Book: Twilight falls on liberalism

Author: Rudrangshu Mukherjee

Publisher: ALEPH

Pages: 161;

Price: Rs 399

Recent political developments across large parts of the world have made it clear that liberalism is in crisis and India is not an exception. Globally, we are witnessing emergence of political leaders who have little respect for liberal values. Liberalism in India is fragile, in spite of growing out of the freedom struggle and the foundations that first PM Jawaharlal Nehru laid. Tolerance is the base of liberalism.

The book Twilight falls on Liberalism by Rudrangshu Mukherjee looks at the history and evolution of liberalism. Liberalism is a direct product of enlightenment with its emphasis on reason, progress and secularism. He shows how liberalism, originated in West, flourished when western empires dominated much of the world. Ironically, while values like freedom, democracy and citizenship were nurtured in the West, they were denied to the people of the countries that had been colonized by the western nations. Liberalism in the west thrived by being illiberal elsewhere.

The contradictions within made liberalism vulnerable to attack. Totalitarian regimes swept it aside, and other doctrines replaced it with increasing frequency. In the 21st century across the globe liberalism appears to be fast disappearing. We are witnessing rise of political leaders who are anti-liberal and no region of the world is untouched to it.

Liberal thinker John Stuart Mill advocated liberal values in Britain. But, he saw India as a stagnant and un-progressive society to be redeemed through imperialism. Laws based on race were reality in British India. The virtues of the welfare state and values of liberalism spread to non-European shores. From the 1920s, the Indian national movement under the leadership of Gandhi had been imbued by the spirit of democracy. Nehru saw himself as a liberal.

The author says, “The question of curbing the freedom of individuals and restricting their rights never occurred to Nehru. Independent India was born as a liberal-democratic state and, by the time of the death of Nehru in 1964, India was a functioning democracy, with a stable constitution and a large number of people who cherished liberal values.” The idea of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, etc. of Indian nation was based on western liberalism without racial prejudice.

According to author, single biggest threat to liberalism today is Islamic fundamentalism and its product, terrorism. He is also critical of Hindutva. He writes, “India today, seventy years after Independence, is facing a situation where some of the fundamental features of democracy are under threat. The threat emanates from the ideological orientation of the present Prime Minister and of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.” The point is all kinds of religious extremism poses serious threat to liberal values and targeting one particular religion will not help in the fight for liberalism.

The book also narrates details of Bolshevik and Nazi attacks on liberalism. Mukherjee says, “The gulag (forced labour camps) of the Bolsheviks and the death camps of the Nazis stand as monuments to what dictatorial regimes can do in the name of building a new civilization. It was not liberalism that disappeared under dictators like Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, civilized existence itself was eclipsed by their evil regimes.”