I am writing this from Bhopal: First time in Bhopal, I am stunned by its beauty and serenity. I somehow imagined it to be a provincial town and somewhat of an industrial wasteland, my perspective informed, perhaps, by my adolescent memories of Union Carbide gas leak. Instead, I see a city wrapped around a lovely lake, pleasant weather and mountainous roads. Such 'discoveries', however naive, make up for all the troubles of travel, spending nights at nameless hotels, and irregular patterns of life this entails.
But apart from the beauty of this city, I see ambition: The giant malls straddling the city centre not just changing the consumption patterns of the city, but also its social life. The private universities, only a few years old in the province, churning out a new generation of graduates, and international schools forming a new ambitious pattern of parenting. My initial assumption that the new India is being shaped in smaller towns is proving to be accurate, at least at its surface.
Travelling around the country also gives me the privilege to talk to different people. While we usually talk business, I can't help but marvel at how different the mood is in India than it appears from outside. I trace on the BBC the start of a new corruption scandal, with India cancelling a contract with an Italian defense firm under suspicion India's Former Air Force Chief in their investigation. This may, I fear, dominate the conversation about India in the coming months, raising a cacophony inside and outside, causing ugly scenes at the parliament to the amusement of the rest of the world, dampening the analysts' views of the country and spawning more articles like Ruchir Sharma's recent Foreign Affairs piece, Broken BRICs. This can turn really ugly, as the firm happen to be Italian, the country of birth of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the ruling coalition, whose foreign origins have always been a talking point and a great source of suspicion. However, regardless of all the distraction, the mood in small town India is buoyant: The change is too obvious to ignore, regardless of slumping growth figures, the general end-of-the-world storytelling of the media and endless stories of abuse of power, discrimination, violence and corruption.
However, if life is getting better, it is also becoming different. The old and new India seem to clash regularly. The large IT and IT services companies, which have become the new microcosm of India, show the conflict and the emergence of the new. On one hand, Indian IT companies are pulled apart by regional rivalries, with one or the other community getting a favoured treatment, supposedly or for real, displaying in abundance the divisions in India that refuse to die. On the other, however, younger workers, as they are forced to stay close to each other through the trials and tribulations of a difficult job, find love mostly in office, cohabiting with, and in some cases, marrying, people from other regions, caste and even of different religion. These companies, seen that way, are the new melting pot, enabling inter-marriages, causing mobilities, and yet spawning fierce battles of regional affiliations more often than not.
And, in this backdrop of clashing optimism and pessimism, regionalism and modernism, small town versus the colonial big cities, a new Indian narrative is starting. Sixty years back, the Indian leaders embarked on a path of creating a paternal state looking after its citizens, a state that itself tried to be the melting pot, the saviour god and an ideologue-teacher, all rolled into one. But this was based on a view of power and ambition, deeply entrenched in the psyche of the independence struggle, of being being a subject race for so long and of the horrors of partition; no longer, all such memories have been wiped off in the last twenty years of liberalization in India, where the new middle classes, rising from small towns, jostled with old elite in ambition, taking over public roles and spaces with their rough manners but abundant aspirations. The old state narrative is falling out of favour, but, strangely, it is not being replaced by high-culture postmodernist atomised individualism. Rather, the new elite wanted the reassurance of a new state, strong and linear, less nuanced, less argumentative, less interfering, but a state which gives them identity and confidence.
What I am seeing, I shall claim, is the beginning of this new state. The old values, some cherished, such as secularism, some redundant, such as socialist bureaucracies and reservation mentality, are falling out of favour. Instead, things which were rebuffed before, such as majoritarian nationalism, the idea of India as a Hindu-Hindi country, and, at the same time, paradoxically, strong regionalism, the rediscovered charms of being Bengali, Tamil, Telegu and Maharastrian, without necessarily appearing anti-Indian, are being considered acceptable, even fashionable. This is a very different statehood, philosophically, from the statehood enshrined in our constitution, built on a consensus forged by the freedom struggle and worldview of a subject race. I do complain that Indians are arrogant, and they are indeed, but this arrogance is shaping the positive view of India and Indianness, and prompting a revisionism, wiping out the toils and tears of the freedom struggle and somewhat conjoining the modern, small town India, with a mythical, glorious, imagined past.
It is easy to interpret this tension as the tension between Congress' world view and the BJP's, the struggle of two ideas of India, as some will put it, one defined by secularism and the other by chauvinism: But this is a continuum, parts of the same journey. It is as if the country wants to unleash itself, committing itself to the mobility and relationship revolution that silently started in the BPO corridors, just because it has lived long enough to the shadows of its past. While this may indeed somewhat echo some of the Rahul vs Modi rhetoric, it isn't exactly that: In fact, just as the constitution may be part of the past, the political parties may be similarly passe. The Congress has abjectly failed to match expectations; but equally, BJP has failed to imagine and to deliver, when and where they were given the opportunity. They have succumbed to the same dithering indecision, same webs of factionism, corruption, and politics of perks and privilege, whenever they were in power. Worse, the BJP's strategic thinkers have still not aligned themselves to the future, not imagined the coherent strong nation but merely succumbed to a meaningless fantasy of revivalism, a big city dominated polity and majoritarian rhetoric so irrelevant in modern India.
Therefore, new political formations are bound to emerge, one fit for a rising country of billions, of millions of young people. Power is shifting and will shift: The post-industrial production will shape the futures and fortunes of smaller cities like Bhopal and Bhubaneswar, and unleash the tremendous energy and productive capacities of its millions of residents. A suitable politics must not be about choosing the least worst alternative, but to genuinely move forward. To keep with it, possibly, the days of platform parties, such as Congress and the BJP, big national formations who are too cumbersome and distant to do anything, are over: Power may now return to the regional parties and functionaries, all working within the frameworks of a common identity. The current bottom-up pressure may reorient India to achieve a new coherent national identity based on strong governance at the regional levels, synced together in search of a common destination. This will be very unlike the European nationalism, but this may stand out to be the model of national identities and democracies in the time to come.
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,
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
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
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
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.