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Gautam Adhikari on The Intolerant Indian

Renowned journalist and writer Gautam Adhikari's book, The Intolerant Indian: Why We Must Rediscover a Liberal Space delineates how extremist ideologies obliterate the concept of Liberal Democracy.

books Updated: Apr 20, 2011 07:00 IST

Renowned journalist and writer Gautam Adhikari's book,

The Intolerant Indian: Why We Must Rediscover a Liberal Space

delineates how extremist ideologies obliterate the concept of Liberal Democracy.

The perspicacious book deciphers the esoteric meaning in India's version of Secularism and how religious fanaticism has time and again, resurrected the deprecating arguments against Pluralism. Here, the author elaborates on the same.

Q1-In your opinion, is the Indian version of secularism flawed or is it abstruse?

A: The Indian version of secularism is a departure from the concept as it's understood in other secular democracies as well as in its historical sense. That's not what was intended by the republic's founders who wrote the Constitution. I deal with it extensively in the book. Secularism varies in implementation from democracy to democracy - the US version, for instance, is different from, say, the French - but at a basic level it separates the sphere of religious activity from that of political life. It is not anti-religious. It is not freedom from religion. It implies freedom of religion for citizens as long as religious interest does not determine public policy-making. In India, secularism is a diluted form of the real thing. That's what the book argues. We see the state giving in to virtually every religious demand. The line separating state and religion has become blurred almost beyond recognition in the past sixty years. However, even the Indian version implies tolerance of religious diversity, something many of our compatriots don't seem to appreciate.

Q. 2 The minority appeasement gimmicks to secure vote banks constricts the plausible thinking of even tolerant liberals. Do you think 'Politics of Hate' has left the citizens confounded?

A: I don't think minority appeasement is the appropriate term. The Indian state appeases all religious communities, whether by implementing a cow-slaughter ban or by changing the law to bypass a court decision upholding the right of a divorced Muslim woman's claim to proper alimony. It wasn't always so in our republic. In the early years there was considerable debate over the nature of secularism and over how far the state should go to implement uniform laws for all citizens regardless of religious demands put forward by leaders of different communities. It was inevitable that repeated compromise would lead to strengthening of group identities along religious or caste lines. Before long, political parties began to exploit the weakness of the state and started to play with the fire of religious intolerance.

Q. 3 In its review of the book, The South Asian Idea Weblog mentions '' The book starts off on the wrong foot right from the Preface by choosing an 'Us' versus 'Them' frame, For 'Us' substitute the enlightened, the reasonable, the few, the ones above the pettiness of narrow identity; for 'Them' substitute the unenlightened, the unreasonable, the many, those still clinging to anachronistic primordial loyalties''. Do you think use of such connotations is inevitable?

A: I saw the review. It is, so far, the only negative assessment of the book that I have seen. Other reviewers have reacted far more positively to my core argument while expressing interesting reservations in a few cases. This particular anonymous reviewer sounds intriguingly hostile without, it seems to me, having read the book carefully beyond that preface you mention. The 'Us' versus 'Them' argument is a bogus one. Whenever you write a book, or any opinion essay of this sort, you do so with the full intention of taking a stand, along with those who might agree with you, and against those who might not. That is the very nature of opinion writing. 'Us' for me would be those secularist liberals who see more or less eye to eye with the arguments I have made. 'Them' happens to be those I describe as intolerant Indians. It is a clear position taken, yes, from the very outset of the book. I have not tried to be even-handed. I am a liberal democrat and a secular humanist as I state clearly. You can argue against the book's thesis from a number of positions, including an anti-secularism corner to which a few serious intellectuals, like Ashis Nandy, belong or from the point of view of religious or parochial ideologues. I summarize their views as accurately as possible and proceed to answer them. Much of the text is taken up by such arguments. This reviewer seems to have missed it all.

Q4- Communal disharmony would keep the country vivisected. Can implementation of a Uniform Civil Code put an end to this?

A: A uniform civil code should have been implemented right from the start. Today, politics has taken such a turn that it may be near-impossible for any government to implement a uniform code. But even if a charismatic leader turns up to grab the bull by its horns, the mere existence of a uniform civil code will not kill the virus of communal politics. The problem is vastly complicated now. And, anyone who reads the book will see that I have not dwelt solely on religious divisions amongst us. Ethnic, cultural and regional identity politics plays a strong role in fanning intolerance in India.


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