On this Independence Day, we the people of India should consider with some
degree of satisfaction that while Britain, Europe and the United States are
seriously contemplating new restrictions on civil liberties their citizens
formerly enjoyed, our blessed republic is relatively uncontaminated by this
virus of illiberalism. Once upon a time, not long ago, Great Britain basked in
the triumph of multiculturalism. The British pointed out with great pride that
they had managed to create a uniquely tolerant society in which the melting pot
idea was conspicuous by its absence. Immigrants lived fearlessly in accordance
with their religious beliefs and cultural values, yet contributed substantially
to making the sceptred isle a healthier, brighter, more vibrant and
intellectually robust land. Sadly, multiculturalism has today become a dirty
word, a source of many British troubles, a phenomenon which has enabled Muslim
suicide bombers to do their dirty work on London's clean streets. Prime Minister
Tony Blair candidly and publicly confessed last week that the "rules of the
game" had changed irrevocably. Britain will henceforth be a different
country where free speech is only allowed on soap boxes in Hyde Park Corner.
Meanwhile, in India multiculturalism prospers, indeed is taken for granted. It
is too deeply embedded in the ethos of our civilisation. The BJP in its short
reign tried gamely and repeatedly to subvert multiculturalism, but eventually
gave up. The single identity advocates had few takers while the supporters of
multiple identity easily won the day. Mr L.K. Advani, possibly the most dogmatic
and dogged exponent of identity politics, himself converted to multiculturalism.
Interestingly, Mr Advani's conversion to Nehruvian India was not on account of
minority pressure; he was defeated, in a delicious twist of irony, by Hindu
India. After all, who is more multicultural than India's nearly one billion
strong and eclectic Hindu population? The Brahmin of West Bengal would feel an
alien, culturally speaking, in Tamil Nadu. And vice versa.
Recently, President George Bush (by his standards) said something at once
interesting and profound. Introducing Dr Manmohan Singh to his wife, he said,
"He is the prime minister of the world's largest democracy in which there
are 150 million Muslims. Not one of them has joined Al Qaeda."