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Re: Compendium of the Ongoing Debate on Tolerance

Administrative Note:

Week's Agenda: Social Conditions

  Minimum Wage
  Rules regarding Safety of Personnel at work to be made clear
  Introduction of Social Security Net
  Introduction of identity card
  Removal of Age discrimination at work
  Creating conditions so that reservations will no longer be necessary

India Policy Institute: An Ongoing Debate On Tolerance & Secularism

Ritu Ko:  The particular topic I'm interested in is the ways that have
drafted to check the religious fanaticism that is sweeping across the
That it is a serious problem is a statement I will not expound  upon,
me it is obvious. If there are those who do not agree,  please write and
try to answer your questions and support my  statement.

Prabhu Guptara:  You are right: religious fanaticism is in fact the
single greatest problem facing our country today, since fanaticism of 
sort) makes rational discussion impossible.  Unfortunately, some
are actually in political power in our country. And the combination of
religious fanaticism and corruption/bribery is unbelievable, but many
dangerous than either would be alone.

Subroto Roy:  I think with this the India Policy Institute has reached a
critical and
serious political subject-matter.   Both statements above seem to me
contentious and misleading, especially Professor Guptara's statement
some fanatics are actually in political power in our country."  What
does he
mean?  Does he mean to speak of the present PM and his Council of
If so, let him say so. Does he mean that someone like, say, the Hon'ble
Defence Minister is a "religious fanatic" or has allowed himself to be
same Council of Ministers as "religious fanatics"? What is the basis in
evidence for such remarks? I do think here we have here an example of
remarks being
made totally disengaged from Indian experience. In brief, my sympathy
been with Mr. Vajpayee ever since his 13-day Government in 1996; my
had been with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990-1991   I do think there may be
intolerant people in all parties as in all populations and it is
and irresponsible to start painting one side or the other as more or
so.  The pro-Congress side of the IPI will find representation in e.g.
Bibek DebRoy, Mr. Jairam Ramesh and perhaps Dr. Parth Shah.I would be
to represent the pro-Vajpayee point of view if necessary.

Ritu Ko:   I would like Prof.  Roy to kindly specify which part of my
he finds to be 'misleading and contentious'. I would also like to know
which remark of mine is 'totally disengaged from Indian experience'.  I
do agree with Prof. Roy when he says that IPI has reached a critical and
serious political subject matter.  Religious intolerance is both a
critical and serious political subject matter. However, to raise the
subject is definitely not the same as fostering contention. To
paraphrase Prof. Roy, what does he mean when he calls the statements
misleading and contentious? Does he mean that the topic should not be
raised at all? As for the statements being unrelated to Indian
experiences, I respectfully disagree. I have seen people I have
grown up respecting, claim that the single best act of their lives was
their participation in the destruction of the Babri Masjid. To be
this fills me with dismay and worry. I find it hard to believe that such
fervent irrationality will die out on its own.

Prabhu Guptara:  I am sorry to have upset Prof. Roy by my observation
there are some religious fanatics in power. I have no intention about
pronouncing whether
individuals such as those you suggest are or are not religious fanatics.
clear,  however, that there are some religious fanatics in power. Also
those who are not religious fanatics are colluding with religious
elsewhere.  Let us take facts, rather than opinions. Has there been any
condemnation of the illegal destruction of the Babri Mosque? Has there
any reparation or apology to the Sikhs who were wantonly massacred
Mrs Gandhi's murder?  Has there been any action against those who are
killing and beating and raping Christians in India right now? Not as far
I am aware.
Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am out of touch with many things that
are happening in India. But there is also such as thing as not seeing
wood for  the trees. Those who sit far away can see some things, just as
who sit nearby can see some things. Let us not quarrel about where a
sitting, though of course what he or she claims to see is open to

Subroto Roy:   I was responding to Prof. Guptara more than to Ms. Ko, 
my apologies if the emphasis failed to come through.   It ought to be
obvious that all
intolerance is to be condemned, since without (almost) absolute freedom
inquiry and expression, the progess of knowledge in any field is
hope you may find my terms of tolerance/intolerance more accurate than
"fanaticism" which has I think a somewhat technical origin in theology.

Prof. Guptara has not identified any "religious fanatics" in political
India today, so as far as I am concerned that too closes itself as an

The examples he gives of the Babri Masjid, and terrorism against the
Indira Gandhi's death etc. are, if I am not mistaken, sub judice in
let us all hope that justice will take its course. Perhaps we ought not
forget that our country is very much a functioning democracy with the
Law prevalent (though of course imperfectly, here as elsewhere).

I do think mob-rule is the real danger, not religious beliefs of one
sort or
another. Mob-rule allows individuals to escape accountability, and so
the working of the Rule of Law. It is not peculiar to India or the
countries in any way, and can and does happen everywhere.

