Sauvik Chakraverti
Indian Express, 13 Jan 2003


The forces of unalloyed evil are uniting over a new mantra: Hindu Rashtra or 'cultural nationalism'. Before plunging headlong into this trap, all Indians need to consider that we as a nation have been prone to chasing utopian dreams. The strong, centralised state was set up to yield Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of a 'socialistic pattern of society'. Can the same state, which has degenerated into a kleptocracy, yield another utopia? We Indians must ask ourselves the most important question in political philosophy: What is Utopia?

Robert Nozick died this year. He was perhaps the only modern political philosopher to inquire into the concept of Utopia. Hark his words: "Utopia will consist of utopias, of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions. Some kinds of communities will be more attractive to most than others; communities will wax and wane. People will leave some for others or spend their whole lives in one. Utopia is a framework for utopias, a place where people are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue and attempt to realize their own vision of the good life in the ideal community but where no one can impose his own utopian vision on others. The utopian society is a society of utopianism." Nozick concludes that his Utopia can be brought about only by a minimalist State whose functions are restricted to the negative: the protection of life, property and liberty.

When Nozick says that 'the utopian society is a society of utopianism', he is asserting individual rights and individual freedom. This is the liberal credo. We do not believe in the seductive power of collectives - like the socialists, the communists and the Hindutvawallahs. Margaret Thatcher famously said that 'there is no such thing called society; there are only individuals and families'. Indians must realise that, behind this Hindu Rashtra, lies the same nasty collectivism that characterises the Left. The Left see the Party, the State and Society to be One. Now these Fascists have jumped on to the same bandwagon. Behind all this is the naked lust for power: power over the strong, centralised, dysfunctional, kleptocratic state.

If we look at this state, we see that it does not possess a shred of functional legitimacy: not a single function expected of it is performed well. More people die on the unsafe streets of India every year than were killed on both sides of the Kargil war. Policing, including traffic policing, is a disgrace. Property rights administration barely exists in much of India. The courts are a shambles and, if that were not enough, judges are now seen to be corrupt. But all these issues are ignored by the mainstream political parties.

What is the way out for India? My firm belief is that we as a nation have to look for solutions in liberalism - and the first thing any liberal will say is that a strong, centralised state is a complete antithesis to both liberalism as well as democracy. Since liberals do not believe in collectives, and since they seek to secure their individual freedoms, they set up minimalist government with maximum powers at the local level. The Mayor, who runs the city, is usually better known than the Head of State. In Switzerland, a great example of liberalism as well as democracy, citizens are proud of the fact that they do not know the name of their country's President! This is the democratic ideal too, for democrats wish to diffuse power, not concentrate it.

If the people of India closely examine the concepts of State and Utopia, they will surely realise that a minimalist, decentralised state that performs its basic functions well and leaves citizens free to pursue their own ends is the only solution to the sorry pass that Nehruvian socialism has brought us to. It is Congress failure that has brought on the BJP. And the BJP are but Congressmen in saffron. Uglier, but similar in their belief in the collective and their lust for state power. The Congress can never take on the BJP. It requires a liberal front - calling for a Second Republic.

(The author is Editorial Director, Centre for Civil Society)