We are in an age of double talk and double think. A Socialist advocates a more equitable distribution of everything including wealth. But if that individual were to be born with a silver spoon and considerable inherited wealth and tries to propagate that theory of equitable distribution what do you think that would make him? It would make him and his ilk, however, noble their intentions, mocked and derided as Gauche Caviar in France, Champagne Socialists in England, Bollinger Bolsheviks in Russia, Limousine Liberals in America, Chardonnay Socialists in Australia so on and so forth. A luxurious and privileged family lifestyle, while being socialist in ideas. In India, we have the Adarsh Liberals, those with secular credentials, while, another end of the spectrum has Adarsh Bhakts – both are jingoists. Sreelata takes a hard look at such Champagne Socialists, in this in-depth research article, exclusively in Different Truths.
Led by a couple of pigs, the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm stage a coup and throw out their human owner and successfully establish an animal farm with a set of commandments as their constitution. The principal commandment being –All animals are equal. Unfortunately, differences arise and to the dismay of the other animals, one pig (Napoleon) takes on the role of a supreme leader along with all its trappings – much like the deposed human owner – and amends the commandment to ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.’
If we were to dilute the principle that went into the creation of the Animal Farm, a little, we get left with yes, Socialism. By the state for the collective good of the people. So a socialist, it would appear, is perhaps someone who believes more in community ownership of all resources natural or otherwise rather than individual entitlement. Someone who advocates a more equitable distribution of everything including wealth. But if that individual were to be born with a silver spoon and considerable inherited wealth and tries to propagate that theory of equitable distribution what do you think that would make him? It would make him and his ilk, however, noble their intentions, mocked and derided as Gauche Caviar in France, Champagne Socialists in England, Bollinger Bolsheviks in Russia, Limousine Liberals in America, Chardonnay Socialists in Australia so on and so forth. A luxurious and privileged family lifestyle, while being socialist in ideas, very much – perhaps unfair a comparison as it might seem – like the pig leader Napoleon.
It is a widely held belief that wealth and socialism cannot go hand in hand. Ridiculed and mocked as caviar (fish eggs – an expensive delicacy) eating socialists recently were the members of the socialist government of France lead by Francois Hollande just because several ministers were found to be millionaires. ‘Gauche Caviar’, a derogatory French term of the 80s describes someone who claims to be a socialist but with a lifestyle that contradicts socialist values. Stretching that a little further it would seem that all self-identified socialists whose wealthy lifestyles – that enable them to eat caviar, swig champagne, drink Bollinger, live in upmarket estates and drive limousines – do not appear to be compatible with their political ideas would fall into this bracket. Similarly, so in England where the Champagne Socialists and the Hampstead Liberals have appropriated that title. Would a Chardonnay-drinking affluent Australian agree to spread his wealth around or for that matter a Gucci Socialist or a Salon Socialist and in Ireland Smoked Salmon Socialist actually practice or understand what socialism is all about? They think not. It’s all hypocrisy they say and contradictory in nature.
And that brings us to our own shores where even Mahatma Gandhi, at one point, was called a Champagne Socialist – wealthy background /socialist ideas – despite the work he did. And do we presently have a similar group, native to us? Yes, we somewhat do. The Adarsh Liberals. Seemingly from the English-speaking/educated elite with wealthy backgrounds and supported by the mainstream English media, they are found to be secular, pro-freedom of speech, pro-gay, pro-women’s rights, pro-minorities, expects equality before the law, pro-transgender , pro-animal rights, pro-abortion, and well one might as well add pro-feminists too. In other words, a classic liberal. A desi version of the swigging champagne and spouting socialism tribe. And so dubbed as Adarsh liberals this group of literate thinkers are mocked and treated with great derision as being elitist, especially by all those who profess to be (but naturally, India being India would there not be an element of religion in everything?) the arbiters of Hindutva and die-hard followers of the present regime, who are now by definition the Adarsh Bhakts.
According to a sarcastic poster released on social media, Adarsh Liberal is “someone who goes on an expensive holiday to discuss and understand poverty”, and a person who “supports PETA but eats chicken and beef”, “shifts goalposts if losing arguments”, “attacks Hindu gods to become secular”, etc.
By that definition, let alone those who inhabit the Oberoi or the Taj, anyone able to shop at Khan Market or lunch at India International Centre or travels abroad, it is inferred – just because of his lifestyle – has no right or business to discuss, debate, criticise or challenge anything that concerns the ‘collective common good’ be it poverty, vegetarianism or religion. And what that common good is, is decided by the majority for whom intolerance has become a virtue rather than the opposite.
Some time ago Wendy Doniger’s treatise on Hinduism kindled an issue-debate about the right of freedom. A battle royal ensued between the Liberal thinkers who espoused the right of the author to write whatever and the allegedly pro-Hindu brigade who denounced her right to do so especially as they believed that she had caricatured Hindu scriptures and spiritual thought. Result, the publishers withdrew the book rather than be targeted by violent mobs or engage in any protracted legal battle. Right or wrong, true or false who lost? India did.
Again, unfortunately, increasingly of late, due to the rise of fundamental protagonists, liberals are being eyed with suspicion and hate and vice versa. It has come to such a stage that Hindu liberals are now reluctant to admit they are Hindus, lest they are accused of being RSS. Sadly secularism now seems to be an alien philosophy in an India which is rediscovering its ethnic religiosity. Even one’s patriotism is called into question if one does not wear one’s ‘Hindutvness’ on one’s sleeve. How does that make us any different from those who compulsorily and mandatorily propagate other religions and beliefs?
But they argue, unlike the rest of the world, we don’t all speak the same language nor do we worship the same gods or have the same religion and what makes India is not her geography either but her Hindu Civilisational legacy which is all that we – whether Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Buddhist – have in common. Yes, maybe but does that make us Hindus – like the pig leader Napoleon of Animal Farm – more equal than others?
And what they choose to forget is that if India has survived as she has all through her centuries – old myriad past, it is only because of her ability to imbibe, absorb and tolerate. Her liberalism and her broadminded multi-culturalism are what makes India what she is. If her spirit of endurance and tolerance – the result of her Hindu civilisational legacy no doubt – is eroded and put to test continually as it is being done now, it is anybody’s guess how long before she breaks. Rather than being mocked, it is more than essential today to applaud the ‘Adarsh liberal’. It is he who is the glue that binds the nation together. It is he who is the idea of India.
Photos from the internet.
When computers hit the scene, life changed for Sreelata Menon. A Masters in History (Mumbai University) she was with the Onlooker and world Trade Magazines before teaching History to undergraduates and doing a stint in an advertising agency. A web content writer, she wrote blogs on freelance writing, and current happenings for online and print publications. Author of ‘Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer’ her books also include Guru Nanak and Indira Gandhi for Penguin-Puffin.