The Indian Liberals and their Fundamental Problem

There are different kinds of liberals in India. Some are self-claimed. Some have a liberal orientation by the virtue of modern education and tend to believe that it is the only way of thinking.


Quite a few conflicts are playing themselves out in the Kurukshetra of today, i.e. India. At the outset, it seems like many players. The Leftists, the liberals, the centrists, the traditional, the economic right and left, the modern conservatives, the extreme communists, and we can go on. However, at its highest level, just as in Kurukshetra there were Kauravas and Pandavas, there are two parties to this conflict. It is a conflict between Modernity as a thought represented by Liberals who have co-opted a wide variety of leftist players on the one side and the civilization of India represented by many assorted organizations on the other side. The former is represented by a few political parties apparently, and it has also co-opted a few other parties clandestinely. The latter, on the other hand, has just one political party. The former has 70 years of institutional control over India, whereas the latter is taking some steps towards the same. Quite a few representing the Civilization of India appreciate the need to wrest the Institutional Control, however that has simply eluded so far. Despite having political power, the latter has simply not gone the length in acquiring institutional power yet.

The purpose of this article is to characterize the nature of these conflicts taking place in India – i.e., the clash of the grand narratives or the clash of civilizations that is playing itself in the centre of the society, affecting almost every day’s life. In particular, it characterizes the fundamental problem behind the role played by Indian Liberals who consider themselves as harbingers of Modernity. The article lists different levels of conflict resolutions operating in the society and how the Modern Liberal fraternity operates in those conflict resolution mechanisms and the grand design behind their operation, and how they deny legitimacy and power to the larger civilization through their operation.

Conflicts, Conflict Resolution and Indian Liberals  

There are myriad conflicts in India today and as many conflict resolution mechanisms/efforts. These conflict resolution mechanisms operate at multiple levels. Before we begin to analyze the role played by Indian Liberals, let us understand these different conflict resolution mechanisms that are used in the civilizational conflicts. [Discussions around these conflict resolution mechanisms don’t display a good understanding of the fundamentals behind problems and the scope of the conflict resolution. We should be clear about the level at which an argument/effort is being made as a proposition to resolve the conflict.]

Let us list these Conflict Resolution Levels 

  1. Quick-fix Resolutions to move forward quickly:
    1. Informal justice, easy instruments for justice, quickly move forward to harmony.
  2. Resolutions that strive to compensate the Aggrieved:
    1. Focus on the aggrieved party, minimize damage by compensating.
  1. Resolutions using established frameworks of law
    • Based on the efficacy of the law, does it solve the problem
  2. Resolutions using Principles of Law (Constitutional principles)
    1. Fundamentally arguing for applicability of the law.
  3. Resolutions using Principles of Ethics beyond immediate Law
    1. Questioning the principles based on which existing laws are operating,
    1. Exploring the foundations based on which laws are made.
  4. Resolutions pushing for Social Transformation 
    • Based on a certain Vision for the Society.

In practice, resolution efforts are not pure expositions sticking to one of these levels strictly. Quite naturally, there is a complex muddle of all these – often without an explicit realization. Each level has its own necessity, merit and limitation. However, there is a guiding philosophy that is shaping different arguments/resolution mechanisms in each of these levels. The arguments/resolution mechanisms do not operate independently, in thin air – without the support of a guiding philosophy. In particular, the notions of ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ in each of these (arguments/resolution mechanisms at each level) is a function of this underlying ‘philosophy’. Multiple philosophies are operating within the society at any point in time. They are conflicting with each other all the time. Hence, one cannot understand an argument at any of these levels without understanding/evaluating these philosophies and claim a ‘ Universal Right/Correct’. Every conflict in the civilization realm is a conflict at a philosophical level as well. In summary, ‘Philosophy’ itself is the 7th Level and arguably the final level.

The Liberals don’t understand this and tend to trivialize every argument from the other side. Indulging in a genuine, respectful and meaningful conflict with the counterpart on the other side is mandatory at each level. False moral high ground cannot be claimed by any party. The concern of this article is to put forth how the Indian Liberals approach resolution at each of these levels denying legitimacy to those representing the Civilization of India. 

