The eighth edition of Bangalore Literature Festival began on Saturday amid last-minute confusion and fears that it would be cancelled in the backdrop of the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya and the imposition of Section 144 in the city. In the morning, the footfall was not as high, as expected, but things picked up as the day progressed.
The SC ruling became a point of discussion in several sessions. A Constitutional Bench of the apex court has permitted the construction of a temple at the site where Babri Masjid once stood and has instructed the government to provide a “prominent and suitable” five-acre plot for the construction of a mosque in Ayodhya.
Historian Mukul Kesavan said the judgment, along with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Bill, explains how majoritarianism works. He was in conversation with American journalist and columnist Ed Luce and entrepreneur Manish Sabharwal in a session titled ‘The Remains of Liberalism’. They explored whether or not liberal democracies were in trouble and if India was moving towards an illiberal democracy thanks to majoritarianism.
Mr. Luce questioned the independence of autonomous institutions, which he said were becoming less robust. “There is no real match to majoritarianism such as the one [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi is leading today,” he said. He added that liberalism was all about having checks and balances to prevent tyranny of the majority, and not the American definition of being on the left side of the political spectrum. “Power is dispersed to independent institutions. Even if one is a minority, liberal institutional systems protect them.”
Mr. Keshavan spoke about how words such as “pseudo-secular” and “anti-national” were increasingly becoming part of the lexicon. “What they have done superbly is to invert the vocabulary of liberalism and made it pejorative. Now we are at a stage in which the State actually creates a structure by which it certifies citizenship and creates a political circumstance where you could actually nominate a third category of people,” he said, adding that there was an absence of a pan-Indian liberal vision for the country.
In another session, ‘Making Sense of Trump’, Mr. Luce, who was in conversation with writer Keshava Guha, commented on the difference between the Modi and Trump governments. “I think the media in America is still very strongly independent and NGOs are thriving. I don’t see quite the same threat to the American liberal democracy as I see to the Indian liberal democracy. I would suggest that in terms of number of people affected, I think Narendra Modi is a much bigger threat globally to liberal democracy than Donald Trump,” he said.
(With inputs from Karishma Rao)