Ritu Ko: I would like to thank Prof. .Roy for his gracious reply to my
Intolerance would do as well as fanaticism for my purposes. The
point regarding mob-rule is a valid one. It is not the beliefs of any
person I object to, just the attempts to use these beliefs to incite
irrational and violent reactions in the people at large.

Parth Shah:   Wait, wait, wait!! If Prof Roy wants to declare his
sympathies with the BJP, he's free to do so. He does not have to label
others.   I personally have no political affiliation and I despise all
political parties equally or you may say, love all political parties
equally. The Centre for Civil Society, of which I'm the founder and
president, is a nonpartisan think tank which works with individuals and
who are willing to give a platform to the principles and philosophy of
Centre. The Centre has no political affiliation, not the least becasue
it will be illegal by its own trust deed.   I very much hope that this
discussion forum doesn't degenerate into political name calling. In
everything is politicized as it is.   Let's discuss ideas

Prabhu Guptara: Hold on, Prof Roy! Not so quick a foreclosure to the
whether there are any people who are fanatical or intolerant in power,
is a
different question from whether I am prepared to name them in the
context of an IP debate! IP is about policy, and I don't think this is
right place to
discuss the positions or personalities of individuals.
My point about the Babri Masjid, Sikhs, Christians, etc. was not
that some of these matters are not sub-judice. It was that there has
been no condemnation of these by the government, to the extent at least
that these were illegal acts. What is sub-judice is whether
particular individuals might or might not be responsible (as I
understand the nature of the court cases). That is a completely
separate matter from the fact that illegal acts such as the
demolition of the mosque, the killing of Sikhs and the
beating/raping of Christians etc. took place and are taking place.
And there is actually an increase in such incidents because a
certain kind of intolerant culture has been created and is still being
fostered by the active or passive collusion of those in power in
several states and of course in the Centre.

Sanjeev Sabhlok:  We can carry on this debate only through completely
openness to other people's views, even if those views might appear
to one's
views.  The struggle on this forum is to arrive at a minimum consensus
kinds of statements we can all support.  The Preamble states:
"That political groups which use differences of religion, caste, or
language, to come to power, have hurt India very badly both before and
after independence."   In other words, we have a broad, and non-specific
criticism (so far) of anyone who has used - deliberately - any religious
motif or religious
belief, to attract people, rather than using policy debate. The above
statement I believe is sufficient and we need not (on this forum) either
elaborate on it nor expand on it, just like I am not going about
elaborating who was corrupt, how that corruption took place, etc. We are
not going into personalities at all (at least to the extent possible).  
you or anyone else likes, we could modify this statement in the 
but surely we are not - none of us are representing any political
views. We are saying: this is what we as citizens want as a bare minimum
policies for our governance. Let us therefore
invite everyone on board (and that is good) but not as reps of any side.
as citizens. All of us vote and therefore might be pro- this or
But at the moment, we are saying that none of these political groups
have a
consistent set of policies designed to take India to #1 position in the
world. We are designing those policies.

Prabhu Guptara:   Yes, agreed 100%. Complete openness is a necessary
pre-requisite to discussion and indeed to agreement. And yes, what we
trying to
devise is policies which can help India to take her rightful place
in the world.

Ratan: Whereas I denounce religious fanaticism that is spreading in
have to be cautious lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater. You
live in a Muslim country and then see the difference between India and
Islamic countries and I guarantee that you will appreciate India as it
is, although there are politicians who are trying to wrench out
political mileage out of religion.

Ram Narayan:  With my own first hand knowledge and experience, I would
endorse Ratan' s very valid point.

Prabhu Guptara:  Of course India is far superior to countries in which
fundamentalism is institutionalised. That is precisely because India is
still at least
officially a secular country. However, if we ever have a situation in
fanaticism is institutionalised in India, then I cannot see how we can
continue to be better than countries in which Muslim fanaticism is
institutionalised.   Fanaticism is fanaticism, whether Muslim, Hindu,
Christian, Buddhist or any other.   Further, we do have a problem in
with politicians who have been trying to "wrench political mileage" out
religion. It is especially worrying
when political parties launch crusades against minority religious groups
order to win political power. Worst of all is when they talk of changing
constitution for this purpose.  In fact, we in IP have made it clear
that we
will not tolerate this kind of  misuse of religion and that we
this kind of misuse to bebadfor the country.   It is not enough merely
state this sort of thing in our Preamble. It is necessary to denounce
violations of our principles whenever, wherever
and by whom ever they are done.