1. Community Intuition based Quick Resolution

For most people and communities, ending the conflict (thereby ending the negative energy that affects normal life) and moving forward is most important. They resort to evaluating the situation with practical considerations of moving forward. They simply explore instruments that helps everybody move forward and that is the sole consideration. Most people who strive to resolve conflicts on purely practical grounds are often more honest than others. They are not servile to any lofty notions of correctness and hence are void of all arrogance that comes with it. Instead, they are focused on somehow resolving a conflict. The heartening matter is that most social conflicts are resolved in this way. Such mechanisms help us to move away from the conflict and not get entangled in it. Moving forward towards the next state of harmony between those in conflict is the priority.

In this mode, people invoke instruments of resolution readily/easily accessible through social/community intuition and tradition. Such instruments are a result of philosophy/thought that has transformed into customs and practices over centuries. Here, people do not need to understand complicated philosophies in order to resolve conflicts – the philosophies are available ingrained in the minds and these act as ready instruments of. Communities evolve and preserve these instruments and pass it on as practiced knowledge. Typically, this is how neighborhood conflicts are resolved. This is a faster method of conflict resolution as opposed to measured justice.

However, there are obvious limitations of such instruments. A typical Modern criticism of such resolution instruments is:

  • Ineffective in delivering Justice and solving problems

If a society is not highly adaptive to changing realities, these resolution instruments become blunt and ineffective, resulting in more injustice than justice. (On the contrary, a highly adaptive society would have evolved these instruments through its diverse experiences and interactions over a period of time, and their conflict resolution instruments are quite effective.) 

  • Not designed for definite delivery of justice

Such instruments may merely release a conflict temporarily but not deliver justice. Worse, societies may have lost their ability to perceive injustice resulting through such instruments. Even when they recognize injustice, change may be too slow in some societies. 

  • No concern about true resolution of the conflict

Worse, societies may excessively focus on resolving a conflict alone, by reaching some common ground in the immediate, with no concern whether the conflict is truly resolved or if it is a patch work. In other words, societies may focus less on whether the aggrieved party perceives the resolution as true justice. They may not evaluate whether the next state of harmony is sustainable not.

Hence, Modernity trashes this community-intuition based conflict resolution. Modernity espouses the cause of explicit, specialized resolution leveraging institutions alone for delivering justice and continuous change. (It is a different matter whether Modernity has delivered the desired result or not.)

In summary, merely being practical and invoking obvious instruments accessible by community intuition cannot resolve all conflicts. Worse, it cannot even help us in understanding all conflicts – it is the latter that is more important for our discussion here.

2. Aggrieved Party-oriented Conflict Resolution

As opposed to simply moving forward from a conflict, these are mechanisms that focus on compensating or addressing perceived or real injustice suffered by a genuine party in the conflict. This requires a greater institutional investment in resolution. Neighborhood conflicts don’t require this, but bigger ones do, where, not compensating the aggrieved has costly implications for the society. Focus on the aggrieved party rather than merely the conflict completely changes the nature of conflict resolution.

This can be better narrated through an example. Let’s say, a woman comes with a domestic harassment complaint to an authority. The authority could then have can have two concerns.

  • saving the institution of family, and
  • compensating any injustice meted out to the woman through harassment.

At the outset, both are important concerns which nobody can deny. The former is a concern for tomorrow and the latter is a concern for today. However, they could conflict with each other at times. When we resolve it in favour of the Institution, the woman may suffer, but resolving it only in favour of the woman could result in other practical problems for the family, resulting in bigger problems. Replace the woman with a man in these sentences, and the problem remains the same. Focusing on the aggrieved party though creates a unique opportunity for the society – to correct flaws within the institution – apart from resolving the conflict and creating a sense of justice and evolve corrective measures. Fundamentally, it places the individual above the institution. Modernity champions are the cause of this approach. Even within this, it espouses the cause of Institutional Jurisprudence in the form of Codified Laws, Courts, Constitutions and Law. 

