This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic (read here).
While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India.
In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat.
I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacular schooling and cycle of religious festivals. As a boy, I prayed so that I can do well in examinations and fervently believed in Astrology. Our annual holiday trips were often to the places of pilgrimage around India, and I did not get into an Aeroplane until I was 26 years old.
I was, and still am, a 'somewhere' man - I know where my home is. And, while I went on to study and live abroad, India is still my 'holy land' - of the ashes of my fathers and of temples of my Gods - regardless of the travel document I may hold for the convenience of my wandering about. And, indeed, I wanted to travel to learn, to get to know India - to arrive where I started and know the place for the first time! None of this makes me a footloose cosmopolitan - my appearance and accent should be evidence enough - and definitely not a left-liberal, another contemporary label which makes no sense to me.
Yet, this Bharat is neither the one Savarkar imagined nor the one Mr Taseer conjures up. For a starter, this Bharat was not angry. The distant Babus of Delhi did limit the opportunities and the bureaucratic life in India did put up barriers everywhere; a few people with right schooling and right accent did get all the right opportunities. But people like me, people around me, had hope. We did not blame and we recognised everyone around us were on the same boat.
Indeed, I am not claiming that there was no bigotry. Elderly relatives did make me a caste-aware and everyday language was replete with discriminatory terms directed towards immigrants from neighbouring states. Hindus and Muslims generally lived apart, but there was no apartheid at work or education; indeed, we knew where the best Biriyanis were. However, no one was questioning anyone's right to live in India; the idea of India was not fragile and we did not go around questioning everyone's loyalties.
My point is that Bharat is not ascendant today. This has been chipped away, bit by bit, by the 'liberalisation' of the 90s. A new ideal life, one outside our communities, where happiness is defined by freedom to own and freedom to consume, tempted us out of our safe zones. Indeed, we were lifted out of poverty [or, for us the middling sorts, our lives became more colourful, with 23 brands of soaps, fancier cars and a new consciousness about our waistlines] and perhaps out of boredom. The transformation of work popped the bubbles of language we lived inside (and I had to learn English) and made us travel to other towns for work. But the package, delivered through our Achilles heel of hope, came with other stuff too: Money became central to our lives, we lost control over our labours and our desires, we gave up on politics and any hope of affecting any social change. In short, these ushered us into a new world of social indifference and selfish existence that we did not know before.
This was an act of deliberate disruption. The excuse of dismantling the license raj was only partially true: India still remained one of the most regulated economies. The changes were muddled, often favouring special interests and crony capitalists. The whole idea centred around giving global finance a progressively greater role in everyday life. Life for a start-up entrepreneur did not become easier; the honest businessman remained an oxymoron. Just the stock indices were higher and real estate was pricier. The only thing that flourished is a life of smokes-and-mirrors and most people, outside a few metropolitan cities, were mostly spectators.
Most importantly, we went through the years of liberalization without any fundamental rethinking of education, politics or social policy. Some states did better than others, but there was no coherent conversation other than a dehumanising talk about 'skills' as if human beings exist to be sacrificed on the altar of the global economy. There was very little thinking about work as well: strategic industries developed little, regional imbalances worsened and the agriculture was sustained on handouts rather than any serious attempts to modernise it. Banks handed out loans to crony capitalists, who promptly used it to buy apartments in London and New York. The rewards for corruption and criminality far outweighed the possible benefits of a decent life; the country reached a point where 'decency' became a laughable object.
It may appear different from Mr Taseer's vantage point, but Bharat died first. Bharat was not, regardless of the ideological descriptions of it, opposed to the post-independence idea of India. Instead, it was the 'ballast' that steadied the republic. And, my borrowing of Gustav Stresemann's metaphor is deliberate: The waning of Bharat has created the opening for a group of cynical opportunists to grab political power in India. What we see now is not a hegemony of ideology; it is a hegemony of money, of naked appropriation of the national economy.
Take, for example, the revocation of the Special Status of Kashmir last year, the Indian government's most high profile move. It was some sort of perfect political move: The constitutional provision for the territory was a legacy of another era and most people, who opposed the way it was done, were perfectly comfortable with its objective. With Pakistan strategically its weakest - friendless in the world and divided politically - India's move made abundant geopolitical sense. But it was apparent - in the immediate aftermath of the move - government's favourite businessmen are already lining up mining and extraction projects in the territory. Under the ideological headline, a big win for the RSS, the agenda looked like as anti-Bharat as one could imagine. There was nothing sacred in blowing up mountain-tops and diverting the courses of rivers that nourished the ancient Indian civilisation!
In conclusion, India is changing and deliberately so. Mr Modi made it clear that he wants to 'found' a second republic. But we will misread the events if we see it as an ideological turn, a win for Bharat, a way-back machine. What's underway is exactly what's underway in America: An opportunist administration imposing a corporatist agenda on a directionless polity. Mr Taseer is right: The English-speaking Indian elite blew it. They destroyed the life that kept them in power and left a void to be filled by money. And, so it has been.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.