Is India a liberal country? From our tendency to ban all kinds of ideas — from films that go beyond the commercial to books that present radical ideas - the answer should be no.
Writing in The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, presents eight broad ideas that would make you a liberal, though these eight are not the only qualities that differentiate a liberal from the rest.
The eight tests for liberalism, according to Mehta, are:
#1: Do you place freedom of individuals, their equality and claims to dignity at the centre of your concerns? This means you will not try to pit communal and group identities as the core idea of diversity.
#2: Do you instinctively place you trust in citizens? This question, of course, applies to liberals who are in centres of power, but every ordinary Indian can ask herself if she trusts other citizens or not? Belief in the citizen is key.
#3: Do you abhor concentration of power? Mehta says that a true liberal would not want power to be concentrated in any one centre, since each institution needs to be supreme in its own sphere. Our constitution is liberal, for it tries to balance the powers of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary – and all three are duty-bound to protect free speech within limits.
#4: Do you recognise the importance of decentralisation and people’s participation as central to fostering a sense of citizenship? Or, like our politicians, do you think local self-government is just a “conduit” for implementing decisions taken somewhere else?
#5: Do you simultaneously believe in well-regulated markets and the need for state intervention to protect the vulnerable? But, at the same time, do you ask if state intervention helps enhance a citizens’ ability to participate in the economy, society and politics, or just a way of fostering dependence?
#6: Where do you stand on “tradition” — is just an artifact of the past, something always worth preserving, or something one need not have a view about? Liberals harness good tradition without making it retrograde and reactionary.
#7: Do you believe that inequalities like caste need strong remedies? If yes, what kind of remedies? Just quotas and reservations, or something better? The key to the liberal definition is to figure out methods that reduce inequities without reinforcing one-dimensional identities.
#8: Do you believe in the complexity of causality and outcomes? Unlike the Left, everything is not about who controls the levers of power; and unlike other democrats, everything cannot be reduced to identity politics. A liberal will not seek to imprison every idea in these two extreme views. There is more freedom of thought and action in-between.
Read Mehta’s compete article here.