Indranil Dasgupta:  Regarding the observation by Professor Guptara that
religious fanatics are in power in India: may I remind him that the
Civil Code (not religious) or the UCC which seeks to establish one legal
standard for civic life in India and which is something that is
needed if India is to finally leave the
19th century and enter the 21st has been propounded by only one
party in India: yes, the hated, much maligned, "fascist" BJP.   As far
tolerance goes, let's all try clapping with one hand.  Doesn't work too
well, does it? Tolerance and secularism is not the responsibility of

Sanjeev Sabhlok: What is not common/uniform today? Contracts, torts,
criminal procedure, penal code, civil procedure, are common. Marriage
law is
personal, based
on religion. What is wrong with that? Since statements of this type
"clapping with one hand," etc., are quite charged, I would urge that a
clear statement is made about what exactly is missing in the civil laws
that is hurting your personal interests as a citizen? We can build a
theory and debate on that. Not on a vast generalization as if there are
communities which are somehow trying to cheat others.
The principle of choice implies that you can choose howsoever you wish
marry. My marriage has no externalities on you. So what is the issue?
Please make clear. I don't see any relationship between "UCC" and moving
into the 20th century. Please enlighten me. This was a point on which
consensus so far was that people would have a choice to be governed by
personal laws. I see that it is not on the web yet, however.

Subroto Roy:   In the USA as we know, there are two main parties and
are quite happy to declare themselves and be registered as either
or Republican.  In Britain similarly, there are three parties, and
who is active politically in any way is quite happy to be identified as
being either New Labour or New Tory or perhaps Liberal Democrat. In
and elsewhere in Europe the same holds for the Christian Democrat/Social
Democrat split.  Generally it seems to me, in mature democracies there
two large blocs of declared voters and each competes for the floating
ground of "undecideds" at election-time. This leads naturally to an
exclusion of extreme right wing or left wing ideas from actual
implementation and a
gravitation instead towards a more or less sensible centre, represented
the "median" voter. Thus Reagan won because the Reagan Democrats saw
he was saying to be in their interests; Thatcher kept winning because
had moved the Tories away from the landed rich towards a new
middle class; Gorbachev lost to Yeltsin because the median voter was
moving to his right and he did not realise it. Nowhere in the West as
far as
I know has a full-fledged classical liberal party enunciated an agenda
then gone on to win power and implement itsideas in real action. (Nor is
such an eventuality likely either as may be seen from the political
of the heroic Libertarian Party in the USA or the old Swatantra Party or
even older Liberal Party in India). Rather,
classical liberal ideas get to be implemented in bits and pieces by
who found themselves in power and felt a genuine political need would be
satisfied by such action. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were
the most vocal of those implementing classical liberal ideas, and they
furthermore the explicit support of prominent classical liberal
and social thinkers,
specifically, F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, Peter Bauer
others (all members of the classical liberal group known as the Mont
Society, whose only Indian member is I believe M. P. Bhatt as Shenoy's
successor, though I and perhaps others have been guests.) It needs to be
said though that there are enough cases of traditional left-wing or
socialist parties coming to power and implementing classical liberal
as well when they were able to (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, East Europe
etc.), as well as cases where traditional conservatives did not. The
ultimate compliment to Reagan and Thatcher is that their agendas have
stolen mutatis mutandis by their most successful successors, Clinton and
Blair. The whole political spectrum in the USA and UK (and by a ripple
effect everywhere else) has moved rightwards towards classical
liberalism in
the last 20 years or so.  In India it seems to me we are glacially
towards a CentreRight/Centre Left divide as well now, which I think a
development. Such a straight competition for the median voter's ballot

be far more productive than e.g. the politics of ideological struggles
personality cults.

I believe in the long run the BJP and allies may well move towards being
not so much a Hindu party but a traditional conservative party with the
conservatives of all Indian religions in it, standing for usual
conservative ideas like "family values", private education etc. The
Left in India develops even as this is written with the Communists
to support as of today the Congress against the BJP.

The aim of the IPI pioneered by Mr. Sanjeev Sabhlok and his associates
should be, I believe, to make possible more rational and better informed
political decision-making on the part of the median voter in India. For
to emerge it may be better to structure a political dialogue between
classical liberal ideas (in the manner of a Kantian
antinomy if anyone remembers Critique of Pure Reason) rather than a
manifesto. Dr Parth Shah and I are about as close as possible as
liberals go, and have been so for a decade or more. That is why I
suggested that, for example, he take a Centre Left or pro-Congress point
view and I a Centre Right or pro-BJP point of view even while a
liberal agenda comes to be articulated for Indian circumstances. If he
(or anyone else) would like to reverse the roles, that too would be fine
with me and I would, for this purpose, argue the opposite point of view.

More to come I'm sure (as Johnny Carson used to say.)

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