An ISI chief and a liberal?

Not quite

In Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s now famous interview to Der Spiegel, he defends the Taliban’s right to "freedom of opinion" although the question itself related to Mullah Omar’s presence in Pakistan.

However, it is worth listening closely when the general explains why he too is unwilling to apprehend the Taliban leadership, even though many claim that Taliban leader Mullah Omar, for example, is in Quetta, a city where Pasha lived until a few years ago. "Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn’t that freedom of opinion?" he asks, defending extremist rabble-rousers, who are sending more and more Koran school students to Afghanistan to fight in the war there. [Der Spiegel]

Now the ISI chief might have engaged in this sophistry to avoid answering the tough question regarding Mullah Omar’s current residential address. But it also shows that for all his sophistication and liberal pretensions, General Shuja Pasha’s doesn’t know what liberalism is about. He indulges in a common fallacy, or indeed a trick that illiberal types use: they forget (or are unaware) that even the standard bearers of liberalism argue that the one condition that constrains free speech is that it should cause no harm to others. Here’s old Mill:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. [John Stuart Mill/On Liberty]

Social justice is injustice

And the source of so many of India’s problems

Today’s dose of excellent writing comes from Mint, where Vipin Veetil argues that “social justice is injustice”.

Governments were larger than ever before, and socialism the intellectual high ground. And justice became muddled. Right to education, right to leisure, right to what politicians want were all called justice. And this is (Amartya) Sen’s notion of justice. Social justice is, however, self-contradictory, for a simple reason. Since individuals have the right to own their produce, heavy taxation is theft. So is price control and taking away land for social good. We run into a logical contradiction—for justice we practise injustice.

And once justice loses meaning, collectivism triumphs, for the old solid moral foundation of law can now be replaced with political opportunism. The government takes to cost benefit analysis (CBA)—any and all actions are possible if politicians can claim it’s for the greater good of society. Only trade can ensure that exchange of property rights happen only when both parties are better off. With CBA, experts decide who should command resource and who should leave their property. Violence erupts as some citizens feel they lost out. Interest groups capture the government; if there is going to be theft, why not get the government to steal for me than from me.

And justice begins to mean different things to different people. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) claims it is unjust to halt development that will bring jobs to millions; displaced farmers claim it is unjust to take away lands. And both are right because justice has no meaning. Behind the present turmoil lies a muddled notion of justice. Private property must be reinstated as a fundamental constitutional right for justice to have meaning. [Mint]

Related Links: Here at INI, in the December 2007 issue, Pragati argued for the reinstatement of the right to private property; and Offstumped had declared war on social justice.

Pragati May 2008: Towards liberal nationalism

Issue 14 - Apr 2008

Issue Contents


Liberals, culture and nationalism Ravikiran S Rao
An opportunity exists for a new politics

Changing the broken wheel Raj Cherubal
The secular-right must champion economic freedom

Towards “that heaven of freedom” Gautam Bastian
A free nation of free citizens

Out of court Rohit Pradhan, Shashi Shekhar & Mukul Asher
Carry on the battle, but respect the court’s verdict


India as a rising great power; climate change and national security; India-Iran relations; to the brink; and trade across the Line of Control


The new currency of power Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs
A discussion on strategic affairs with K Subrahmanyam


Use the Tibet card Zorawar Daulet Singh
To settle the India-China dispute

Consensus must endure Dinesh Wagle
Maoists have the upper hand in the construction of the republic

Bottom-up dynamics Sushant K Singh
What attracts Africa to India and how it can be strengthened

Pressed by inflation Gulzar Natarajan
Easing supply bottlenecks is the right way to go


Memories of 1971 Amardeep Singh
A review of Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age

Read excerpts | Download

Swatantra and secularism: setting the record straight

S V Raju responds to Vir Sanghvi’s allegations

In this article in Hindustan Times, among other things, Vir Sanghvi clubs Jan Sangh and Swantantra Party together and claims that they “made the point that there was no harm in declaring that Hinduism was India’s state religion”. We asked S V Raju, an office-bearer of the erstwhile Swatantra Party, whether this was accurate.

Mr Raju’s response (via email):
During the life of the Swatantra Party there were many epithets hurled at us beginning with Nehru’s “Rich Man’s Party” and a “Party of Rajas and Maharajas” but none called us a a “Hindu” party much less one advocating a ‘Hindu State’. No one clubbed us with the Jan Sangh other than drawing attention to the fact that we had apparently similar economic policies. Even this was a half truth.

Though I was sure Sanghvi was talking nonsense about the Swatantra Party, I looked up some documents, including my Party’s three manifestos for the ’62, ’67 and ’71 elections and confirmed that none of them have we even remotely suggested support for a Hindu State.

It is a fact that both Rajaji and Masani used the word ‘secular’ very sparingly. Masani preferred to describe India as a ‘non-denominational democracy’ and Rajaji in an article on ‘The Secular State’ had to say this: “It has been repeatedly affirmed that when the Indian Constitution laid down that India shall be a secular state it was not intended that the State shall discourage or be hostile towards religion, but that what was intended was impartiality towards all creeds and denominations. It was a refusal to accept the theory that different religions made different nations or that the State should belong to one religion more than another.”

He wrote this on August 3, 1957 in Swarajya. This formed the basis of the Swatantra Party’s policy, founded two years later, on the relationship between religion and the State. Sanghvi’s hindsight is, to say the least, flawed.

From the archives: Any party you like. As long as it’s socialist (Mr Raju responds)

A lesson in opposites

Why doesn’t Karan Thapar dare to call anti-Hindutva by its name?

In an op-ed that wishes for Narendra Modi’s ‘sudden removal’, (via Offstumped) Karan Thapar writes:

Where does this leave the regional parties and the Left? They may retain their identity, even their present base, but they will have to line-up behind Modi or Sonia, in the saffron camp or the liberal/secular one. They may even have to submerge themselves within the broad appeal of the camp they belong to. [HT]

Now calling for parties to line-up against Modi is fine. But why the subterfuge? For neither Sonia Gandhi, nor the Left nor any of the regional parties are truly secular. And they are far from being “liberal”.

Secularism and Liberalism are lofty principles. The word that Thapar should use is anti-Hindutva. Will Thapar, Sonia Gandhi or anyone else in that camp dare declare that they are anti-Hindutva?

Indian ‘liberals’ must become more Liberal

But things might be turning out as Raj Cherubal predicted in this month’s issue of Pragati: the time has come for Indian ‘liberals’ to become more Liberal.

A kidnapped word can’t be held hostage any longer

For some levity, read this op-ed by a certain Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr in DNA.

The other weakness in the liberals’ crusade against Modi was that they saw his market-friendly, reformist economic agenda as anti-poor and anti-minority. They did not reckon with the fact that the poor and the minorities, who wear no ideological blinkers, are willing to embrace the market to improve their lives. The poor are not natural socialists, a mistaken notion in the minds of radical bourgeoisie.

The liberals may have to abandon their unconscious socialism and pathetic secularism, and to stand up for the rights of individuals to believe and not believe in religion, to believe and not believe in nationalism. Believers in religion, nationalism and market economics are not to be shunned as reactionaries. [DNA]

Reminds you of Amit Varma’s complaint. But things might be turning out as Raj Cherubal predicted in this month’s issue of Pragati