Showing posts from June, 2020

The Historians' Dilemma

We have an ambiguous relationship with history. We did genuinely suppose that history had ended, with the collapse of the Soviet Union - and yet we claim to be making history all the time, with every speech made, every feature upgraded and every ribbon cut. Between the two, it's possible to come up with an explanation about the two kinds of history: The faceless force of time that shaped our lives, ideas and civilisations seem to have lost its potency - or at least so we believe - and our newfound technological prowess has given us the opportunity to shape the future and fashion departures from History, thus make history. The History with the big H are therefore purged from the school curriculum and increasingly from the universities. Unemployed historians now take comfort that the popular history as a literary genré seems to be exploding, keeping the bookstores and public broadcasters - those two should have been history by now - alive and kicking. Therefore, when History makes a

The end of the 'Spiky' world: Talent & the return of nations

'Spiky' world I am, of course, referring to Richard Florida's observation that the world was not flat (as Thomas Friedman observed) but spiky. The demise of Berlin Wall, the fall of Soviet Union and the rise of globalism might have undermined the national borders, but its most important resource - talent - tended to be concentrated in certain geographies. This is a very much 1990s idea marked with the celebratory mood of globalism. But the vision was empirically sound: the new globalism not only propelled Silicon Valley to unparalleled dominance, it also regenerated the great urban clusters of New York and London. There were newly affluent and expansive cities brimming with cosmopolitan talent, such as Bangalore, Singapore and Gurgaon. Each country and every region had their own centres of attraction and the history of the last two decades has been a history of migration of talent into these vast ecosystems of enterprise and commercial creativity. But the magnetic attractio

On the question of loving one's country

Never has so simple an emotion - love of one's own country - invoked in so many people so complex a feeling. This is not because loving one's country is hard; on the contrary, it is one of the most natural and intutive thing to do. What's complicated is that this emotion has now been hijacked and employed in the worship of false Gods. It's that kind of love, which, in the service of demagouges, is built of hate, of violence, of exclusion. It is one emotion which needs sanction from others, a feeling whose shape must conform to expectations - in summary, an artificial thing! However, even in these troubled times, the way out of this is not stopping to love one's country - that's impossible for a normal human being - but to think carefully about what loving one's country means. It's about reflecting where love turns to hate and why and how this love, our great source of inspiration and strength, makes us gullible to manipulation. First, let's start per

Must India and China fight?

The simmering geopolitical tensions between India and China came to blows earlier this week, but then didn't. As the deaths of personnel being mourned in both countries, the leaders were sensible enough to walk back from the brink, recognising the futility of the conflict. However, while a hot war looks unlikely, the countries are likely to settle for another long period of disengagement and conflict. And, it seems the way it should be : Two emerging countries vying for global roles, with thousands of miles of common but unsettled borders and burning jealousy of trade are destined for conflict. Besides, the incompatible political systems, democratic India versus communist China, are supposed to engage - so say the commentators - in twentyfirst century's defining battle. But is this the way it must be? The current conflict seemed to have emerged from India's US pivot, a shift of foreign policy dating back to the 2008 Nuclear Treaty with US, which pulled India into the orbit

The temptation of 'self-reliance'

'Self-reliance' has come to India. However, in its current avatar, it looks less like a confident country aspiring for a great future but rather like this staged street-corner bonfire of foreign (chinese) products.   In a volte face par excellence, many Indian commentators, who snigger at 'Nehruvian Socialism' and the strategy of 'import substitution' followed by post-Independence India, are suddenly champions of 'Atmanirvar' Bharat. This, of course, doesn't mean that they have belatedly realised Nehru as a genius. They, and various Trump-loving American commentators after them, believe that this time, self-reliance is different. It is not about North Korea style autarky; instead, some kind of magical open closedness (or closed openness as it may be) that would let India have its cake and eat it too. "We can import anything as long as it's made in India", the Prime Minister is reported to have told a group of businessmen recently. This

