Alternatives for India
India prides itself of its diversity, but lately it has decided to go monochrome. Suddenly, India's model is China, though no one would admit of it. Harmony, after all, is good for economic growth, goes the thesis. Therefore, Indian institutions - and the states - are being harmonised in the quest of economic growth. The protests, the cacophony of opinion, unmissable characteristics of Indian democracy for its first seventy years, are increasingly branded 'un-Indian' and pushed to the margins.
I am aware that my timing for bringing this up would immediately position this as a reaction of the farmer's protests and the Indian government's indifferent handling of the same. And, it is indeed something worth talking about : The lack of consultation and due process, the silence of most of the mainstream media, the underhand techniques used to undermine the credibility and even the Supreme Court's actions, indicate a total absence of space for alternative views. India seemed to have reached the moment of political singularity, where the intrusive surveillance state meets the inherited indifference of post-colonial bureaucracy.
However, the temptations to talk about the plight of the farmers show why it is so difficult to talk about alternatives with any degree of credibility. There is enough storm in the drawing room teacups and celebrity catfights, no doubt, and those for whom farming means keeping farmhouses have been quick to show their displeasure; but the lines were drawn along the political faultline and the issue became one of loving or hating Modi, India's enigmatic Prime Minister. Besides, the quest for finding an alternative narrative in this case became one of chasing the news cycle, despite the acknowledgement that it's the government who has been setting the media agenda.
Such a quest for alternatives has a tragic quality about it, but at some level, it is also comical. The furore about the farmers' protests is an example. Many people protesting against it agree to its core principle - bringing market mechanism to Indian agriculture - and wish that it was done years ago. Even the Left has no time for argument that such a forced transformation of agricultural value chain in a largely agrarian country might have unintended consequences, just as it did Mao's great experiment in China. And, in spite of their righteous rage, most of those trying to create an 'alternative' still agree that there is no alternative to capitalist transformation of agriculture for India must become an export-driven industrial economy. The other views, such as Gandhian faith in an India built on village cooperatives, have long been superseded by Anglo-American economics and all the alternatives on the table look identically the same in substance.
Therefore, all alternatives offered to the imposing and monolithic government narrative are really identity narratives. We should perhaps call it the 'Liberal disease', that the perfectly idealistic goal of embracing different groups as they are has really become one of fighting for narrow group interests. This not only cedes the space for 'unity' to those who synonymise it with agreeing to one overarching narrative, their narrative, with no exits! Alternatives, therefore, in this narrative are akin to the original sin, a crime against collective will and for the sake of special interests. It is tragic because the liberals have been caught in this trap for over a hundred years, defining their desperate attempts to stay relevant by clutching to any and every identity issue that ever came up. Their quixotic search for such narratives have made them an easy prey to dog-whistle politics of neo-Facism.
Hence, the search for alternative narratives in India remains elusive. The so-called liberal space is full of self-serving - and may I say, desperate - attempts to raise identity issues, which fly in the face of an emerging middle class' desire to believe in its own self. The constant pessimism of chasing issues puts the search for alternatives at odds with the optimism of a young country. To be real, the alternatives need to shift the paradigm, question the assumptions and break the status quo, but the commentariat is too cosily ensconed in the very assumptions and status quo to want to break it. The real issues, that of education, health, energy and climate, are left out of the conversation, and with that, the hopeful narrative of long-term that really is the alternative. The chasing of breaking news is breaking the real story of India.