TOUGH TALK argues the questions that are all too real in South Asia but refuse to be discussed, and asks the answers.


Wednesday, 20 January 2021; 3.30 pm GMT

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As new types of political mobilisation and electoral success enable different forms of government across the world, TOUGH TALK asks: Does Liberalism allow Populism? Here, ‘allow’ is used in the strict sense of ‘giving permission for (someone or groups) to do something, or to not prevent something from happening’; and ‘Populism’ is used as a shorthand for various governments — in Brazil, Hungary, India, Philippines, Russia, Turkey, the US under Trump, to name a few —  that have been referred to as ‘populist’, ‘majoritarian’, ‘strongman’, ‘identitarian’, ‘ultra-nationalist’, and so on.

Two recent books, both about India, set this tension in relief: A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State argues for a ‘civilisational republic’, with a chapter titled ‘Saving Secularism from the Secularists’; and The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism, and What it Means to be Indian has sections on ‘The Idea of India’ and the ‘The Hindutva Idea of India’, ending with arguing for ‘Reclaiming India’s Soul’.

This discussion will examine the ideas implicit in these two books, and debate some crucial points relevant to India and the world: inasmuch as the true ethos of ‘Liberalism’ and its political culture is to support all views, has it inadvertently allowed ‘illiberal’ and ‘non-liberal’ groups to prosper in liberal political space, only for them to stifle that space once they come to power? Does Liberalism need to reconsider the space for dissent, the place of the individual, and the urges of majoritarian ultra-nationalism in a globalised world? And what about the charges brought against Liberalism — of excessive political correctness, minority exceptionalism, majoritarian discrimination, Cancel Culture, and most recently, the tyranny of merit, amongst others? Does Liberalism need to reclaim, or to redefine, itself? Or is the world living through a civilisational turn, and Liberalism as we have known it has had its time?

PanelistsMichael Freeden (formerly Director, Centre for Political Ideologies & Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford); Harsh Gupta 'Madhusudan' (@harshmadhusudan) and Rajeev Mantri (@RMantri) are co-authors of A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational StateAakash Rathore (@aakashrathore, is Permanent Visiting Professor, LUISS University, Rome); Helena Rosenblatt (@HelenaRosenblat, is Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York); and Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor, is author of The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism, and What it Means to be Indian).

ChairNilanjan Sarkar is Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre.

The online event is free and open to all. Please click here to Register to receive updates, and the live-streaming link for the event.