Liberal Position -7
Liberalism in India
D. V. Gundappa
Liberalism is the attitude of faith in the free working of the intelligence and conscience of man as a means to improvement in human conditions and of opposition to all that tends to obstruct or interfere with that freedom. Thus it is concerned with safeguarding liberty in its inevitable encounters with authority.
Dimensions of Liberalism
For liberty to exist, there must be no obstacle to the self- fulfillment of each man in society - to the unfolding of his faculties, the growth of his personality, the satisfaction of his aspirations, the expression of all that is of value in him, the full blossoming of his soul. In order that every member of the community may be able to use and enjoy liberty, it is necessary that there should be an agreed agency to regulate the conduct of each member at points where he is likely to come in contact with others. That regulative agency is authority. Authority arises out of Law and works in the service of Law, which embodies the general will of the community.
Authority, devised to protect liberty to maintain everybody's liberty against everybody else's in their contacts may, in that process, overstep its boundaries and prove an obstruction on the path of liberty. Since authority has behind it the resources of the entire community, liberty, which has no such support, has to be on guard at all times.
Authority may put liberty in peril in many ways. Chief among them are three :
1) In the domain of politics, authority acting for the state may step into the sphere of the individual's private life or enforce a law endorsed by a majority against the wishes of a minority.
2) In the country's economy, authority may take sides with monopoly and privilege against the requirements of common welfare.
3) In the twilight realm of religion, authority, speaking through church or congregation, may deny to conscience, independence of reasoning and freedom of judgement.
Liberalism is a refusal to accept such dictatorship of a person or group or institution, and a preference for reasoned persuasion based upon respect for the individual's intelligence and goodwill in affairs of common concern. The liberal holds that in every field of living and acting, the individual and the minority have certain rights which are inviolable. He would therefore restrict the movements of authority to the limits of proven necessity and would hesitate to approve of action by the state in matters which are outside its province even when it professes to act with the best of intentions. He would have social and economic improvements brought about by the spontaneous working of the good sense and spirit of progressive enterprise in the community. Democracy is to him the recognition of the significance of the individual, and the trusting in the working of the conscience and good sense of the body politic.
The liberal movement did not develop in India, as in Europe, in response to the challenge of aggression of king or, magnate or ecclesiast. India's history records no instance of any such excessive abuse of authority by state or religion as could provoke a serious conflict in the community. There were undeniably other difficulties - wars, epidemics, famines, criminal gangs, but no complaints of a systematic violation of established rights or invasion into spheres of private life and property by authority. The rule of Dharma or the traditionally accepted law of Righteousness was obeyed without question by king and commoner alike, nor were there any inventions of science to disturb the people's loyalty to inherited faith or to upset the age- old balance of economic forces. If the ancient Hindu kingdoms were not able to face the onslaughts of foreign invasions, the causes for their weakness should be sought elsewhere than in the mutual workings of liberty and authority among the people. The fortunes of war are no test of the soundness of a state's civil constitution, and democracy fares no better than autocracy in a trial of arms and tactics.
Indian Genesis of Liberalism
India's liberalism in the modern period may best be described as a re-articulation of certain instincts which had been embedded for ages in the people's mind, it was not a copying of a fashion of Europe. The re-articulation was undoubtedly called forth by the new knowledge, enlightenment, political institutions and social patterns which Britain brought with her. A re- evaluation of India's ancient heritage in ideals and institutions and practices in the light of the newly arrived cargo of civilization from a far-off shore was only natural, as was also a general desire to improve and renovate. Liberalism in India was thus a resurrection of Dharma, as will be shown presently.
Dharma And Liberalism
India's epic poem, the Mahabharata, contains a convincing simile which illustrates the manner in which both liberty and authority may coexist in a good polity, "People live together in a good state," it says," like brothers under their father's roof, each feeling perfectly at ease and yet obeying an unspoken rule of self- restraint - enjoying a freedom that is not reckless and accepting a discipline which has no harshness in it."
The ancient Hindus saw liberty and authority as correlates. The two were to them two sides of the same coin - the current coin of Dharma. Dharma is truth (Satya or the enduring Inner act) working itself out in everybody and in relation to everybody. Dharma comprehends three concepts in the main, as may be seen from the common usage of the phrase among the Hindus even at the present time:
For the origins of the modern phase, we have to go to Rammohan Roy who lived 120 years ago (1774-1833). This was the epoch of the French Revolution, the age of Bentham and of Wordsworth, when ihto be young (as Rammohan was) was very heaven and when ihReason seemed the most to assert her rights, when most intent on making of herself a prime enchantresslf (Wordsworth). Rammohan was learned in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and many other languages. He had travelled in Europe and lived in England. He believed in the religion of his forefathers, and cultivated a truly cosmopolitan outlook. He pleaded for the spread of ifEnglish educationla and a knowledge of the modern natural sciences among his countrymen. He championed the cause of freedom for the press and rights of women to property and education. He stood for the reform of social abuses like compulsory Suttee (widow burning) and for mutual understanding and tolerance among religions. His political vision is reflected in what he said in 1832 about the advantages of the settlement of Europeans in India.
