In a few months, India will hold a General Election which may change the country. Rather, it would be appropriate to assert that it will change the country. The Indian Republic, founded 67 years ago, has finally run its course, and this time, its citizens will have to choose a path which is different from what has been for the last 67 years. This change may be frightening, chaotic and even disastrous, but this time around, there is little choice but change.
The competing ideas are firmly pitted against one another. It is no longer about one party against another, as it has always been, but two clear ideas of governance, two clear ideas of India. And, there is no middle ground. The mythical middle ground may be the holy grail of democratic polity, but at the time of change, this may not present an option. Everyone must choose - and everyone must resist, because compromise and staying silent may veer the country to a course which will shape everyone's future.
The most talked about choice on the table is a Hindu Nationalist government of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), led by its charismatic Narendra Modi, which promises to create a paradise of middle class prosperity in India. Staunchly pro-business, pro-urban middle class, Mr Modi is feted for governing the Western Indian state of Gujrat well, though his stint includes a bout of ethnic cleansing of the state's Muslim population in a pogrom in 2002. This factor alone should have disqualified him in office, but the fact that it did not seem to count shows what kind of administration he would lead, if elected.
He is the favoured candidate for the middle classes, and seen as a 'strong' leader. He, in turn, promises a strong stance to Pakistan, strong stance to China, strong stance to Indian muslims, and an income tax free world for Indian middle classes. His fortunes are buoyed by the hapless Indian National Congress (INC), in power for a decade, which has little to show for its years except raging corruption scandals and a fragmenting party. Despite its initial promise, the Congress failed to connect with and represent India's overwhelming young and increasingly urban and aspirational middle class. This has made the businesses and overseas corporate interests shift their allegiance to Mr Modi: Mr Modi's campaign for power is bolstered by huge pools of money thrown at it by Indian tycoon businesses, as well as Overseas Indians.
The BJP's vision for India has been quite clearly presented in a book called Breaking India, by Rajiv Malhotra, an Indian-American Hindu Chauvinist ideologue, and Arvind Neelakandan. As apologists for the 'strong leader' case, they present three existential dangers for India: An Islamic fundamentalism supported by Pakistan, a Maoist insurgency supported by China and a Dravidian-Dalit fault line nurtured by the West. This is indeed an old Fascist tactic to try to create a scare to convince people to give up their liberties, and taking from the Fascist playbook, this points to the other, Pakistan, China, the West, rather than trying to seek the answers inside India. And, clearly, this others presenting existential threats to India represent most of India's people, Muslims plus the landless peasants fighting for their land (labelled as Maoists) and Dalits and Dravidians will account for more than 70% of India's population, leaving only a tiny sliver of caste Hindus living in the cities and seeking to enjoy Mr Modi's handouts to decide what the true India is.
So, in summary, this is choice number one for Indians: A strong leader, running an authoritarian government, primarily focused on the tycoon businesses and urban middle classes, serving the upper caste Hindus. His solution to India's problems will be to impose an uniform vision of India, one framed in Hindi-Hindu terms, and anyone speaking against it will be categorised in one of three anti-national categories: Muslim, Maoist or Dravidian. If one has to reconstruct Martin Niemoller's timeless poem for the fate of a Modi-fied India, it is easy to see what shape it would take.
But, just in time for those Indians who did not necessarily subscribed to this apocalyptic vision of Hindu India but were complaining that they had no viable choice (the only alternative being voting for the corrupt Congress and its allies), the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a ragtag citizen's coalition led by a former taxman, Arvind Kejriwal, presents an alternative. Indeed, AAP is small, somewhat chaotic, untested and currently confined within the City state of Delhi, but regardless of its size and scope, it represents a truly alternative vision of India.
This vision is somewhat opposite to Mr. Modi's, and Congress'. This is about saying that India's problems can not be solved by its politicians, ministers and civil servants. Its problems must be, first and foremost, be solved by its people. Standing at the opposite end of the Strong Leader thesis, this is about the government being an instrument to facilitate and enable citizen's actions. Its leaders clearly see governance as revolution itself, and their three week rule in Delhi was marked by activism and demands for accountability.
Indeed, the established political parties have condemned AAP's style of governance, sticking it with the 'anarchist' label. AAP's style of governance, with Ministers roaming around without VIP convoys and in the streets, legislative activism, a culture of consultation, a common thing in most mature democracies, is a new thing in India. It is usual in India not to see one's MP ever in life, much less approaching him with a problem to solve. So, for those Indians used to regal MPs and distant governance, a politician who turns up at the front door may indeed appear anarchic. Besides, Mr Kejriwal's government has given credence to these claims by threatening to protest against the callous lack of accountability that State police, not directly controlled by its government but by the Federal administration, shows to cases of rape and drug abuse: A Minister who is ready to take the sides of the people when those in power fail to be accountable is a dangerous precedence for the political establishment which is used to being distant, indifferent, unaccountable to its citizens.
Arvind Kejriwal, AAP's leader, brushes off the allegations by stating that they must take unprecedented actions because the precedent of governance was leading India nowhere. BJP apologists, in their desperation, claim that AAP and Mr Kejriwal stands not for 'the middle class but the lower classes' (this 'lower class' being most Indians), that AAP manifesto echoes communist manifesto (raising the fear of the other, without having read either), and that they lean to the left and therefore an alternate to Congress rather than BJP. (See these allegations here)
In a sense, the poorly argued article cited above got one thing right: That AAP is not BJP and represent an alternative for Congress. This is fundamentally because BJP's, and Mr Modi's, politics stands on two pillars, that of fear and of chauvinism. BJP's politics portrays India as a besieged country, subject to countless conspiracies all around the world aimed at undermining its greatness, and Mr Modi is that superman who would lead India to its destined greatness by suppressing the internal enemies (just as he did to Muslims in Gujrat) and challenging the external ones. The AAP idea, on the other hand, is one of hope - that Indian people, yes, even the lower classes, are inexhaustibly resilient and can solve its own problems; all it needs is a government that is accountable and that works for them, enables them, facilitates them, and at least not work against them. BJP presents an institutional vision, regal, distant, authoritarian, a picture of India as an exceptional country (though the vision itself is a cheap copy of Nazi nationalism), denied its rightful place by enemies within (Muslims, Maoists and Dravidians) and without (Pakistan, China and the West). The AAP, on the other hand, presents the alternative vision, of an India resilient and aspirational, which is held back only by the lack of accountability of its government and its elite.
So, the elections in 2014 represents a choice between fear and hope, democracy-for-a-day versus citizenship and accountability. The latter message is difficult to comprehend, and the BJP strategists, who, in their heart, hold the ordinary Indian in contempt ('the lower classes'), are hoping that the glitz and the glamour of Modi campaign will convince most Indians that they do not want the responsibility of citizenship. Those on the other side will, however, do better to keep their faith - and believe that involved citizenship may be an idea whose time has finally come in India.
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
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
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.
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
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: 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
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
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.