Tuesday, 18 June 2013

My Four Indias To Rajiv Malhotra's Three

Rajiv Malhotra has, in his usual thoughtful style, analysed the cultural currents sweeping India today. He categorises them as "Sensex India" (a reference to the stock exchange index and its attendant consumerist culture), "Maoist India" (a reference to the violent grassroots rebellion that affects a third of India's districts) and "Bharat" (a reference to the traditional, mainly Hindu, culture of the country).

He sees Sensex India and Bharat as forces that seek to build India, while Maoist India is one that seeks to break it. His conclusion is that there needs to be a compromise between the values of Sensex India and Bharat that also includes the good that is in Maoist India.

While this is one way of slicing the pie and recommending a policy, I think I would have gone about it very differently, mainly because I cannot find my views reflected accurately in any of the three Indias that Malhotra describes.

I in fact see four Indias. They are:

  • Tagore's India (or more banally, Constitutional India)
  • "Me-first" India
  • Ideological India
  • The India of the Powerless

Of these, I believe Tagore's India is the only positive force. The second and third are negative and destructive. The fourth appears neutral, but is also ultimately negative.

Needless to say, I identify with Tagore's India, as do many others. I believe in a liberal democracy that is free of discrimination and prejudice. The state is scrupulously secular in Tagore's India. The evil of caste-based discrimination does not exist. Neither does feudalism, with its many economic, social and political injustices. Women are equal citizens in Tagore's India, with no barriers placed in their path on grounds of religion or cultural tradition. All linguistic groups receive equal respect. Everyone has equal opportunity. Development is fair and goes hand-in-hand with social justice. Reason and the scientific temper govern public discourse and public policy. Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

"Me-first" India includes various disparate groups of people, but the one thing they all have in common is that they want benefits for themselves, their families and their narrow communities with no regard for the well-being of others that they share the country with. "Me-first" India includes many of those that Rajiv Malhotra would classify as belonging to Sensex India, but it also includes those that struggle against it. Trade unions come to mind, as do political parties and movements organised along narrow lines of region, caste, religion or language.

Ideological India is characterised by people who believe they know what is good for the country, and are therefore willing to "destroy it in order to save it". These people elevate ideology above people, and would sooner throw inconvenient people overboard than an ideology that does not fit. Ideological India includes people from Rajiv Malhotra's Bharat as well as Maoist India. The worst elements of "Bharat" are the jingoistic Hindutva brigade, who would steamroller everyone (not just religious minorities but also Hindus with a more relaxed view of what their way of life should be). The Maoists are also part of Ideological India. After all, in their desire to portray the Indian state as evil, they actively prevent government-sponsored development schemes that could benefit the people they claim to represent. They therefore value their ideology higher than the people that ideology is supposed to be saving.

Lastly, there is the India of the Powerless. These people probably aspire to live in Tagore's India, but is possible that they are often seduced by either "Me-First" India or Ideological India and become destructive forces. But given the merest of opportunities, many of these people (like this one or this) exhibit the highest values and best human traits of endeavour and achievement.

The problem is that Tagore's India lacks brand muscle. Goodness by its very nature can appear weak and unglamorous. Selfishness and hardline ideologies are both more attractive to the impatient. The challenge for those of us who believe in Tagore's India is to make this vision compelling to others. We can contribute in many ways big and small. Bangalore, for example, is a major hub of philanthropic activity because so many educated and middle-class believers in Tagore's India have also become newly prosperous thanks to the IT boom, and they are giving back to the community around them in a myriad of ways, often doing nothing more glamorous than paying for the education of the children of their maids. Yet even the humblest of these contributions adds another citizen to Tagore's India. Building out this human chain is the only way to make India strong and great, and its people prosperous and productive citizens.

This is both our challenge and our blueprint.
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