However, there is no reason why a Community cannot create and possess capabilities in this space without the formal Institutions of modern nature. The reality is that communities of India have evolved these capabilities and demonstrated which, however, are not palatable to the modern ways. The Philosophy that guides the community jurisprudence is different and without codified laws. Traditions of India were based on principles to help them change and evolve over the years, not remain static. Their very purpose was to navigate through change with minimal damage. Our societies have always had ways and means of resolving conflicts, creating a balance between the Institution and the Individual.

But Modernity neither recognizes that our communities contain such an ability, nor does it agree with its philosophy.

3. Conflict Resolution using Frameworks of Laws in Vogue/Code

This is the method of resolution that we are most familiar with in the modern era – the Laws and the Courts of Law. The latter are responsible for both application of law and interpretation of law. Rightful application of law is not straight forward at any point in time. courts are there exactly for this reason – to determine which law should apply and how. 

However, Constitutions – the repositories of law – are not created in void through universal common sense, logic, and reason. They are the result of sometimes a single philosophy or at other times a complex combination of different philosophies. It represents the complexity of the underlying society and its aspirations of change. As a result, we have conflicting laws within a single constitution. For example: Indian Constitution espouses the concept of uniformity, secularism on the one hand and separate religious personal laws for communities on the other. 

As a result of these conflicting realities within a Constitution, when judges uphold one law above the other in a conflict situation, it results in interesting case studies. What are the guiding principles behind such an upholding? It could be one of these:

  • Sometimes it is purely a practical approach to conflict resolution.
  • At other times it is by invoking social/community intuition.
    • Eg. The Ayodhya Verdict of 2010
  • A complex interpretation of what is important within the Constitution (few times).
    • Eg. Privacy and Security – Aadhaar
  • Upholding one philosophy above the other without explicitly stating (Complex situations).
    • For eg. In the Sabarimala case, SC upheld Universal Equality vs. Universal Exclusivity

Hence, it is important to appreciate that the judgements operate at multiple levels and there is genuine scope for multiple views. Liberals tend to view any justice delivered opposing their perspective with a criminal sense of right/wrong – which is unfortunate. When two parties are arguing for two different ways of application of laws within a single constitution, both sides need to be viewed with legitimacy and respect as genuine applications of law. 

Taking the Sabarimala case in particular, the traditional Indians have been arguing that the “Equality” principle cannot be applied, and distinction must be made between Civil Rights and Religious Rights when the principle of Equality is applied within the framework of Indian Constitution. This must be respectfully argued against by the Liberal Moderns rather than bulldoze through hyperbolas of preconceived/assumed progressiveness.

4. Conflict Resolution by Principles of Laws

At times, conflicts are argued not by which law should be applied from among the many. Instead, principles governing Law or a Law are used. For eg. It is one thing to argue whether Equality should be above Personal Law or otherwise. It is another thing to explore if the principle of Equality applies in a case at all. 

Equality is an important principle that most people today value as important for the society and non-negotiable, particularly by the modernists. Even the Traditional India agrees that Equality is a considerably important principle for a society for justice, harmony and good life. However, there ends the similarity. A key difference is whether Equality is a Universal Principle or if it is an exclusive principle. 

This discussion is in the realm of Principles governing the very making of a Law. If Equality is a universal principle then men and women are equal at all times, in terms of physical, material, emotional and intellectual access to everything in the society/civilization. However, there is a different vision of Equality that is legitimate in its own way and deserves respectful consideration. Universal Equality is neither practical, nor desirable. A “Net-equality” is both achievable and desirable. Net equality says that everybody will not have access to everything, but everybody will have exclusive access to ‘something’. Exclusive access balances out the negatives of what is not accessible. Further, exclusive access is what leads to diversity. These are two different views of the very Principle of Equality. Both views are respectable and must conflict with each other with respect.

However, in the Sabarimala case, the Principle of Absolute Equality has demonized the Principle of Exclusive Access, denying the people a genuine opportunity to reflect between the two and make informed choices.

5. Principles of Ethics

There are situations when application of existing laws is quite trivial and clear for a situation. Yet there may be a good reason to question such an easy application. What then are the principles based on which you will question a law or a principle of law.

