India is fighting with the new, more infectious and rapidly spreading strain of the Wuhan virus. On one hand, on April 16, newspapers reported on India recording a historic mark of crossing over 2 lakh cases in 24 hours. On the other hand, Chinese economy witnessed an 18% historic jump. India is witnessing an unprecedented stress on its economy and infrastructure on the domestic front, while simultaneously trying to manage the global readjustment after the coordinated stalemate move of the Russian Federation and China against the USA.
It can also be said that socialist capitalism is taking on the democratic capitalism at this point of time in the world, and India finds itself stretched between the architecture of socialist democracy and capitalist democracy, yet again. It’s a direct question on identity and hence requires a revisit of the movement that got quite intensified in the last decade with the name of “nation-building”.
There is no harm in identifying the fact that the Mahalanobis model of development, also called the Nehruvian model, remained aloof from identifying India as a nation in its true sense. This may be a critical claim but is powered by the conscious choice of going for bureaucratic development rather than social transformation, and it says a volume. Precisely, the decision-making process remained with the elite, where they enjoyed political immunity in the repackaged state-craft. It may be claimed that there was a dearth of options before the decision-makers then, but along with that, it must be recognised that there was limitation on the part of decision-makers’ imagination and hence, the failures cannot be passed on to the paradigm.
The reason for calling it a failure is that India became more of a “republic” than a “democratic nation”. The recognition of this fact is important because the shadow of the same is making India run out of its time to gain the right attitude in its daily life. It is visible when India is seen trying to make space in the hard global order with soft tools. And that is because there is very less capitalisation of the country’s human capital.
It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that India does not live like a nation. Rather, it lives like a multinational nation, where the smaller nations are system-less, capital-less and in emotional marriage with a quasi-self-actualisation approach. And hence, the idea of “Unity in diversity” in philosophy turns out to be “diversity in unity” in practice. That’s exactly where the faultlines of “India as a nation” are glittering.
After getting exposed to the theoretical part of the Indian polity and the practicalities of governance mechanisms at macro and micro levels, what I have observed is that India is yet to realise its strength to harp on an influential journey of global evolution. And that can happen only when we channelise the energy of most of the individuals in creating assets, services and capital. But a critical requirement for that to happen is the union of visions and targets. The diversity of unity is certainly a stumbling block there. Energies are powered by divisive ideas of tribal, lingual, casteist, regional and religious ethnicity.
In general, politicians are bashed for making religion- and caste-based manifestos, and creating representative positions with the same criteria. But from the other side of the table, it’s hard to find an alternative tool that can fetch the desire of self-determination of each individual of equal magnitude, as done by caste, and to the extent where one invokes sovereignty and chooses the government.
Vedic scholars recognise caste as an alien concept of identity because the Vedas organised identities in the Indian society on the basis of an individual’s profession, skills and values, and the most significant fact of it is the permeability of different categories. But ignoring the fine utility of caste as an identity tool in electoral politics in today’s India will be a wishful thinking. The groups that cannot be targeted through this tool are subject to the more ambiguous one, i.e. religion.
The influence of religion is not new in world politics. There is a legacy of “nations” taking birth due to religious movements. And that’s why there is a sense of threat to modern, aspirant nation-states from remote-controlled religious groups. The loyalty of a group of people to an external religious power centre, fuelled by superstitious convictions, is a threat to the sovereignty of the government of the land, and hence to the will of the people who voted. Probably, this projection is something that the Nehruvian model overlooked in the smoke of western results — packaged in the narrative of secularism and made up of hardcore religious majoritarianism.
It is a fact that nationalism of identity does not leave space for any other identity. And if there is a trace of any alternative identity, it is certainly a compromise to the idea of “nation”. The confusion created by that paradigm in the Indian context is the confusion that the Indian population silently exhibits at the global stage. We are trying to fit a circular seat in a square chair!
It may appear that these issues may be addressed later, as we are amidst a pandemic. True that. But these identity-based needs ought to be recognised right now, otherwise we would be overpowered by the quest of the comfort of daily normal life and status quo. This very absence of a clear daily governance framework and structure, and the resulting invisibility of common individuals through systemic channels is what has earned us so much confusion about how to deal with the pandemic crisis.
Here are some of the symptoms — just like in the case of floods and tsunami, the pandemic has also been encashed by the lower bureaucracy to deepen its pockets with black and bribed money. Migrants have exclusively shown no confidence in the government when they were forced to face threat to their life due to washing off of economic opportunities at the onset of the lockdown.
When the developed nations were vaccinating themselves, India was vaccinating others, and now she herself is under deep distress. The working class is now the prime target of the virus. Why? Because there is a deep desire to be an influential power with the good will of the world, but the fundamental plot is shaky, and it chokes in pressure.
The Indian community wants its students to bring innovation, but it does not want its lads and girls to think on their own and act accordingly. There is a certain amount of respect for an established business entity and they are accepted in the community, but there is hardly any acceptance for the one still building an enterprise. I think the above examples clearly express the undercurrent of our confusion between what we are doing and what we want to achieve.
So, what needs to change? The change has to happen in the fundamentals. The web of marriages to contradictory values and actions need to be cleared out. If we want to be a modern nation, we must have no other identity other than our national identity. If we want to be a modern religious nation, we must devise ways to ensure clear and non-negotiable religious visions about relevant national goals. If we want to be a capitalist democracy, we must say it out loud and clear the path so that the same can be achieved.
Cascardi’s observation seems to be instrumental in expressing the current ethnic equation. He observes, “The modern subject is defined by its insertion into a series of separate value spheres, each of which tends to exclude or attempts to assert its priority over the rest.” At the moment, the Indian system of governance appears to be in need of a change to the extent where means are prioritised over ends.
Precisely, the rank of economic development needs to be equated with the administration of justice. It needs to create a synergy between the education system and governance — for instance, a student of Class 10 should be able to witness their village taking decisions at the Gram Sabhas rather than simply having to memorise the process for the sake of answering questions in an examination. As ends are not the means, similarly, the urge to make India a nation does not mean India is a nation. This confusion needs to be cleared out to make this republic a nation.
Note: The article was originally published here.