I think it is fair to admit that the influence of Indian liberals continues to dwindle every month. Outnumbered and outshouted, the Indian liberals — a motley group of individuals who claim to represent more left-wing, inclusive and progressive values — have lost one battle after another in the last decade. Two national elections, multiple state elections, influence in the media, social media reach, following in the youth or policy impact — the liberals haven’t managed to win against the right wing. It is true that India is a power-is-everything society with the winner-takes-all outcome. Hence, if the right wing is strongly in power, it can literally control everything and enjoy a massive fanbase. However, it still doesn’t fully explain the low appeal of liberals in a country as diverse as India. After all, why aren’t Indians listening to people who claim to be more just, peaceful, inclusive, caring and progressive? To put it bluntly, why are the liberals failing so miserably?
The reason is that despite decent intentions, liberals continue to make several mistakes. This limits their growth and reduces them to an echo chamber of their own. India needs a proper opposition, in order for its democracy to work. This includes a liberal voice and ideology that reaches far more than it does right now. Here are some mistakes India’s liberals are making that limit their growth.
- Failure to express themselves in a way India understands: The issue is not the English language. The issue is many liberals copy-paste American liberalism models and try to push them in India. It doesn’t work. Hindu-Muslim issues aren’t the same as White-Black issues. Americans don’t have caste-based reservations (barring some limited affirmative action). Americans don’t have so much regional and language heterogeneity in their population. For those who claim to be intellectuals, the lack of understanding of Indian reality and inability to communicate is baffling. Don’t talk down to people. Talk to people. And listen to them too.
- Obnoxious, holier-than-thou, one-upmanship: Sure, liberals believe in equality for all and being sensitive to racism, colourism, casteism etc. However, many of India’s liberals have no interest in making the rest of that country that way. The only thing they want to project is that they are better and more virtuous than the rest. Sometimes, they outliberal each other, saying they are even more liberal than their fellow liberals. It’s pointless and a turnoff. Aim to make India liberal, not to prove how you are more liberal than the rest.
- The lack of focus on changing the Congress leadership: All the wonderfully articulated articles, the expression of sensitivity towards all the less privileged and the rants on the BJP amount to little if there are no political wins for the ideology. The Congress was, is and will be the only real opposition to the BJP. The same Congress has a massive leadership crisis. As liberals are already outnumbered, they need to focus on one issue and put the magnifying glass over it. That issue is about the Congress leadership. Leaving it to chance, or letting it wither away while liberals write yet another anti-Modi article or talk about how BJP-ruled states are bad won’t achieve anything. Narrowing the focus to one singular issue — the Congress leadership — may actually help achieve something.
- Modi-Shah obsession: Liberals feel these two gentlemen are responsible for everything in Indian society. The first BJP victory could have come from a desire for change or the personal appeal of Modi. The second victory, however, tells us something else. It tells us that Modi-Shah are the kind of people Indian society wants. If it isn’t them, it will be someone like them. Hence, attacking them is kind of pointless at this stage. If at all, liberals need to work on the values and mindsets of Indian people. They need to show Indian people why their way of thinking is better for the nation. In this, they shouldn’t appeal on the basis of morality. They should appeal on self-interest. A peaceful, more inclusive society is better for economic growth for instance, which in turn means better jobs for you or your kids. Saying we should all be “good people” because it’s a “nice thing to do” is not going to cut much ice.
Liberals in India are diminishing fast. While a big part of this is a change in Indian society, some of the blame lies in the hands of the liberals themselves. They have not made the intellectual effort required to reach and convince Indians. They have been self-indulgent, somewhat intellectually pompous and engaged in virtue signalling and one-upmanship. They have not focused on the single most important issue of Congress leadership and been too obsessed with Modi. A lack of a vision for India, which fits their ideology and yet is in people’s self-interest has not been formulated. If liberals and left-leaning individuals need to hold their ground, it is time for self-reflection. India needs a robust right and left to progress. The right is doing pretty well. It is time the left worked on their issues as well.