[Assam] Impasse in India
jaipurschool at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 14 13:40:47 EDT 2007
nothing is new in this report -- it seems the author is now a Rip Van Winckle - woke up after 20 years and writing about what started happening 15 years ago or earlier - and had missed out on it.
Even Delhi Univ and JNU economics professors have fought (with guns) alongside Maoist Naxalites (it is was rumored - including one of mine) in their quest for communist style equality in 1990s.
Sanjib Baruah <baruah at bard.edu> wrote:
THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS
VOLUME 54, NUMBER 11 JUNE 28, 2007
Impasse in India
By Pankaj Mishra
The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future
by Martha C. Nussbaum
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 403 pp., $29.95
Last summer Foreign Affairs, Time, Newsweek, and The Economist highlighted
a major shift in American perceptions of India when, in cover stories that
appeared almost simultaneously, they described the country as a rising
economic power and a likely "strategic ally" of the United States. In
1991, India partly opened its protectionist economy to foreign trade and
investment. Since then agriculture, which employs more than 60 percent of
the country's population, has stagnated, but the services sector has grown
as corporate demand has increased in Europe and America for India's
software engineers and English-speaking back-office workers. In 2006,
India's economy grew at a remarkable 9.2 percent.
Dominated by modern office buildings, cafs, and gyms, and swarming with
Blackberry-wielding executives of financial and software companies, parts
of Indian cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon resemble
European and American downtowns. Regular elections and increasingly free
markets make India appear to be a more convincing exemplar of economic
globalization than China, which has adopted capitalism without embracing
However, many other aspects of India today make Foreign Affairs'
description of the country"a roaring capitalist success-story"appear a bit
optimistic. More than half of the children under the age of five in India
are malnourished; failed crops and debt drove more than a hundred thousand
farmers to suicide in the past decade. Uneven economic growth and
resulting inequalities have thrown up formidable new challenges to India's
democracy and political stability. A recent report in the International
Herald Tribune warned:
Crime rates are rising in the major cities, a band of Maoist-inspired
rebels is bombing and pillaging its way across a wide swath of central
India, and violent protests against industrialization projects are popping
up from coast to coast.
Militant Communist movements are only the most recent instance of the
political extremism that has been on the rise since the early Nineties
when India began to integrate into the global economy. Until 2004 the
central government as well as many state governments in India were, as the
philosopher Martha Nussbaum puts it in her new book,
increasingly controlled by right-wing Hindu extremists who condone and in
some cases actively support violence against minorities, especially the
Muslim minority. Many seek fundamental changes in India's pluralistic
In 1992, the Hindu nationalist BJP (Indian People's Party) gave early
warning of its intentions when its members demolished the
sixteenth-century Babri Mosque in North India, leading to the deaths of
thousands in HinduMuslim riots across the country. In May 1998, just two
months after it came to power, the BJP broke India's self-imposed
moratorium on nuclear testing by exploding five atomic bombs in the desert
of Rajasthan. Pakistan responded with five nuclear tests of its own
The starkest evidence of Hindu extremism came in late February and March
2002 in the prosperous western Indian state of Gujarat. In a region
internationally famous for its business communities, Hindu mobs lynched
over two thousand Muslims and left more than two hundred thousand
homeless. The violence was ostensibly in retaliation for an alleged Muslim
attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in which a car was set on fire,
killing fifty-eight people. Nussbaum, who is engaged in a passionate
attempt to end "American ignorance of India's history and current
situation," makes the "genocidal violence" against Muslims in Gujarat the
"focal point" of her troubled reflections on democracy in India. She
points to forensic evidence which indicates that the fire in the train was
most likely caused by a kerosene cooking stove carried by one of the Hindu
pilgrims. In any case, as Nussbaum points out, there is "copious evidence
that the violent retaliation was planned by Hindu extremist organizations
before the precipitating event."
Low-caste Dalits joined affluent upper-caste Hindus in killing Muslims,
who in Gujarat as well as in the rest of India tend to be poor.
"Approximately half of the victims," Nussbaum writes, "were women, many of
whom were raped and tortured before being killed and burned. Children were
killed with their parents; fetuses were ripped from the bellies of
pregnant women to be tossed into the fire."
Gujarat's pro-business chief minister, Narendra Modi, an important leader
of the BJP, rationalized and even encouraged the murders. The police were
explicitly ordered not to stop the violence. The prime minister of India
at the time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, seemed to condone the killings when he
declared that "wherever Muslims are, they don't want to live in peace." In
public statements Hindu nationalists tried to make their campaign against
Muslims seem part of the US-led war on terror, and, as Nussbaum writes,
"the current world atmosphere, and especially the indiscriminate use of
the terrorism card by the United States, have made it easier for them to
use this ploy."
