I thought I was fairly liberal: Ashutosh Agnihotri


I thought I was fairly liberal. I still think that I am. Narrowness repels me. I accept the other view point with grace. I may even admit that I hate to offend the person across the table even though it may be necessary and unavoidable to protect the interest of my office. The only stubborn feature of my belief, perhaps, is vegetarianism and I am more comfortable eating food in perfectly vegetarian surroundings. I may even nurse a desire to see that my children remain vegetarian too. But I have no problem with the food habits of others.

However, I would be lying if I said that the considerations of caste and religion never touched or affected me. As a child, the subconscious mind had been impressed by the several ways of societal thinking and action. While I followed certain rituals and customs and followed the established norms of social behaviour, I revelled in breaking and flouting some of them. This was whetted by the liberal and radical views of my father, who conformed with dissent. The sensitive poet in him always sided with the weak and the oppressed. And his scorn for the rituals and godmen often caused irritation in my mother’s mind, who would mumble some prayer, disapproving and dismissing my father’s radicalism. But inspite of his scorn for the ostentatious display of faith in God, he has always been deeply religious, having an unflinching faith in His existence and justice.

I have always loved this dimension of religion which makes a person deeply spiritual and able to handle joys, sorrows, difficulties, disgust, crisis and despair with certain degree of poise. I never considered Kabir to be less religious than Sur or Tulsi. I admire the deep devotion of Sur and Tulsi. I salute the iconoclasm of Kabir. His irreverence for the shallowness of some religious practices made him a true rational, as he said and wrote what he saw and felt and not just to proclaim himself as a liberal rationalist.

I often wonder how irrational it is to consider one’s knowledge or understanding as absolute. It is like dismissing quantum physics as rubbish and nonexistent after reading books of class one. Knowledge and wisdom flow not just from books or laboratories. Much of that flows from experience and realisation. To condemn someone’s faith, experience or realisation as irrational without perfect empathy is as unscientific as any blind faith in some superstition. A true rational will always remain open to enquiry and scrutiny, with ‘ may be possible ‘ as the underlying doubt in his beliefs. And beliefs should always remain half formed and incomplete. For the moment beliefs turn perfect and absolute, we would either become one with God or cease to be rational.

I have always thought that being liberal or rational means that my slice of truth is a part of some whole, which I do not know of. And there are countless slices of truth in this whole. Each one may be delicious, palatable and satisfying. As long as I am content with mine and you are content with yours, I should not worry whether my slice is better than yours. But there are new definitions floating around, which make me wonder if am a true liberal. Well, I always thought I was fairly liberal. I know I am!

Ashutosh Agnihotri

Ashutosh Agnihotri

An IAS officer of 1999 batch, Ashutosh Agnihotri hails from Kanpur. He has a masters degree in English Literature. He is interested in Literature, both English and Hindi, Cricket and astrology. He is presently the Commissioner and Secretary, Planning and Development, Science and Technology, Tourism, Government of Assam.