From The Hindu:
In an interview to Rajgopal Saikumar, Prof. Bilgrami, the Sidney Morgenbesser Chair in Philosophy; Professor, Committee on Global Thought; Director, South Asian Institute at Columbia University and author of Secularism, Identity and Enchantment (2014) explained what autonomy and intellectual self-determination could mean to India in the current political context. Edited excerpts:
What does ‘svaraj in ideas’ imply in the current Indian political context?
It could mean something very important, if thoughtfully elaborated. There is a widespread tendency to say that what has happened in Europe or the West must inevitably happen in the rest of the world. For instance, in response to the protest over the dispossession of peasants for corporate projects in the Indian countryside, our economists were known to say, “England had to go through its pain to create its Londons and Manchesters; India will have to do so, too.” This suggests that there are some sort of economic laws that govern history. But this is a superstition. By that I mean we take it on trust, even though nobody knows when it was proved and no one has shown how it helps us to live better. Marx is often mistakenly said to believe this. But he did not. If you turn to the work he did in the last decade of his life, you will find that he strenuously argued that Russia did not, by any means, have to go through a western-European-style capitalist incubation as some sort of inevitable rite of passage.
When people try to justify the claim that what happened in the West must happen elsewhere, they do so on the grounds that what happened in the West was rational. In other words, not only that it will happen [elsewhere] but that it ought to happen. So, ‘svaraj in ideas’ for us could consist of showing in detail why many of the developments of the West were not always rational, but are rather the result of the greater might of some worldly forces over others.