A widespread fear and distrust of Muslims among Gujarat's middle-class
Hindus helped the BJP win the state elections held in December 2002 by a
landslide. Tens of thousands of Muslims displaced by the riots still live
in conditions of extreme squalor in refugee camps. Meanwhile, the Hindu
extremists involved in the killings of Muslims move freely. Though denied
a visa to the US by the State Department, Narendra Modi continues to be
courted by India's biggest businessmen, who are attracted by the low
taxes, high profits, and flexible labor laws offered by Gujarat.
Describing the BJP's quest for a culturally homogeneous Hindu
nation-state, Nussbaum wishes to introduce her Western readers to "a
complex and chilling case of religious violence that does not fit some
common stereotypes about the sources of religious violence in today's
world." Nussbaum claims that "most Americans are still inclined to believe
that religious extremism in the developing world is entirely a Muslim
matter." She hints that at least part of this myopia must be blamed on
Samuel Huntington's hugely influential "clash of civilizations" argument,
which led many to believe that the world is "currently polarized between a
Muslim monolith, bent on violence, and the democratic cultures of Europe
and North America."
Nussbaum points out that India, a democracy with the third-largest Muslim
population in the world, doesn't fit Huntington's theory of a clash
between civilizations. The real clash exists
within virtually all modern nations between people who are prepared to
live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those
who seek the... domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition.
She describes how Indian voters angered by the BJP's pro-rich economic
policies and anti-Muslim violence voted it out of power in general
elections in 2004. Detailing the general Indian revulsion against the
violence in Gujarat and the search for justice by its victims, she
highlights the "ability of well-informed citizens to turn against
religious nationalism and to rally behind the values of pluralism and
equality." Insisting on the practical utility of philosophy, Nussbaum has
often attacked the theory-driven feminism of American academia. "India's
women's movement," she claims, "has a great deal to teach America's rather
academicized women's movement." She is convinced that from India "we
Americans can learn a good deal about democracy and its future as we try
to act responsibly in a dangerous world."
Nussbaum thus casts India's experience of democracy in an unfamiliar role:
as a source of important lessons for Americans. Such brisk overturning of
conventional perspective has distinguished Nussbaum's varied writings,
which move easily from the ideas of Stoic philosophers to international
development. Few contemporary philosophers in the West have reckoned with
India's complex experience of democracy; and even fewer have engaged with
it as vigorously as she does in The Clash Within.
Nussbaum, who has frequently visited India to research how gender
relations shape social justice, is particularly concerned about the
situation of women in contemporary India. She sensitively explores the
colonial-era laws that, upheld by the Indian constitution, discriminate
against Muslim women. She describes how Gujarat, which has had economic
growth but has made little progress in education and health care, became a
hospitable home to Hindu nationalists. She details, too, tensions within
the Indian diaspora, many of whom are Gujarati, whose richest members
support the BJP. She reveals how the BJP initiated India's own culture
wars by revising history textbooks, inserting in them, among other things,
praise for the "achievements" of Nazism.
Her interviews with prominent right-wing Hindus yield some shrewd
psychological insights, particularly into Arun Shourie, an economist and
investigative journalist who, famous initially for his intrepid exposs of
Richard Nixon once said that those who think that India is governed badly
should marvel at the fact that it is governed at all. In a similar vein,
the Indian historian Ramachandra Guha asks in his forthcoming book India
After Gandhi, "Why is there an India at all?" For centuries India was
not a nation in any conventional sense of the word. Not only did it not
possess the shared language, culture, and national identity that have
defined many nations; it had more social and cultural variety than even
the continent of Europe. At the time of independence in 1950, much of its
population was very poor and largely illiterate. India's multiple
languagesthe Indian constitution recognizes twenty-twoand religions,
together with great inequalities of caste and class, ensured a wide
potential for conflict.
Given this intractable complexity, democracy in India was an
extraordinarily ambitious political experiment. By declaring India a
sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, the makers of the
Indian constitution seemed to take the idea of liberty, equality, and
fraternity more seriously than even their European and American
counterparts. African-Americans got voting rights only in 1870, almost a
century after the framing of the American Constitution, and American women
only in 1920. But all Indian adults, irrespective of their class, sex, and
caste, enjoyed the right to vote from 1950, when India formally became a
What was also remarkable about the Indian Republic was that it came about
with a minimum of political agitation. The Indian political philosopher
Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out that democracy in India came as a gift to
the Indian masses from the largely middle-class and upper-caste leaders of
the anti-colonial movement led by the Congress Party. It was a byproduct
rather than the natural consequence of the anti-colonial movement.
