#AadarshLiberal (or "ideal" liberal) has been one of India's most tweeted hashtags this past month. The title - a parody on Indian liberalism - claims that Indian liberals are unintelligent, unpatriotic, and, very specifically, anti-Hindu blokes who deserve nothing more than the worst expletives Twitter can dole out.
But #AadarshLiberal isn't just Twitter frenzy that will come to pass any day now - it represents the tip of an iceberg of toxic conservatism and fanatical religious nationalism that threatens to plague the fragile nature of democracy not just in India, but in the world's largest continent as well.
The life of an Indian liberal
To be an Indian liberal today is to face a life of closeted political beliefs and mounting societal pressure, as the once proud liberal tradition in the world's largest democracy - a tradition championed by great reformists and freedom fighters, and upheld by one of the world's most coherent Constitutions - is being consumed by the resurgence of Indian religious conservatism. Hard as it may be for many to see, the fact remains that beneath the blanketing rhetoric of Narendra Modi and the breakneck speed of Indian economic growth, Indian society is fast plunging into a chasm of conservatism.
"To be an Indian liberal today is to face a life of closeted political beliefs and mounting societal pressure..."
Every Indian liberal has experienced it - awkwardly sitting through a conversation about how Muslims and Christians are foreign cultures, how Indian secularism deserves to be destroyed and how India should become a Hindu theocracy, but not raising your voice from fear of ridicule, persecution or worse. Or trying to convince friends or family that Indian Muslims aren't all terrorists, only to be lectured on how naïve you are.
This is only one sign of the worrisome rise of Right Wing hatemongering which has come part in parcel with the resurgence of orthodoxy-blinded religious conservatism. And the biggest losers are India's youth, who are forced to swallow conservative dogma either through peer or familial pressure - dogma that is fast manifesting itself into violent action.
From brutally assaulting couples who celebrated Valentine's Day because the day was "against Indian culture", banning the consumption of beef (cows being sacred to the Hindu faith), endorsing the forced conversions of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, and a long history of propagating divisive words and hate speeches, the spectre of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is at the heart of this grotesque renaissance of conservatism in India.
While the British Parliament - once a body that passed draconian colonial laws which led to the deaths and unlawful treatment of tens of millions of Indians - planned to erect a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Westminster, Indian conservatives planned to erect statues of Nathuram Godse - the man who ruthlessly assassinated Gandhi in 1948, declaring Godse to be a true "Hindu patriot".
"[H]istory will forever know that Indian democracy was forged in Indian liberalism, and with the demise of Indian liberalism shall come the demise of Indian democracy."
The woes and challenges a cornered Indian liberalism faces, however pale in comparison to the consequences of Indian liberalism's light being doused.
If liberalism dies, so will democracy
Let no side of the Indian political spectrum fool you - history will forever know that Indian democracy was forged in Indian liberalism, and with the demise of Indian liberalism shall come the demise of Indian democracy. From the revolutionaries of 1857 to the Indians who were hung, shot and tortured in the 1920s, every single one of India's martyrs died not for a Hindu nation, but for an Indian one.
The fall of a liberal democracy in India, substituted with a religious conservative one, which is essentially a stepping stone to an Iran-esque theocratic democracy, threatens to harm far more than just the Indian people.
India has, for a long time, been a beacon of liberal democracy in the midst of regional totalitarianism. Surrounded by the likes of Pakistan - a nation whose history has been dominated by brutal dictators - and Sri Lanka - a nation whose linguistic chauvinism and systemic racism led to a devastating civil war - India shines as a nation with an uninterrupted record of serving her minorities and protecting them from the whims of the majority.
"Indian liberalism is what kept Pakistani dictators up at night, but Indian conservatism would have provided them the comfort and confidence to rule with an iron fist."
But the rise of Hindutva and the subsequent emboldening of Indian conservatism threaten the liberal and secular fabric of India. And with that fabric, they threaten every precedent India has worked to achieve, and threaten every achievement we are yet to reach as a nation and a society. Indian liberalism is what kept Pakistani dictators up at night, but Indian conservatism would have provided them the comfort and confidence to rule with an iron fist. Because, as history has shown, the greatest rival of tyranny is liberal democracy, and only liberal democracy prevails in almost every case.
A call to action
Writing in the 1940s, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, both a vocal atheist and ardent Indian liberal, declared in exasperation, "Evil unchecked grows, evil tolerated poisons the whole system." Today, 70 years later, his words echo as a solution to a beleaguered Indian liberal - speak up, or vanish with the tides of time. Indian liberals need to pick up the mic and raise their voices, because an Indian nation built on the very things our founding fathers died fighting - linguistic chauvinism, religious supremacy, and a heavy handed government - cannot stand.
In the eyes of a Twitter-addicted conservative, I too might be an #AadarshLiberal - but I would sooner die than be an advocate of an ideology that degrades the pillars of a modern India and eats away at the finest achievements of this country.
Because, at the end of the day, Indian liberalism is the flavour of our democracy - a flavour that allows conservatives to exist and share their views without persecution - but it is a jarring fact that the same cannot be said of liberals in an India built on conservative foundations.
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