It is necessary to remember that Law Books are made by people. It is based on their stated/unstated philosophies/ideologies over which a reasoning is constructed. In summary, there are experiences and assumptions as well behind this reasoning. It may have been constructed through a process of Justice. But the eventual destination that a law may take us to, upon its application, is always to be reflected upon and corrected. This applies to both a Law and a Principle of Law. The purpose of all laws is to deliver justice in such a manner that the next state after the application of law is better than the previous in net summary apart from compensating for the loss of the aggrieved. What a loss is and what the next best state is – are always defined in the context of the larger lie. Hence, ethics is an important consideration. 

In criminal cases such as murders, this aspect may not be pronounced, but even in those cases, the quantum of punishment is a function of these ethical considerations. However, in bigger cases, these become pronounced. In matters such as reservation, principles of equality and social justice, it is often the larger ethical consideration that is the guiding principle. A decision must move the society into a higher state of health. The Ayodhya Verdict of 2010 probably had a component of ethical consideration. The concept of Dharma in India guided societies for centuries in this endeavor to always reach a healthy next state from the current state. 

Without ethics, a discussion on healthy state is impossible. Ethics will always remain a function of philosophy and culture. Modern ethics is much different from the Traditional Ethics of India. They need to conflict with each other with mutual respect. 

6. Social Transformation

There is no society without a problem. Each society identifies its big problems and frames specific laws that are designed to solve those big problems. For eg. Dowry System. In one era, dowry may not have caused any problem, but today it has resulted in severe exploitation of the unfortunate. Hence, there is a law with a specific vision of social transformation into a society without Dowry System. Similarly, there are laws that espouse the cause of equality between men and women such as property rights. Equality has a fundamental value in Indian constitution. Modernists believe that the Constitution of India is not just a justice-delivering framework but a document that transforms the society. Some do not accept that view.

In summary, our worldview of Social Transformation, our Vision of the next state of the society, becomes an important consideration in conflict resolution when an existing law or principle of law is not enough or clear enough for resolution. Our Laws and the Principles of Law are exposed to a continuous scrutiny of the larger society consciously and subconsciously. In any healthy society that does not want to be dogmatic, this is an imperative.

In a society such as ours that has gone through a thousand years of turmoil, continuing to be at the receiving end of onslaught, multiple social transformation projects are running visibly or invisibly. This then extends to law and conflict resolution. Often when important conflicts are being discussed, it is not a blind application of the law under consideration, it elevates to become a discussion on the conflicting perspectives/social transformation projects. Each perspective must respect the other perspective in order to realize a constructive way forward.

For eg. The conflict between the Decentralized polity and Centralized polity, as a society with absolute free speech vs. restricted free speech, are all in this realm. The Presidential system seeking elements of India have a certain social transformation in mind. The Parliarmentary system champions have a vision of the society. In principle, they are both valid and their conflict must operate on an equal plane with respect.

7. The Philosophy

In India, the Social Liberal Secular Modernity and the traditional Dharmic Philosophies on the other, have completely two different value sets. The Secularism conflict is in this realm. Does Secularism really fuel more religious conflict in India or resolve it? Does the traditional dharmic philosophy accommodate diversity better? These discussions belong to the realm of philosophy.

However, In India, what Modernity Does is …..

We now come to crux of this article. How are the Modern liberals playing this conflict?

Modernity does not recognize that the conflicts between Modernity and Tradition in India can be respectful, genuine, equal-plane conflicts. Liberals, championing Modernity in India, do not realize that Modernity is merely an ideology with untested ideals, and it is not a value of life yet. They do not appreciate that the larger Civilization of India is a living tradition of many thousands of years, with which Modernity is in conflict. They do not acknowledge that this Civilization has not been a static one and has changed over a period, absorbed many influences, at times with constructive conflicts and at other times suffering destructive conflicts. Such a vibrant civilization and its constituents need to be accorded respect.

However, Modernity and its proponents have other considerations. In its endeavor to create a powerful space for itself, it tends give itself a superiority, finality and universal applicability – as a philosophy. It considers anything in conflict with it as unworthy of lofty considerations, lowly and evil. It thinks of itself as the most superior value and the natural future of all civilizations, in fact the very destination of all civilizations. In this endeavor, it considers the Constitution of India as its instrument to destroy everything in conflict with Modernity and the values it espouses. In summary, it behaves like a fundamentalist religion.