Modern India's founding fathers, who preferred a secular democratic
system, appear to have been great political idealists and visionaries.
However, they were also pragmatists, and they couldn't have failed to see
how democracy, which was viewed in India as inseparable from the promise
of social and economic justice, and the official ideology of secular
nationalism were necessary means to contain the country's many sectarian
divisions. A former prime minister of India once defined his job as
"managing contradictions"; this onerous task, as much moral as political,
has remained the responsibility of ruling elites in democratic India.
>From the very beginning, India's leaders faced the problem of instituting
a secular and democratic state before the conditions for itan adequately
large secular and egalitarian-minded citizenry, and impartial legal
institutionshad been met. A secular political culture couldn't be created
overnight, and in the meantime citizens with political demands could only
organize themselves in overtly religious, linguistic, and ethnic
communities. As the experience of Iraq most recently shows, when citizens
have few opportunities of participation in political life, a concept of
democracy based on elections and the rule of the majority can deepen
preexisting ethnic and religious divisions.
Sectarian tensions had opened up even in the anti-colonial movement led by
the Congress Party. Muslims suspicious that the secular nationalism of the
Congress was a disguise for Hindu majoritarian rule demanded and
eventually received a separate state, Pakistan. The promise of democracy
also didn't prove sufficient in Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority and
where one of Nehru's closest friends, Sheikh Abdullah, grew disillusioned
with what he perceived as Hindu dominance over the province. On the whole,
however, the Congress, helped greatly by the moral prestige of Gandhi and
Nehru, succeeded in becoming a truly pan-Indian party in the first two
decades after independence, able to appease the potentially conflicting
interests of Muslims and low-caste Dalits as well as upper-caste Brahmins.
Nehru's suspicion of businessmen shaped as much by the European distrust
of capitalism between the wars as by India's forced deindustrialization by
the British East India Company committed him to state control of prices,
wages, and production, and to strict limits on foreign investment and
trade. These measures, which were aimed at both protecting the Indian poor
from exploitation and creating India's industrial infrastructure, checked
economic inequality, even if, as Nehru's critics allege, they distributed
poverty more than they shared wealth.
As democratic ideals and beliefs took root among the Indian masses, the
extraordinary consensus Nehru had created around his own charismatic
figure and the Congress Party was always likely to fracture. Nehru's
successor, Indira Gandhi, veered between populist and authoritarian meach
Indians who while living abroad seek to affirm their identities through
the achievements of their ancestral land. It was largely owing to the
support of the Hindu middle classthe BJP has rarely done well in rural
areasthat Hindu nationalists managed, after a string of successes
throughout the Nineties in provincial elections, to gain power within a
coalition government in New Delhi in 1998.
Six years of the BJP's rule brought about deep shifts in Indian politics
and the economy. There was accelerated economic growth, especially in
information technology and business-processing services such as call
centers. It was also around this time that the faithfirst popularized in
America and Britain during the Reagan and Thatcher yearsthat free markets
can take over the functions of the state spread among many Indian
journalists and intellectuals.
Ideology-driven globalization of the kind the BJP supported, which reduced
even the government's basic responsibility for health care and education,
further complicated the promise of political equality in India. The world
economy had its own particular demandsfor example for software engineers
and back-office workersthat India could fulfill. And while the country's
comparative advantage in technically adept manpower has benefited a small
minority, it has excluded hundreds of millions of Indians who neither have
nor can easily acquire the special skills needed to enter the country's
booming services sector. Many of these Indians live in India's poorest and
most populous statesUttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh in the
north, Orissa in the East, and Andhra Pradesh in the south. Their poor
infrastructurebad roads and erratic power supplyas well as high crime
levels make them a daunting investment prospect.
Thus, even as the economy grew in urban areas, preexisting inequalities of
resources, access to information, skills, and status came to be further
entrenched within India. The country's prestigious engineering and
management colleges now seek to set up branches outside India, but,
according to a survey in 2004, only half of the paid teachers in Indian
primary schools were actually teaching during official hours. Europeans
and Americans head to India for high-quality and inexpensive medical care
while the Indian poor struggle with the most privatized health system in
Nevertheless, the BJP campaigned in the 2004 elections on the slogan
"India Shining." Its success was predicted by almost all of the
English-language press and television. As expected, urban middle-class
Hindus, who had been best-placed to embrace new opportunities in business
and trade, preferred the BJP. However, the majority of Indians, who had
been left behind by recent economic growth, voted against incumbent
governments, unseating, among others, many strongly pro-business ruling
politicians in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (of which Bangalore is the
In the elections of 2004, Indian Communist parties performed better than
ever before. The Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, had built its election
campaign around the travails of the ordinary Indian in the age of
globalization. Much to its own surprise, the party found itself in power,
with Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-educated economist, as prime minister.
