Defining India's Identity

Author(s): Bhikhu Parekh
Source: India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 1 (SUMMER 2006), pp. 1-15
Published by: India International Centre
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23005931 .
Accessed: 30/07/2014 06:34
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
.
India International Centre is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to India
International Centre Quarterly.
http://www.jstor.org
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh
Defining
India s
Identity*
I
Identity
refers to how we understand and define ourselves. Our
sense of
identity
or who we think we are informs our
values,
guides
our small and
large
choices,
and
gives
our lives a sense of
direction and coherence. It is a
product
of the constant conscious
and unconscious interaction between the
range
of alternatives offered
by
the wider
society
and our
self-understanding.
In a traditional
society
or one that is
relatively
stable,
our
self-understanding
is
generally
in
harmony
with the
way
our
society encourages
us to
think of ourselves. We
grow up
with a
reasonably
clear and stable
conception
of who we are and how we should structure our
lives,
and
navigate
our lives without
critically reflecting
on or even
becoming
aware of it.
A new situation arises when our
customary self-understanding
including
our
assumptions
about the world
proves inadequate,
or is
jolted.
This can
happen
when we come in close contact with other
societies and
begin
to
question
our
own,
or our familiar world
undergoes rapid
and extensive
changes,
or we are confronted with
unexpected problems
or can no
longer
continue to make choices as
before. We feel confused and
disoriented,
and are not
quite
sure
how to
organise
our lives. We are then led to reflect on ourselves
and ask who we
really
are and what we want to be. What
happens
to individuals also
happens
to societies.
They generally rely
on their
*Adapted
from the D.M.
Singhvi
Memorial Lecture
2006,
Exploring
India's
Identity,
delivered at the IIC on
February
1,
2006.
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
2 / India International Centre
Quarterly
traditions, customs,
and
historically
inherited
self-understanding
to
structure their lives and define their
goals.
When
they undergo rapid
industrialisation,
become
part
of a
globalising
world,
face new
problems,
find
strange people living
in their midst and cannot
rely
on
unspoken
conventions to
regulate
their relations with
them,
or
are in
danger
of
losing
their familiar
landmarks,
they
feel
troubled,
bewildered,
disorientated and ask themselves who
they
are,
how
they
are
changing
and what
they
wish to become.
National
identity
is about national
self-definition,
that
is,
about
its
values,
goals,
the kind of
country
and
people
it wants to be. It
cannot be defined in the abstract but
only
in the
light
of the
country's
history, present
circumstances and
self-understanding, hopes
for the
future,
and its assessment of the kind of world that is
beginning
to
emerge
and with which it has to
cope.
A
country
cannot be whatever
it wants to
be,
for it is limited
by
its
history
and the
way
it has been
shaped by
it. It needs to
explore
and
critically
evaluate its intellectual
and moral
resources,
so that it knows where it needs to
change
consistently
with its
grain.
Those who
ignore
their
history
as well as
those who remain
trapped
in it are condemned to
repeat
and
pay
for it.
Like
personal identity,
national
identity
involves a delicate and
judicious
balance of
continuity
and
change.
National self-definition
requires
and must
emerge
out of a
vigorous
national debate. It must
be inclusive and take full account of the
variety
of views to be found
in
every society.
If it excluded some of
these,
it would be
partial
and
divisive. It must
obviously
be based on a broad
consensus,
and that
too can
only emerge
from a
public
debate. And it cannot command
widespread loyalty
unless
ordinary
men and women are
willing
to
own and
identify
with
it,
which
they
can do
only
if
they
are
actively
involved in its formulation.
The definition of
personal
or national
identity
has an
inescapable
pathos.
It becomes
necessary
when the individual or
society
feels
destabilised,
unhinged,
disoriented. But that is
precisely
the time
when
they
are least able to reflect on it with the
required degree
of
detachment and
perspective.
