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This chapter is based on civil services examination, was: ‘‘What’s Wrong with India?

’’ The focus of this particular chapter is much narrower, and I have, therefore, given it a different name. I am, however, tempted to start with a comment on the old title, which still has a motivational role. To ask ‘‘what’s wrong with India?’’ may appear to be a discouraging thought. I would, however, argue that this is not entirely so. Indeed, a diagnosis that we have done something wrong can be quite upbeat—perhaps even too buoyant.

As Alexander Pope said nearly three centuries ago, to admit that one has been wrong is to claim that one is wiser today than one was yesterday. We may well be getting wiser in India, but we must try to make sure that we are rightly diagnosing the ‘‘errors’’ of our past. In particular, it would be quite important not to disown, without good reason, the basic social commitments that were made as India became independent, and that reflected the aspirations of the freedom movement that had galvanized the nation. In this chapter, I concentrate on two such commitments that were among the most important parts of the vision of an independent history about india as it was articulated more than half a century ago. I refer to the resolution to build an India that would be both democratic and secular. It was, of course, an ambitious resolve: There was no democratic poor country in the world at that time. It was also daring: The dream of a secular India seemed a distant one as the country was partitioned amid bloody communal riots that killed and threatened the lives of millions. And yet as the decades progressed, both democracy and secularism became reasonably well established in India. The vision seemed to work, and there was something real to celebrate. However, the basic principles underlying both democracy and secularism have received some hard knocks in recent years. Attention is drawn to the fact that authoritarian countries (such as South Korea, Singapore, or for that matter, China) seem to have achieved much more in economic growth and enrichment than India has. The chaos ofdemocratic politics seems obvious enough, and tensions and conflicts are more clearly visible than they would be under orderly authoritarian regimes. Expressions of deep skepticism are heard often enough in public discussions, frequently reiterating the view that democratic politics gives India many problems and rather few solutions. It would be good to examine whether this is a fair assessment. If attacks on democracy reflect practical frustration, assaults on secularism seem to come from ‘‘high theory’’ of a sort, even though that theory is sometimes used to instigate and justify politically organized brutalities (most recently in Gujarat). The rejection of Indian secularism reflects an attempt to recharacterize India away from a multi-religious and multi-ethnic conception, which was dominant at the time of Indian independence, toward a manufactured notion of a largely ‘‘Hindu India.’’ The commodious and absorptive idea of‘‘Indianness’’ that characterized the Indian intellectual mainstream fifty years ago and that found a firm expression in the secular constitution of the newly independent country has been severely challenged over the recent decades. Despite attempts by the ‘‘Hindustan’’ advocates to square the circle by claiming continued adherence to ‘‘secularism’’ (combined with describing earlier secular beliefs as ‘‘pseudo-secularism’’), it is difficult to see how the relative privileging of one

religious tradition—and one community—over the others can be consistent with any interpretation of secularism whatsoever. There is evidence that the hard core of ‘‘Hindustan’’ advocates is relatively small in number. But around them cluster a very much larger group of people who can be called ‘‘proto-Hindutva’’ believers. They are typically less zealous than the Hindustan champions, but they nevertheless see a basic asymmetry between the preeminence of Hinduism in India and the claims of other religions that are also present in India. While the Hindutva movement is intellectually impatient and politically compromised by its association with intolerance and occasional terrible violence against minority communities, this broader group of ‘‘proto-Hindutva’’ believers are far less extremist and thus have a substantially greater chance of being politically influential in the long run. One must ask whether the perspectives of Hindutva and, more broadly, of proto-Hindutva beliefs provide a plausible challenge to old-fashioned Indian secularism. Even though I concentrate here on democracy and secularism, there are, of course, many other challenging questions that can sensibly be asked in a critical reassessment ofthe present Indian situation. The list includes the persistence of endemic hunger, the continuation of massive illiteracy and ill health, the enduring inequality of class, the ongoing denial of gender equity, the survival of social barriers of caste and community, the lack of development of economic opportunities, and so on. I have tried to address some ofthese issues elsewhere, but I will not go into them here, except when they are relevant to the discussion of the two main themes of this essay—namely, democracy and secularism