Singh and his Harvard-educated finance minister P. Chidambaram were among
the technocrats who initiated India's economic reforms in 1991. Their
second stint in power has disappointed international business periodicals
such as The Economist and the Financial Times as well as much of the
English-language press in India, which complains periodically that
economic reform in India has more or less stalled since 2004. But given
the mandate it received from the electorate, Singh's government has little
choice but to appear cautious. The rise in inflation that accompanies high
economic growth proved fatal for many governments in India in the previous
decade, most recently in the state of Punjab where the ruling Congress
lost to a coalition, prompting Sonia Gandhi to publicly ask the central
government to show greater sensitivity to the plight of poor Indians.
The government's hands are already tied by rules of free trade inspired by
such international institutions as the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Thousands of cotton farmers in central India have killed themselves,
escaping a plight that Oxfam in a report last year claimed had been
worsened by their "indiscriminate and forced integration" into an "unfair
global system" in which the agricultural products of heavily subsidized
farmers in the US and Europe depress prices globally. Unable to persuade
the United States to cut its subsidies to American farmers, the Indian
commerce minister spent much of his time at the WTO's Doha Round of talks
in July 2006 watching the soccer World Cup.
Unlike China, India can only go so far in creating a "business-friendly
climate"the very limited ambition of many politicians today. In China,
lack of democratic accountability has helped the nominally Communist
regime to give generous subsidies and tax breaks to exporters and foreign
investors. The swift and largely unpublicized suppression of protesting
peasants has also made it easier for real estate speculators acting in
tandem with corrupt Party bosses to seize agricultural land.
In India, however, the government's efforts to court businessmen are
provoking a highly visible backlash from poorer Indians who feel
themselves excluded from the benefits of globalization. Plans to relax
India's labor laws in other words, to import the hire-and-fire practices
of American companieshave provoked strong protests from trade unions. In
recent weeks, the government has been forced to reconsider its plan to set
up C company, buying the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus make it seem that
something like what The Economic Times, India's leading business paper,
calls "The Global Indian Take-over" is underway. Largely reduced to an
echo chamber, where an elite minority seems increasingly to hear mainly
its own voice, the urban press is partly responsible for a new privileged
generation of Indians lacking, as Nussbaum points out, any "identification
with the poor."
The stultification of large parts of the Indian mass media is accompanied
by the growing presence of a new kind of special interest in Indian
politics: that of large corporations. Close links between businessmen and
politicians have existed for a long time. But unlike in the United States,
the electoral process in India was not primarily shaped by the candidates'
ability to raise corporate money. Compared to the US Congress, the Indian
parliament was relatively free of lobbyists for large companies. This
began to change during the rule of the Hindu nationalists, who proved
themselves as adept in working with big businessmen as in holding on to
its older constituency of small merchants and traders. A recent opinion
poll in the newsmagazine Outlook reveals that growing public distaste for
politics feeds on the intimacy between politicians and businessmen.
Nussbaum terms "surreal" the "mixture of probusiness politics and violence
that characterizes the BJP." But this doesn't seem so surreal if, briefly
reversing Nussbaum's gaze, we look at "democracy and its future" in the
United States. Many of Nussbaum's American readers would be familiar with
the alliance between right-wing politics and religion, or with how
powerful business elites advance their interests under the cover of
ultranationalism and religious faith.
Unlike the situation in India, democracy in America has not been largely
perceived as a means to social and economic egalitarianism. Nevertheless,
the Democratic Party's victory in midterm elections in November 2006
suggests widespread disquiet over inequality in America, which has grown
rapidly against a backdrop of corporate scandals, such as Enron and
WorldCom, extravagant executive pay, dwindling pensions and health
insurance, and increased outsourcing of jobsincluding to Indiaby American
companies looking for cheap labor and high profits.