"Some apprehend that if the population of India were raised to wealth, intelligence and public spirit by the accession and by the example of numerous respectable European settlers, the mixed community so formed would revolt, as the United States of America formerly did, against the power of Great Britain and would ultimately establish independence. It must be observed that the Americans were driven to rebellion by misgovernment; otherwise they would not have revolted and separated themselves from England... The mixed community in India, in the manner, so long as they are treated liberally and governed in an enlightened manner, will feel no disposition to cut off its connection with England... Yet if events should occur to effect a separation, still a friendly and highly advantageous commercial intercourse may be kept up between the two free countries.
It was Mahadev Govind Ranade who gave Indian liberalism its distinctive physiognomy. He was a scholar and thinker of creative power. There was no field of his people's life that escaped his attention. Literary renaissance, historical research, industrial and commercial regeneration, education, religious and social reform, government and administration, citizenship and public life - all these he made the subjects of his study. It was study conducted with a scientist's objectivity and thoroughness and a poet's perceptivity and vision. For forty years he worked at educating his countrymen and showing them how to rebuild their life and recover their place in the world. He was described as "Our Socrates". He found enthusiastic collaborators among his contemporaries in all parts of India. The most illustrious among them was Dadabhai Naoroji, the founder and father of the freedom movement. Among others were Bhandarkar and Vidyasagar, scholars; Veeresalingam, the Voltaire of Andhra; Chandavarkar and Telang and Mani Iyer, jurists; Malabari and Subrahmanyam, publicists. The categories of reconstructive effort to which they devoted themselves were principally in the fields of education, economic development, improvement of women's status, the uplifting of depressed and backward classes, promotion of goodwill and respect among the various religious communities and sects, and political reform.
The new liberalism was thus concerned with all departments of the country's life, and was more a general attitude and way of looking at things than a set of fixed and immutable formulas. It stood for the free play of human intelligence. Reference has already been made to the Hindu's basic article of faith that in every human being there is an inherent potential disposition towards righteousness and benevolence. The purpose of the state is to sublimate and canalize those tendencies making for the restraint of self-love and for self-expansion into world-life. That is the discipline of democracy. A good thing, however good, is not to be imposed on anyone by authority. It should be made acceptable to him by its appeal to informed and rational intelligence. This is the heart of liberalism. Ranade was the teacher who illustrated it mose convincingly, asserting the superiority of the claims of inner intelligence to the dictates of outer authority. In the manifesto he wrote for the Deccan Sabha (1896), he said:
"The spirit of liberalism implies freedom from prejudice and steady devotion to all that seeks to do justice between man and man, giving to the rulers the loyalty that is due to the law they are bound to administer, but securing at the same time to the ruled the equality which is their right under the law. Moderation implies the condition of never vainly aspiring after impossible or too remote ideals, but striving each day to take the next step in the order of natural growth, by doing the work that lies nearest to the hand, in a spirit of compromise and fairness. After all, political activities are chiefly of value, not for the particular results achieved, but for the process of political education which is secured by exciting interest in public matters and promoting the self-reliance of citizenship. This is no doubt a slow process, but all growth of new habits must be slow to be real".
"Self respect and self-reliance of citizenship" is the core of liberalism. But Ranade was no narrow individualist. It is a mistake to think that the doctrine of laissez faire is organic to the liberal creed. The doctrine in its extreme and unqualified form was never a prominent article in the Indian version of liberalism. On the contrary, the Indian liberals always recognised the necessity for a certain measure of state activity to support education, social reform and economic development. Ranade held it to be the duty of the state in India to "take care of national needs in all matters in which individual and cooperative efforts are not likely to be so effective and economical as national effort."
But it should also be said that to recognise the value of state action does not imply that it should be permitted anywhere and everywhere. State action would be justified only in a context where, the object in view being acceptable to all, non- governmental public agencies have proved themselves inadequate. In other words, state action should be the last resort. It is here that the trend of the political philosophy now prevalent in India is at variance with liberalism. The welfare state can never make good its name if it does not set clear limits to its field of operation. Gokhale the disciple of Ranade, continued the mission of liberalism after the passing of the master; and Mr. Srinivasa Sastri was Gokhale's disciple and successor. But Gandhi's advent on the scene was like the appearance of a new planet in the sky. It put all else under an eclipse for some thirty years.
Gandhi And Gokhale
Gandhi was a disciple of Gokhale and a true liberal on almost all issues except one. That one issue concerned the method of persuading Britain to leave India. Gandhi saw no hope in relying, as did the old liberal, on the logic of minds and conscience. He decided that Britain must be spoken to in the language she is accustomed to, the language of practical obstruction and dislocation. Hence his recipe of Satyagraha or non-violent non- cooperation and civil disobedience. As to the ultimate objective, the liberal did not differ substantially from Gandhi. Independence was the aim of both, though the liberal questioned Gandhi's haste and his methods. His objections to Gandhi's program were three:
MR. D. V. GUNDAPPA was Secretary and organiser of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, Bangalore.
From : Freedom First, July 1987.
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