The Great Indian Alliance?

When I saw the picture of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav on the front page of a leading newspaper, being a student of Political Science, I was not amazed. The Indian political parties have been indulging in a marriage of convenience for a long time. The Congress had fought alone in the 2012 UP elections by claiming that Congress is there for a long haul and stated that it was there to fight caste-based regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. However, the 2014 elections changed the entire game and the mighty Congress was reduced to just 44 seats in the centre. Desperate times call for desperate measures and hence, the bravado of 2012 has been replaced by pragmatism of 2017 and you can see the picture of Rahul Gandhi holding hands with Akhilesh Yadav in similar outfits and beaming smiles everywhere.

It is an old age saying that it takes two to tango; similarly, the Samajwadi party didn’t enter into an alliance to help the Congress; rather it has joined hands with the Congress to continue its reign in the Uttar Pradesh. The SP suffered from a dent in its image because of the increasing crime rates, handling of women related issues, corruption etc in its home state. In a bid to revive its victory of the earlier elections, the SP has sought to Congress to curb the claim of the Bhartiya Janta Party to come in the most populous state of the country which plays an essential role in forming the government at the centre. The menace which was created due to the personal feud between the members of the Yadav family added fuel to the fire. Rather than addressing the issues of the general importance, the SP was busy in solving its personal matters on various public forums such as rallies, conventions etc. It is imperative to say that this has largely worked against  the SP.
Needless to say, this is not the first time that the political parties who were rivals before and have no ideological similarity,  have come together to come into power. However, for a political party what should be more important is the fact that their subjects get benefited; which is often neglected. Neither of the parties who are contesting for the U.P. elections have shied away from playing the vote bank as well as caste based politics. For them, the main agenda has been to stay in the power for as long as they can. This stirs a question in my mind that if a political party which has come into the power and indulges in the development of the state, wouldn’t people elect it the next time on the basis of its achievement? However, nobody can predict the outcome of the pending U.P. elections because Indian voters vote differently every time. Who knows they just might like the ‘cycle of hope and hand of rights’.

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The Regressive Left

On the 5th of February, 2017 a protest was held in the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Unfortunately, the protest turned violent as fires were started and buildings were vandalized. It was thus quite inevitably and officially classified as a riot. The protest was organized by a far-left group against an event that involved a talk by the editor of Brietbart, Milo Yiannopolous. The battle between the proponents and of “safe space” and “trigger-warning” cultures on one hand and free-speech fundamentalists on the other entered the front and centre of the American psyche. The especially ironic fact about this protest was that it was held on the same campus as the Free Speech Movement (FSM), which was also a student protest in the academic year 1964-65. One senses from this that, perhaps the left is no longer classically liberal. The reason why Liberalism has long been associated with the Left was because of the Social Liberalism that took over in the mid-19th century. It changed however, from judging people on the basis of their character to judging them on the basis of certain immutable characteristics such as skin colour or sexuality. This shift that Liberalism made to Progressivism placed greater emphasis on collectivism as opposed to Classical Liberalism that focuses on the individual. However, recent developments make it clear that this progressivism of the Left seems to impede upon true progress. The problem is extreme political correctness that impedes upon having any real exchange of ideas or an honest debate. This culture of “offense-taking” is not only restricted to American College Campuses but has entered our everyday lexicon. Having the wrong opinion is enough to besmirch reputation or end a career. What makes this almost authoritarian is that it deals with subjective offensiveness. Labelling someone a “sexist”, “racist” or a “bigot” immediately invalidates any of their opinions or arguments regardless of their merit. The inability of movements on the Left like Radical Third- Wave Feminism to engage in open debate renders them intellectually void. The election of Donald Trump was essentially a rejection of the identity politics of the Left.

The term “Regressive Left” was coined by British anti-Islamism activist Maajid Nawaz who used the term in 2012 in his memoir “Radical: My journey out of Islamic Extremism.” He is the co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank based in London that seeks to challenge Islamist ideology. His aim was to reform Islamic ideology into a tolerant and truly progressive Islam in tune with modern society and basic liberal values. The Southern Poverty Law Centre labelled Nawaz an “anti-Muslim extremist” and an “Islamophobe .”  In reality, Nawaz is a former Islamic radical who has devoted his life to reforming Islam and reconciling it with the values of the modern world. In his words, “Today’s active, organised left is no longer liberal. A liberal will always prioritise free speech over offence. This behaviour of censorship on the organised left, post factual behaviour, violence being seen as an option and prioritising group identity over individual rights isn’t liberal.”

