of extremism. If such forces are not condemned for their violent acts then violent tendencies rises. The liberals have to take forward the values of the constitution. It is their historic responsibility. Liberals can take rational and objective positions. The author correctly says,” Maybe there will come a day when we can all — rural and urban, rich or poor, English-speaking hepcat or mofussil dweller —  say: ‘Garv se kaho hum liberal hain.’

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari’s contribution on individual freedom is significant. He gave importance to individuals. He founded the Swatantra Party on this line. Rajaji’s colleague was once Socialist Minoo Masani. Their relations were interesting. They were colleagues in the Swatantra Party. Rajaji was a devout Hindu and Masani an atheist. They used to respect each other. They had excellent relations with Jawaharlal Nehru even though they differ on economic policies. They had differences but nobody called other “anti-national”. This is the basic value of liberalism. Liberals respects right to freedom of expression and speech, which is most important in the current socio-political scenario. It says respect even those who do not agree with you. French philosopher Voltaire had said, “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Liberals within all religions are having difficult time. The author says, “The true Hindu is a true liberal and the liberal Hindu is the true Hindu. Hinduism sits easily with liberalism because of its rejection of authoritarian power.” The book is an eye-opener.