Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Invisible Idea called India

One interesting thing that Leftist historian Ramachandra Guha points us to, in his book 'India after Gandhi', is the description of India as an “unnatural nation” by many Colonialists and Western thinkers. Indians with their diversity in language, religious practices, cultural traditions and race could hardly be considered as a nation – at-least not by the European experience. Nations, according to them, were built on the basis of uniformity in language, race or religion – like Germany, like France and like England. India fulfilled none of these criteria. Further India’s economic condition also made it the most “unlikely democracy”. Interesting isn't it! These political and social scientists mused that poverty in India could only warrant dictatorship like in every other country that they had seen.

Guha in this well written book, notes how their predictions of an early demise of the Indian nation, went horribly wrong. The sixty odd years of India’s living democracy is an antithesis of all their assumptions and their frameworks of reasoning  When authoritarian regimes as mighty as USSR crumbled in-spite of their military power and China had to use draconian measures like the ones at Tienanmen square to keep itself going, India survived all secessionist threats, even the ones that had covert Western and other trans-national interventions. Now that Indians have shown that they stand together in-spite of all their diversity (which many of these scholars call differences and Arundhati Roy calls “fissures”), should that not make these scholars ponder whether there exists something more fundamental that connects Indians and which they have missed all these years? And something fundamentally democratic about the Indian psyche that makes it the largest democracy in-spite of all the “odds” against it?

But Guha does very little to counter the thesis on which these predictions were based. He joins them in marveling at these modern day “miracles” called “Indian nation” and “Indian democracy”; things that were “unlikely” but which simply happened. He does not analyze why these “thinkers” got it wrong in the first place and whether they are missing or overlooking something fundamental.

What would a doctor do if he were to predict the demise of one of his patients, later to find the patient alive and kicking? Would he satiate himself by calling it a "medical wonder"? Would the science he professes not demand of him to be introspective and have a re-look at his diagnosis to see if he had missed something vital? Should this not be an expectation from all those who call their fields, sciences? But unfortunately, these pundits of political and social sciences have lacked the intellectual courage that is required of them.

Most Indian leaders and others too, all through the freedom movement and after Independence, including those that were highly influenced by the European frameworks, knew within their hearts, that India was not a forceful aggregation of aliens as was being made out; that Indian people constituted a unity that was both natural and very much likely. At-least their experience about India told them that. But they struggled to  articulate it in the terms and notions of political science that were in vogue and which were based on the European experience. For example Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India found that there exists an “invisible thread” that connected all Indians. What that thread was, was something of an enigma to him.

The thread that connects us all is probably “invisible” because it falls outside the European or Western experience which has dominated the intellectual landscape, especially the fields of political and social sciences. But what is surprising is that those threads remain “invisible” to many even today, sixty three years after our independence.

To be continued…..

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