Monday, October 18, 2010

Who made Modern India?

I have participated in the CCS’s Colloquium on the Indian Liberal Tradition on 13 - 15 June 2010. Mr.Ramachandra Guha gave a brief opening remarks on 13th evening about the liberalism in India and its path ahead. In his remarks he had mentioned that he has been editing a new book named “Makers of Modern India”. First, I was thrilled to heard that good news! I am still thrilled to see who are those “makers”? Whether they are socialist or free market pundits or communist, etc?

There are 18 such makers in the book.

As he mentioned, the book will be out in this October. It is now scheduled for release on 25th. The following are the excerpts from the book published in the ToI India. I am posting the full excerpts for the record.

Remaking India, October 17, 2010, 01.31am IST

  • In a book on the democratic traditions of his country, Ronald Dworkin remarks that "Americans of goodwill, intelligence, and ambition have given the world, over the last two centuries, much of what it best in it now". He continues: "We gave the world the idea of a constitution protecting the right of minorities, including religious dissenters and atheists, a constitution that has been the envy of other nations and is now increasingly, at least indirectly, an inspiration for them.

  • We gave the world a lesson in national generosity after the Second World War, and we gave it leadership then in its new enthusiasm for international organization and international law. We gave it the idea, striking in mid-twentieth century Europe, that social justice is not the preserve of socialism; we gave it the idea of an egalitarian capitalism and, in the New Deal, a serious if limited step towards their achievement."

  • The United States has given the world some noble social and political ideals. So perhaps has India. In Dworkin-esque mode I could thus write that "India can give the world the idea of a state and constitution that protects far greater religious and linguistic diversity than is found in any other nation. We have shown other young nations how to nurture multi-party democracy based on universal adult franchise, mass poverty and illiteracy notwithstanding. But even older nations may learn from our model of nationalism, which is inclusive within and outside its borders, and open to ideas and influences from even the powers than once colonized it. We have demonstrated that nationalism can be made consistent with internationalism; without ever having waged war on another nation, we have contributed to peace-keeping efforts in other countries and continents, and lent moral and material support to such causes as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Finally, despite our own past history of hierarchy and inegalitarianism, we have designed and implemented the most far-reaching programmes of affirmative action on behalf of the discriminated and underprivileged".

  • To make the Indian experience more central to global debates is one aim of this book. Another, and perhaps greater aim, is to make Indians more aware of the richness and relevance of their modern political tradition. Unfortunately, the works presented in these pages remain far less known than we might suppose. One reason is the bias within the literature towards economic, political, and social history. Thus many scholars have written insightfully and at great length about the impact of colonial rule on the indigenous economy; about the various competing strands of Indian nationalism and how they jockeyed for position during the last phase of British rule; and about the culture and social life of peasants, tribals, women, and other subaltern groupings. However, the history of ideas remains a poorly tilled field.

  • A second impediment to a deeper understanding of the Indian political tradition is sectarianism and partisanship. Rabindranath Tagore, for example, is treated as a Bengali poet; B R Ambedkar as a Dalit icon alone; Jawaharlal Nehru as the property of the Congress party. This capturing of individuals by the sect to which they originally belonged has obscured their wider relevance to intellectual and political life in India as a whole.

  • This (to my mind) lamentable tendency is manifest most obviously in the sharp opposition of Ambedkar to Gandhi by their latter-day admirers. They ask that we follow one man completely, while rejecting the other man in toto. To a lesser degree, this competitive partisanship vitiates the understanding and appreciation of other remarkable Indians as well.

  • Thus, in current debates on the economy, free-market advocates uphold Rajagopalachari and vilify Nehru, whereas those in favour of more state intervention tend to do exactly the reverse. These rhetorical invocations are often based on a casual and superficial understanding of the thinkers themselves.

  • They make it hard, if not impossible, for anyone to follow a catholic approach to study and appreciate both Gandhi and Ambedkar, or both Nehru and Rajagopalachari, on the basis that these legacies may be equally relevant or significant, albeit in different and arguably complementary ways.

  • The third reason why even well educated Indians remain unacquainted with these thinkers is the widespread nostalgia for the very distant past. There is one kind of Indian who thinks that it was when the Hindu scriptures were composed that his civilization was the most advanced in the world. This orients them towards the study of the sages and rulers of ancient times, in the belief that it may help the Hindus once more rule, or at least dominate, the world.

  • In my opinion, there was little in the history and politics of the remote past that could have aided Indians in interpreting and confronting the profound changes that came in the wake of colonial rule. The necessity of a free press, the equality of women, the abolition of Untouchability, the rights of equal citizenship, the ending of mass poverty — these ideals and aspirations were beyond the experience and imagination of ancient or medieval scholars and rulers. Rather, they were the product of the national and democratic revolutions that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries, and of the urban, industrial, and social revolutions that accompanied them.

  • As I write, the national unity of India is being challenged by secessionist movements in Kashmir and the north-east. The borderlands are disturbed; and so too are the countries in our neighbourhood. The plural, multi-party political system of India is being challenged by the rise of an Maoist insurgency that extends over a wide swathe of the country. This insurgency, which aims to construct a single-party state on the Chinese model, has its roots in the deprivation and dispossession of tribal people. The workings of Indian democracy are also undermined by the growing inefficiency and corruption of the political class, the civil service, the police, and the judiciary.

  • To understand these (and other) problems, we may turn to those Indians who have seriously thought through these issues in the (comparatively recent) past. Thus, for example, one might turn to Ambedkar, Lohia, Phule, Gokhale, and Gandhi to continue the struggle against caste discrimination; to Syed Ahmad Khan and Hamid Dalwai to modernize Indian Islam; to Tarabai, Kamaladevi, Rammohan Roy, Nehru and E V Ramaswami to further the emancipation of women; to Gokhale, Gandhi, and Nehru to sustain good relations between Hindus and India's religious minorities; to Jayaprakash Narayan to promote understanding and goodwill between the Indian State and its still disturbed borderlands; to Phule to bring dignity and a secure livelihood to the farmer; to Gandhi and Narayan to promote the decentralization of political authority; to Verrier Elwin to protect the tribals from discrimination; to Rajagopalachari to reform the electoral system and to curb the excesses of a potentially overbearing State; to Tagore to cultivate a productive and open-minded engagement with the other nations of the world. In this sense, the 'makers' of the book's title is appropriate in more than the past tense. These Indians undoubtedly made India the nation it now is, but their legacies may yet help make India a nation that more fully lives up to its (so far imperfectly realized) ideals.

'Makers of Modern India', edited and introduced by Ramachandra Guha, is published nationwide by Penguin India on October 25

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