The Left’s hostility toward free-speech has affected the entertainment industry as well. The worst affected has of course been comedy. I, personally have to be careful about what jokes I post on social networks lest it offends particular section of people. But this hostility is not restricted to humour but extends to ideas as well. To restrain language is to restrain thought and to control what people think is the very definition of totalitarianism. Instead of  rejecting a person’s point of view as inherently “sexist” or “racist” and deplatforming them, it would be better advised to sit down and explain to the person why you think the person has gone wrong and having an honest debate and exchanging ideas. This is important for university campuses as that is where ideas are meant to discussed and challenged. The Left seems to have forgotten that free speech, and specifically offensive free speech, is an engine of progress. Not only that, but an engine of progressive progress. The right to say things that make people uncomfortable is what gave us homosexual rights and marriage. It is what gave women the right to vote. It is also what brought about an end to slavery. They have forgotten that what got liberalism this far is the license to offend.  Speaking out for true tolerance is often met with intolerance. The Modern Left loves diversity in skin colour, just not diversity in thought. Defending these liberal principles has now become a conservative position. Is it now the conservative position to truly be liberal? In the words of George Orwell, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

The author, Aditya Kumar, is a student of Political Science at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

A Legacy Of Ruins

The pictures of the war-ravaged city of Aleppo, brought tears to the eyes of many, the visual evidence of the humanitarian crisis sent chills straight to our souls, appealing to even a small shred of humanity left in our hearts. But there is another crisis, though at the back burner right now, but crucial enough. It is the systematic destruction of a legacy. Staring at the pictures of many historic sites that have been destroyed in the past few days before and after such attacks, I felt a lump rising in my throat. As an ardent lover of ancient architectural sites, I knew what these ruins meant, as every other, that no one will see its glory again. The irony was stark, the monuments created to immortalize the splendor of a flourishing civilization, now lay cold and damaged with neither the signs of prosperity nor civilization. Had time and tide done this to the place, I would have been less touched that fate was such, but this subversion was man-made. And to think that this could be stopped is a fool’s prayer because if these men could kill so many in cold-blood, to blow up a building is a cinch.

In 2001, Taliban bombed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, a UNESCO world heritage site in Afghanistan. The reason for this is disputed as while Taliban claims that huge amounts of money was going into the maintenance of the structure, the Afghan foreign minister claims that it was a result of Islamic religious iconoclasm. A better example of cultural cleansing would be the bombing of Hamburg by the British air force, the death toll of which was so great that it is called the Hiroshima of Germany. They could have chosen any city, but they chose a city whose historic and cultural importance was tremendous. The latest example of is the damage done to the ancient architectural structures in the Syrian Civil War. ISIS bombed Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria in August 2015. Palmyra’s culture was a blend of Greek, Roman and Mesopotamian culture. Another important city looted and ruined in the Syrian Civil War was the city of Dura-Europos. This city was a Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman city. It was even called the Pompeii of the desert. Inscriptions in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Hatrian, Palmyrene, Middle Persian, Parthian, and Safaitic have also been found in the city.  The famous Assyrian Lion Sculpture was also destroyed. Syria’s capital, Damascus is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city and Aleppo comes third in the very same list.

This method of wiping out any signs of the prestige of a religion, a kingdom or a country is nothing new. Kings, invaders, chieftains have raided and defaced the important monuments and idols of the attacked places in a bid to assert their authority. The same approach has been followed by contemporary terrorist groups like Taliban and ISIS among others. The drive for world domination in the form of imposing their religion through much bloodshed and destruction has not spared these monuments too. It is ironic how the motive of terrorism is to cause chaos as they want people to acknowledge the wrongs against them and want someone to be accountable, but in the long run, they are expecting conformity to something (in this case, a religion) that is not accepted by people in unison, which was exactly their predicament. In this day and age, when more and more people are touring around the world to see heritage sites, the implications of such wreckage are great.

Syria contains so many ancient and medieval architectural edifices. The people of Syria should take pride and honor that they have been receptive to so many cultures, religions and ethnicities. Its expeditious position in the trade routes linking Europe to Asia has led to these cultural developments. Instead, these people are seeing destruction of these structures and their ancestral homes right in front of their eyes. Even if they recover from the war, and even if they save themselves and their families, these ruins will always bear testament to their loss and their ordeal. Their future generations will not see these monuments the same way, with pride. These ruins will be nothing but a painful reminder of their defeat. Their heroes will be forgotten, but their conquerors shall always be remembered. These structures were the embodiment of their culture.

Culture is important in individual, social and a country’s perspective. In an individual’s perspective, it is crucial as it gives one an identity. We are who we are because of our culture. Culture is so inherent to our character because it is multi-dimensional aspect. It includes everything and anything from ideas, languages, folklores, clothing, architecture and so much more. It is important from the societal perspective because it gives solidarity. Here, ethnocentrism comes into picture. A group can only survive if its members feel that this group is superior to all others, that their culture is the most superior of them all. And these monuments are a reminder of that. Man cannot exist without society and to build that up, solidarity is a must. For a country, not only does it flag the message of “unity among diversity” and that one should take pride in being the citizen of this country for the very same reason, that is, it’s accommodating nature, it also provides income. Tourists from all over the world come to see these marvelous sites and thus boost the economy each time they visit. Thus, these monuments symbolize culture, pride, an attractive, foreign wonder and so much more. I realize in times of war and conflict, it is trivial and ridiculous to address the destruction of buildings when people are suffering so much, but it is also critical to address a question: What happens when the war ends? How will the survivors begin again amongst the rubble of their dying legacy?

The author, Shivani Karnik, is a student of Law at HNLU, Raipur.