Well, I've been observing public discourse in general as well as participating in a minor way in the liberal discourse on various issues. I was getting increasingly uneasy with the kind of stridency in public debates/discussions. People have stopped talking to each other, whether in the print or electronic media or, even in private conversations. Instead they are constantly talking at each other. There is no give and take of ideas or thoughts. `I am right and you are wrong and I am not going to agree with you, so don't try to persuade me,' is the unspoken refrain in all conversations. Sometimes it's not unspoken.
What's even more disturbing is the extreme polarisation of views on practically anything. It's my white versus your black. I am always white and the other person is always black. There is no space for greys. The BJP is always wrong and the non-BJP is always right or vice versa depending on your ideological leaning. If you are pro-reforms, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P Chidambaram are always right and a complete free market is the only solution to all ills (even your domestic squabbles). If you are against reforms, Ahluwalia and Chidambaram are always wrong (and that vermin Surjit Bhalla should be exterminated!); Sitaram Yechury and Jean Dreze are always right and the State must continue to manufacture sliced white bread.
And then there are the labels. If you speak in favour of economic reforms, you've sold your soul to the IMF-World Bank-MNC combine and don't care for the poor. If you speak in favour sectoral regulators and social security, you're a statist or, worse, communist. If you say the NDA government did some good or criticise the Haj subsidy, you're a Hindu fundamentalist or a good Hindu (depending on who you are speaking to). If you criticise Narendra Modi and Murli Manohar Joshi, you're a leftist pseudo-secularist or a genuine secularist (again, depending on whom you are addressing). And if you are constantly seeing merits in either point of view, well, tough luck, you're a IMF wallah one day and a jhola wallah the next; you're a Hindu fundamentalist one day and secularist the next. More likely, at the end of it all, you'll just be one confused soul and will find yourself paying the price of not aligning with one or the other ideological camp.
Whatever happened to nuanced stands? Why does questioning why Sonia Gandhi did not take Indian citizenship for 20 years mean that you are a jingoistic nationalist who is against people of foreign origin ruling the country? Why does asking what business the State has to manufacture bread mean that you want poor people to starve to death? Why does crediting Arun Jaitley for his his pro-reforms stand mean that you are also endorsing his staunch support for Narendra Modi? Why does saying that public investment in certain kinds of infrastructure is necessary mean that you are advocating state intervention in the economy?
It's all to do with the tyranny of political correctness. And with ideological groups appropriating various terms. The left has hijacked the pro-poor platform; and the sangh parivar has set itself up as the only group speaking for the Hindus. Nobody is trying to wrest these platforms back from them.
I am personally against any kind of fundamentalism, religious, ideological, fiscal, economic or whatever. That is why this blog and the name.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a freethinker as `a person who rejects accepted opinion, especially those concerning religious belief'. In a world where liberalism, the free market, communism and socialism have become as rigid religions as Hinduism or Islam or Christianity, I find myself constantly at loggerheads with one or the other school of thought as I refuse to subject myself to any form of ideological fundamentalism. Why unrepentant? Because I find I am often forced to be defensive about the views I hold because labels are being thrown at me.
My basic ideological leaning is towards liberalism and an open society and, to that extent, I have a revulsion towards socialism and communism. I not only find them irrelevant and outdated but they also carry within them the seeds of tyranny and dictatorship. But my liberalism is not one which demands an unquestioning obedience and blind genuflection to liberal shibboleths. Nor can I ignore the merits of an argument that those opposed to my beliefs have.
I have one set of liberal comrades who believe that if the communists say something, the opposite must be true. And another set says that if the BJP-sangh parivar combine says something, we must say the opposite. I realise both the loony left and the rabid right can evoke such extreme reactions among the most mild-mannered people but if even liberals abandon the path of sanity, how are we better than either of those fanatical groups?
I have been labelled a Hindutva type as well as a pseudo-secularist. My left leaning acquaintances think I am a economic liberatarian while some of my liberal comrades in arms think I am just a shade lighter than socialist pink.
But I am nothing more than an unapologetic free thinker, who refuses to be tied down to or get straitjacketed within any one dogma. Or accept any label.
What this blog will do
This blog will be my own personal soapbox, if you will, on which I will from time to time sound off on various issues, trying to separate unrelated issues and steer clear of ideological inflexibility. Above all, I will try and explain what liberalism means to me at a personal level. I will not be politically correct and I will not pull any punches.
I will also put up writings that i feel deserve to be read more widely.