Liberalism in India: Past, Present and Future

CCS Book Cover
Liberalism in India

The Center for Civil Society convened a day-long conference on Nov 20th at The Claridges Hotel, New Delhi, to honor the memory of S V Raju. I attended and had the opportunity to meet with many friends and also some people I had heard about but never met before.

About the event, CCS notes:

“SV Raju was one of India’s liberal giants, and his passing last year was a huge loss for the liberty movement in India. To honour his memory, and celebrate his commitment to creating a freer India, Centre for Civil Society, in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, have compiled a set of original papers from key liberal voices in India, on the past, present and future of Indian Liberalism. The papers have been published in the form of a Festschrift, on the theme Liberalism in India—highlighting the evolution of the ideas in our country, an analysis of the current context and the way forward.

We are hosting a day-long conference where authors will share their research papers, followed by an evening dinner launch of the publication. Contributing authors for this volume are Atanu Dey, Laveesh Bhandari, Barun Mitra, Surjit Bhalla, J P Narayan, Jaithirth Rao, Nirvikar Singh, R Jagannathan, Ashok Desai, Nitin Pai, Parth J Shah, Gurcharan Das, Hindol Sengupta, Seetha Parthasarathy and Lord Alderdice.

This is a part of CCS initiative Indian Liberals, our very small effort to help preserve often unknown but a very rich Indian liberal tradition and understand the relevance of the writings in today’s context.”

I contributed a  chapter titled “Why India Needs a New Constitution” (I will post a copy of the chapter on this blog) to the festschrift.

(I had to look up the meaning of that German word:— Fest·schrift   /fes(t)ˌSHrift/ noun a collection of writings published in honor of a scholar.)

How was the idea received? I have noticed that older people generally find the idea frightening, while the young find it intriguing and worth discussing. That’s understandable. Older people become conservative and don’t wish to make changes to the system that they have somehow managed to understand, survived and work within.

JP Narayan, for example, said that attempting replacing the constitution would lead to chaos and civil strife. I wasn’t around in those pre-1947 years but I am sure that older folks then must have insisted that forcing the British to relinquish their control over India would lead to disaster.

The British did leave but as I point out often it is not true that the British controls over Indians were ever lifted. Let me get to that in the next couple of posts.

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