Making Indians, yet again

When India was made, no special need for making Indians was felt. That should be somewhat surprising. There was this great aspiration of building a republican polity based on universal suffrage.  The whole Indian freedom struggle was a long pedagogical project, led by Gandhi but also enthusiastically enjoined by leaders at various levels, of transforming the political imagination and creating new rules of engagement. 1947 was not just the realisation of that project, it was to be a beginning of a more comprehensive transformation of what it means to be an Indian. As Independence unfolded, various leaders, Nehru and Ambedkar among them, stressed how this would require a new political imagination. There was the vast and ambitious project of the constitution, pulling the disparate communities together into the union. And, yet, precise little was said about what it means to be this new Indian; the debate was muted and deemed unnecessary. The educational enterprise that the new country woul

The Himalayan Crisis

Given that there is no dearth of bad news, I was not paying attention to the steadily rising din of the China-India conflict in the Himalayas. I surmised - and remain of the same opinion - that the skirmishes wouldn't come to much. China has enough on its plate, with its trade war with America and unrest in Hong Kong, to start yet another conflict. And, while the current regime in India loves a little war, but taking on China is a completely different thing compared to needling a weak Pakistan. My expectations, therefore, were that both sides would play for the gallery a bit and then step back from the brink as they have always done in the past. But blood has been spilled! The news that Indian (and possibly Chinese) soldiers were killed in the skirmish yesterday changes things. Indeed, I would still expect that the cooler heads will prevail and the Army commanders will be able to de-escalate the situation, but a new line has been crossed. It is in everyone's interest that these

Is 'Remote Learning' here to stay? A Conversation about Indian Higher Education

Bridge India hosted a conversation about Remote Learning in Indian Higher Education yesterday. As we do in the Bridge India webinars, we brought diverse voices, including some from the diaspora as well as those who are interested and engaged in India, to talk about the massive shift to online learning that COVID19 has brought about. But we were not trying to predict the future or make a case for one kind of shift or another. We all too well know that the future isn't what it used to be. Besides, we did not want to say that there is a silver bullet for all the challenges in higher education. The recording of the session is above, but an hour long. I came away with a number of ideas and reflections, a narrative summary of which I have put below. 1. It was good to know India wants to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) - the ratio of the number of people enrolling in higher education and that of those who should go to college - from the current 24% to 50% by 2030. This will obv

The experts exposed

Lenin allegedly said, "there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen". Living through placid times just as we gave up on history, it came alive in 2020. But that's not the only comeback worth noticing. Prime Ministers, including those who regularly trashed experts or promoted health benefits of cow urine, came to hide behind 'science' to justify what they are doing. Scientists on television, even if only things they are permitted to do are to sheepishly nod or parrot platitudes, have become a regular spectacle. The pandemic seemed to have brought them back from oblivion. But is this the moment of experts or the twilight of expertise? The great hurrah for science may be misleading when its appreciation extends only upto speculative statistics, which, with its magic wand of models, can produce any result that one may want to see. In fact, as this great catastrophe came knocking, it was clear that we were looking the wrong way in t

The Significance of Lord Macaulay

My blogging is inextricably connected with Lord Macaulay. Indeed, the root of all this is my belief that even if India was made, the task of making Indians is still unfinished; an education that combine cultural confidence, economic emancipation and political imagination fit for nation-building is yet to be found. But, more directly, I caught onto blogging as I came across the well-known meme about Macaulay conspiring to destroy a prosperous India with English language, wrote a casual and rather amateurish post debunking it and then got drawn into a debate that continued for more than a decade. Truth be told, that engagement was central to how my interests changed from the technical nuances of delivering education to the cultural history of it and why I came to commit myself to history of ideas as my field of study. But, then, it's not just a personal fixation; with the Hindu nationalists in ascendance in India, it has become a nation one. He is the bogeyman of English education, w

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