On 23 July 2020, the Takshashila Institution hosted an online discussion on Open Societies, as a part of its ‘Beyond the Pandemic: A Battle for Ideas’ webinar series. This discussion was the final part of the three-part series and aimed to address the question of how the need for tolerance impacts government action. The speakers were Narayan Ramachandran, Advisor, The Takshashila Institution and Geoffrey Kabaservice, Director of Political Studies, Niskanen Centre. The event was hosted by Kodiak Hill-Davis, Director of Government Affairs, Niskanen Centre.
Geoffrey Kabaservice opened the conversation by addressing the civil rights crisis that has erupted in America, reflected through the George Floyd incident and the need to answer the broader question of how diverse and democratic societies such as India and America can hold it together in trying times. Quoting Gandhi’s teachings relating to the moral obligation of doing something when you see something unjust, he spoke about Niskanen’s similar obligation of doing something in response to the rising intolerance in the US.
Geoffrey contended that while the caste system is not directly comparable to America’s multiracial society, parallels can be drawn between the treatment of African Americans in the US and that of Dalits in India. While talking about the decades of Republican indifference and hostility towards matters of equity and what can be done to resolve it, Geoffrey stated “When we talk about what the Republican Party could do to further and open a non-discriminatory society or even just think about what centre-right could offer as an alternative to left wing conceptions of racial equity, we are essentially trying to envision a political grouping that does not currently exist or may never exist”.
From an Indian perspective, Narayan Ramachandran spoke about how ‘polyglotted’ and heterogeneous India is. He stated that tolerance in India is both civilisational and constitutional. Pointing out the use of division along religious and caste lines for political gains, he argued that divisions in India are as manifest as the tolerance and constitutional oneness. He noted the need to achieve a balance between the former Liberal government’s pandering to the minority and the current government’s pampering of the majority, for a more tolerant society. He quoted James Madison, “there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation”. He ended his comments on a hopeful note, by stating that today we are living in a world, where the governments are not nurturing tolerance and we need to lean more on institutions like the press, think tanks to keep the candles of tolerance alive.
(For more information about this series and the participating organisations, please visit the series’ page in the Media section)