The operation of this grand villainy role played by Modernity, in the conflict resolution in India, can be summarized as follows. 

  • It fundamentally refuses that a sophisticated philosophy exists behind the conflict resolution mechanisms of the Traditional India. 
  • This non-recognition of a sophisticated philosophy makes it easy for Modernity to demean any jurisprudence evolved by the Traditional Communities of India. It refuses to recognize the existence of jurisprudence capabilities and deny any sophistication to any jurisprudence when the existence cannot be denied.  
  • This makes it further easy to De-legitimize any native conflict resolution mechanism of the Communities of India, particularly in the eyes of those deeply exposed to modern education.
  • This further makes it easy to use the Modern state power to De-capacitate the ability of Indian societies to invoke their own mechanisms of conflict resolution.

Once the communities become weak and their ability to use good mechanisms weakens further, then Modernityheckles these communities incessantly for not being able to resolve its conflicts. It all becomes very convenient to criticize and consume.

This is the in-summary-story of what is happening in India since the British era, more-so in the post-independence era.

How do the Modern Liberals of India go about creating a superior space for themselves?

There are different kinds of liberals in India. Some are self-claimed. Some have a liberal orientation by the virtue of modern education and tend to believe that it is the only way of thinking. All the Modern Liberals, with all their disagreements, have one thing in common, that is to demean the past to create space for their vision of the future.

To achieve their objective in India, the self-proclaimed Liberals and those with similar orientation go about in a very simple way which can be summarized as follows.

  • Push their vision of Social Transformation
  • Without sufficient philosophical discussion
  • Without even conceding that an alternate philosophy exists with which they must engage.

How do they propose to achieve this? 

  • Not by indulging on discussions on ethics and principles of law
  • But by directly jumping into very specific Laws that they have created themselves
  • Through Interpretations of Constitutional principles that enable their vision of Social Transformation.

In this, many of them understand that this entire approach is fundamentally undemocratic and unethical. Social Transformation must be first negotiated through Society that then results in appropriate laws, not twist existing laws or push existing laws without sufficient discussion in the society. As a result, Liberals manage to create institutional mechanisms that the larger society does not understand, would never agree with, but suffers without knowing such mechanisms exist. 

Now, how do they manage the undemocratic nature of their enterprise? 

  • By ensuring absolutely no way for the society to access/appreciate alternate conflict resolution mechanisms of informal/formal/codified/ethical/philosophical nature
  • By making their own version of conflict resolution the only version accessible by society without any obstruction
  • By constantly denigrating community ways of conflict resolution, although it is the least expensive and most relevant in most of the conflicts
  • Worse, by continuously weakening, de-legitimizing and de-capacitating Community conflict resolution mechanism to ensure that 
    • The society’s inherent ability to change and evolve is destroyed
    • The control keeps shifting to Institutions from communities, to such Institutions that are under their watch and access.

The Sabarimala case is even more interesting. There is almost no original, genuine aggrieved party. The aggrieved party is a Liberal who believes in a different philosophy – with a certain social vision that the larger society does not agree. What they do in these cases is even more dangerous. 

  • They smartly use existing Laws and Principles of Law (Eg. Equality) selectively
  • Create narratives from that, take society on an imaginary guilt trip
  • Create aggrieved parties where none exist.

This they do in order to create more capacity to push their vision of social transformation. Generally, they succeed in taking society through a guilt trip and inducing a sense of injustice – in this case to women. But in the Sabarimala case, they miserably failed as they failed to co-opt Indian women into this victimhood.

In summary, what the liberals do is 

  • to un-democratically push a vision of society they have
  • by weakening existing frameworks of society to resolve and evolve
  • thereby creating new conflicts in the society where none existed. 

The ulterior among them do this to shift controls/powers within the society to those institutions and instruments that are more under their charge, access, monitor and manipulation. It is a centralization of conflict resolution that they can operate invisibly.

Fundamentally, it’s a Society Control Mission under the garb of Social Progress.

Featured Image: Washington Post

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