Rediscovering, Restructuring or Reinventing?
Contemporary intelligentsia is passionately debating about what India needs today -- its idea to be rediscovered, restructured or reinvented in totality.
I had the privilege, over the last one month, of attending a couple of public discourses with many known intellectuals debating on whether India should reinvent its idea in totality or merely rediscover itself or instead opt for restructuring. While the ruling right-wing has been campaigning for a New India, as coined by Prime Minister Modi recently, and bashing the Nehruvian idea of India, Rahul Gandhi recently organised a 'Save the Constitution Rally' and called for rediscovering the Nehruvian idea of India which stands for unity in diversity.
'Reinvent, Recreate' Lobby
Apologists of the reinvention, decidedly from the right-wing, have an aggressive stance these days with a favourable government at the Centre and in a majority of the states.
One major argument of the reinvent lobby is that the Indian civilisation is 7000 years old, the Republic is 70 years old and there is a new government at the Centre with a decidedly new outlook. This outlook believes that the great ancient Indian culture "has been shackled for 250 years now, 180 years by colonialism and 70 years by agents of colonialism." Hence, recreating is reclaiming. The Indian economy which was 27 per cent of the global economy in the 18th century dropped to 3 per cent in the 1950s.
Macaulay's education policy of 1835 imposed English education and permanently infused a sense of inferiority among common Indians with regard to the English language, taken forward in the Nehruvian era after 1947. This has led to subservience to the West, the rise of a poverty-mongering idea of India, and an inward-looking socialism today which has produced more poor rather than solving poverty.
True scientific research and entrepreneurial forces have been restrained by this apologising attitude. Central planning and a controlled economy are obsolete today; and, India's achievements, to date, are in spite of central planning and Nehruvian socialism, not due to these.
Indians do not look at themselves as they should. Universal spiritualism and brotherhood were embodied in Indian philosophy through Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Whole world is my family). Kalidasa is comparable to Shakespeare, but not recognised. Aurobindo's discourse on the foundation of the Indian culture is still relevant. Indian civilisational ideas are even reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations today, but we are neither aware nor proud of the same.
Foreign recognition was important for some stature after independence, not anymore. "We should make our own role models and transition strategy." By 2050, even Price Water Coopers predicts that India will be the second-largest economy with $46 trillion, ahead of USA, and behind China.
The reinvent and recreate lobby also opines that for everything that is true in India, the opposite is also true. "Why should there be one idea of India? Why singular? Why no million mutinies? The Constitution is a rule book about how we conduct our lives, and it can change with changing time. Did India begin in 1947? And, did the idea of India start only then, run by one family, written in one book, and fathered by Gandhi?"
The rediscover lobby, decidedly the Nehruvian apologists, are in turn questioning the much-touted New India, noting that it has witnessed the heightening of social disharmony, majoritarian dominance, cow vigilantism, fall of scientific temper and deterioration of the position of women. This lobby wants a return to Nehruvian idealism, protection of Ambedkar's Constitution and a rainbow coalition of many castes and communities (and, perhaps political parties too) to rule India.
India, with the vision of the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution, still survives – while Pakistan is virtually falling apart. Even after 101 amendments, the Indian Constitution is still the beacon of the Indian polity since it has traversed diverse social contradictions and ensured the rule of law, separation of power, independence of judiciary and a strong Union in a federal polity: all of which, according to this lobby, are being threatened in the right-wing vision of New India.
They say that the Constitution survived sub-national aspirations and regional demands. And, Nehru's Discovery of India is deeply spiritual – he married our culture to modern governance through the Constitution and ensured the growth of science and scientific temper – which is now under threat as seen by central ministers questioning Darwin's theory and saying that Internet existed in the Vedic ages or that Ganesha underwent a plastic surgery for his trunk.
A section of the rediscovery lobby also says that Western thinking is linear, ours is cyclical, not straight, and converging. And, hence reinforcing the idea of India is not necessarily the same of the past. Invasions in India, by whoever in the last 800 years, have led to a cultural mix and assimilation, making the country diverse and richer. It is this cultural parallelism that exists at the core of the existing idea of India and a centralised rightist narrative cannot be imposed upon it. Since recreation is linear, it does not reflect the truth in the land which believes in Ekam satyam, viprah vahudha vadanti (The truth is one, interpreted differently by different learned men).
This rediscovery lobby passionately puts forth that pluralism, sense of diversity and inclusivity are at the core of India today, reflecting our civilisational journey; and, hence, to maintain its nature of antiquity, continuity, diversity and assimilation, it cannot be reinvented or recreated.
Historians in the rediscovery lobby point out that in 1923, the Hindutva focused idea of India presented by Savarkar was rejected for a syncretic vision. Savarkar's ideas of Pitrabhoomi and Punyabhoomi, in effect accepting the two nation theory of Jinnah, put forth later in 1942, had been rejected by the people in favour of multi-cultural Hindustan. The founding fathers of India today had called for the opening of windows and doors of our houses, but not to be blown off our feet.
This lobby questions the right-wing asking if Akhlaq's killing or Sambhulal killing Afroz or six men raping and killing the eight-year-old Kathua victim are signs of New India. Why aren't the Muslim contributions from the medieval ages or the oldest Church of the world being recognised in this New India? And, what is this New India apart from an aggressive brand of masculinity and unethical corporate dominance?
Way Forward: Restructuring & Evolving the Idea of India
India, with the second largest Muslim population of the world, cannot be a Hindu Rashtra for sure. India, with 7 per cent and above GDP growth, cannot also play second fiddle to the Western economies. India, with 56 per cent of its population below 25 years of age and 67 per cent below 35 years, is surely a major force of the world's future talent pool and workforce.
While Sambhulal's heinous murder in Rajasthan or the Kathua girl's brutal rape and murder in Jammu cannot be allowed to represent the face of New India, we cannot also accept minority appeasement that uses Muslims, Dalits or tribals as mere votebanks without changing their socioeconomic status, as shown in the Sachhar Committee report.
Hence, an evolution of the idea of India is surely needed – building upon self-reliance, national role models, strengthening the conversation with our tradition and honouring diversity in every walk of life. The restructured or evolved idea of India needs to ensure strict secularism where the State has no role to play in religious matters (which are best left to individuals), and all religious conflicts should be seen only as law and order hindrances. On the other hand, this restructured India, moving ahead, must ensure the economic security of the marginalised (through Minimum Support Prices for farm produce, executing forest and tribal protection acts, executing women's protection, minimum wages and days of work protection and rural health protection acts).
Neither ultra-nationalism of the Hindutva variety, nor eulogy of rule by one family through appeasement: the idea of India needs an evolution to a re-structured identity which blends aspirations of the privileged with a dignified life of the underprivileged – irrespective of community, caste or gender. One party rule or multi-party coalition, India needs a programme of progress and sustainability; not a powerful arrogant leader nor a group of squabbling regional leaders.
(Professor Ujjwal K Chowdhury is currently School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy; and has been earlier, the Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities, and Dean of Whistling Woods School of Communication)