Examining the state of American democracy in his new book, Is Democracy
Possible Here?, Ronald Dworkin asserts that "the level of indifference the
nation now shows to the fate of its poor calls into question not only the
justice of its fiscal policies but also their legitimacy." The
challenge before India's political system is not much different: how to
ensure a minimum of equality in an age of globalization as international
business and financial institutions deprive governments of some of their
old sovereignty, empower elites with transnational loyalties, and cause
ordinary citizens to grow indifferent to politics.
In a recent book, the distinguished American political scientist Robert A.
Dahl offers an optimistic vision in which "an increasing awareness that
the dominant culture of competitive consumerism does not lead to greater
happiness gives way to a culture of citizenship that strongly encourages
movement toward greater political equality among American citizens." Dahl
points out that "once people have achieved a rather modest level of
consumption, further increases in income and consumption no longer produce
an increase in their sense of well-being or happiness."
This awareness is not easily achieved in a culture of capitalism that
thrives on ceaselessly promoting and multiplying desire. But it may be
imperative for Indians, who, arriving late in the modern world, are
confronted with the possibility that economic growth on the model of
Western consumer capitalism is no longer environmentally sustainable. One
billion Indians, not to mention another billion Chinese, embracing Western
modes of work and consumption will cause irrevocable damage to the global
environment, which is strained enough at having to provide resources for
the lifestyles of a few hundred million Americans and Europeans.
Fortunately, a large majority of poor and religious Indians do not live
within the modern culture of materialism; they are invulnerable to the
glamour of the CEO, the investment banker, the PR executive, the
copywriter, and other gurus of the West's fully organized consumer
societies. Traditional attitudes toward the natural environment make
Indians, like the Japanese, more disposed than Americans to pursue
happiness modestly. And almost six decades after his assassination,
Gandhi's traditionalist emphasis on austerity and self-abnegation remains
a powerful part of Indian identity.
Gandhi saw clearly how organizing human societies around endless economic
growth would promote inequality and conflict within as well as between
nations. He knew that for democracy to flourish, it "must learn," as
Martha Nussbaum puts it, "to cultivate the inner world of human beings,
equipping each citizen to contend against the passion for domination and
to accept the reality, and the equality, of others."
Gandhi's ethical vision of democracy seems more persuasive as the social
costs of the obsession with economic growth become intolerable. Responding
to another wave of mass suicides of farmers in July 2006, Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh made it clear that only a small minority in India can and
will enjoy "Western standards of living and high consumption." Singh
exhorted his countrymen to abandon the "wasteful" Western model of
consumerism and learn from the frugal ways of Gandhi, which he claimed
were a "necessity" in India. The invocation of Gandhi by a
Western-style technocrat sounds rhetorical. But it may also be an
acknowledgment that there are no easy ways out of the impassethe danger of
intensified violence and environmental destruction to which globalization
has brought the biggest democracy in the world.
 Though the service sector employs only 23 percent of the population,
it accounts for 54 percent of India's GDP.
 Somini Sengupta, "On India's Despairing Farms, a Plague of Suicide,"
The New York Times, September 19, 2006.
 Anand Giridharadas, "Rising Prosperity Brings New Fears to India,"
International Herald Tribune, January 26, 2007.
 See Saba Naqvi Bhaumik, "Gujarat's Guru," Outlook, January 29, 2007.
 Ramachandra Guha, India After Gan-dhi: The History of the World's
Largest Democracy (to be published by Ecco in August 2007), p. 15.
 Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Burden of Democracy (Delhi: Penguin, 2003), p.
 Jo Johnson, "Poor Turn to Private Schools," Financial Times, January
 Dramatically increasing investment in education and health care and
withdrawing tax breaks to foreign businessmen in their latest budget
proposals, China's new leaders seem to be trying to check growing
inequalities and social unrest in their country. See "Getting Rich,"
London Review of Books, November 30, 2006.
 Somini Sengupta, "Indian Police Kill 11 at Protest Over Economic Zone"
The New York Times, March 15, 2007.
 Jo Johnson, "Leftist Insurgents Kill 50 Indian Policemen," Financial
Times, March 15, 2007.
 See also Siddhartha Deb, "The 'Feel-Good': Letter from Delhi,"
Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 2005.
 For a vigorous assertion of growing economic populism in America, see
James Webb, "Class Struggle: American Workers Have a Chance to Be Heard,"
The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2006.
 Ronald Dworkin, Is Democracy Possible Here? (Princeton University
Press, 2006), p. 118.
 Robert A. Dahl, On Political Equality (Yale University Press, 2006),
pp. x, 106.
 Rene Loth, "Japan's Energy Wisdom," International Herald Tribune,
March 26, 2007.
 "Refarmer Manmohan," The Economic Times, July 3, 2006
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