The CM of Karnataka (B S Yeddyurappa), Sri Rama Sene Chief (Pramod Muthalik) and the CM of Rajasthan (Ashok Gehlot) follow the footsteps of the Thackerays. Muthalik barges into a pub in Mangalore with his hooligan friends and they assault the girls for wearing Western outfits and dancing with their friends. (link) “We will not allow pub culture in Karnataka” says BSY and before you start thinking that this is a well known phenomenon that exists in the right-wing group, Gehlot, a Congressman, slams “pub and mall culture” and aspires to become a “moral police” of the state.
These incidents are aptly being labeled as efforts of “Talibanization of India” in some editorials (here’s one). Instead of learning to respect individual liberty and preserving the age-old tradition of tolerance and fairness, some elements in India seem to strangle the society with their dogmatic orthodox beliefs. Forcing their own ideals, however corroded they are, on others is exactly what the Taliban has done (and is still doing) in Afghaniztan. Because we live in a society that’s relatively more law abiding, the magnitude of their atrocities are limited, but their ideology is not far off from that of the Taliban regime.
The fact that some of these intolerant whimsical madcaps are democratically elected leaders, often heralded by many locals, makes it more saddening. It reminds us again of the dark sides of democracy. That democracy is not always liberal. Fareed Zakaria has elaborately explained this in his thought provoking political science book The Future of Freedom. The dilemma is this: what if elections are free and fair, but the elected are fascists, racists and separatists – illiberal in general? Zakaria writes:
For the people in the West, democracy means “liberal democracy”: a political system marked not only by free and fair elections but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property. But this bundle of freedoms – what might be termed as “constitutional liberalism” – has nothing intrinsically to do with democracy and the two have not always gone together, even in the West. After all, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany via free elections.
In a democratic system, there are two potential sources of abuse: one from the elected autocrats, and another from the people themselves. The will of the majority can easily transform into tyranny of the majority. Because the politicians have to rely on votes to stay in the government, populism and pandering is embraced. One might blame the existence of vote banks for such attacks (mentioned above) on liberty. But it’s important to distinguish between a symptom and the disease. Vote banks, and pandering in general, are side products of illiberal democracy. Their existence rely on things like religious fundamentalism and collectivism. Even Washington is not exempt from this phenomenon, where the special interest groups and lobbyists seem to run the show. “The more open a [democratic] system becomes, the more easily it can be penetrated by money, lobbyists and fanatics” writes Zakaria.
Today, India is genuinely free society and have a fully functional democratic system in place. But the frequency of “Talibanization efforts” have become more frequent and fervent. We need to remind ourselves yet again that protecting liberty and individual freedom should be the hallmark of a free and just society.