Furthermore,
since
they
are
overwhelmed
by
a
particular
set of
problems,
the latter are
likely
to
dominate their attention and cloud their views. Unless
they
can
summon
up
a sense of historical balance and
powers
of critical self
reflection,
the
way they
resolve the
problem
of
identity
is
likely
to
prove unsatisfactory
and store
up problems
for the future.
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh/ 3
India first faced the
agonised question
of national self-definition
in the course of its anti-colonial
struggle.
We were
engaged
in the
great
historical task of
creating
a new
India,
and
naturally
we asked
what we meant
by
India and what it referred to. Was it a territorial
unit bounded in a certain
way?
Or a
society
with a certain kind of
structure? Or a set of institutions? Or a
people
with a certain
history
and set of intellectual and moral characteristics? Or was it a
civilisation? The
question
was
extensively
debated for
nearly
a
hundred
years, by
some of our finest
minds,
and
generated
the broad
consensus that India
basically
referred to a civilisation and that it
was
distinguished by
a
particular
view of the world and set of values.
There were
deep disagreements
about what this view and values
were. Ram Mohan
Roy,
Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Ranade, Gokhale,
Tagore,
Gandhi,
Nehru and others articulated them
differently
in
their
writings.
By
and
large, they
were all
agreed
that the Indian civilisation
was
plural,
and included different currents of moral and
philosophical thought ranging
from
polytheism
to atheism and from
crude materialism to the
highest
form of idealism. In
spite
of their
occasional
quarrels
and
periods
of
intolerance,
these bodies of ideas
enjoyed
considerable freedom of
expression, engaged
in a critical
dialogue, challenged
or borrowed each other's ideas to create a
distinct and
internally
differentiated
composite
culture. Leaders of
our
independence struggle recognised
that over the centuries India's
intellectual and moral life had become static and
frozen;
that its
society
had become
fragmented, rigid
and
deeply
divided;
and that
the Indian civilisation had lost its
creativity
and intellectual
vitality.
They
were nevertheless convinced that it still had
enough energy
and resources left in it to
form,
after suitable
revitalisation,
the basis
of a new India.
The leaders of our
independence struggle
felt
strongly
that India
had
something unique
to offer to the
world,
and that its
age,
rich
history,
size and talents entitled it to a
major
role in it. India was not
and could not be
just
a
society
or a
country
like
any
other. It stood
for
important
values and
represented
a distinct world
view,
and
owed it to itself and to the world to make its voice heard.
Sadly
it
had been
bypassed by history,
and that had to be set
right
once it
became
independent.
The
passionate
conviction that India was
unique,
had once contributed
greatly
to human
civilisation,
and
should once
again
resume its
rightful place
in the world was
widely
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
4 / India International Centre
Quarterly
shared,
and has since then remained an
integral part
of our national
self-consciousness.
lthough
this civilisational view of India
persisted
after
independence, inescapably
it underwent
important changes.
We now had a state of our
own,
the like of which we never
had
before,
and it
naturally
became the centre of our collective life.
We faced
economic,
political,
and other
problems,
and
only
the state
was in a
position
to address them. The Indian civilisation had to be
revitalised,
and here too the state had a role. For these and other
reasons,
the leaders of
independent
India under the
stewardship
of
Nehru defined India not as a civilisational
entity
but as a nation
state. The civilisation was
certainly
there,
but as a kind of a
background
that was to be
selectively appropriated.
Defining
India as a nation state meant a number of
things.
India
belonged
to its
people
who
collectively
constituted the nation. 'We
the
people',
as the Constitution
puts
it in its
striking opening phrase,
own the
country, underpin
the
state,
and can alone decide what
kind of
country they
wished to create. The idea of
democracy
was
not an add
on,
but inherent in the idea of India as a nation state. If
Indians were to take
charge
of their collective
destiny, they
needed
to
develop
a common sense of
belonging
and become a
reasonably
cohesive
political community.
This
required
a shared
identity,
based
on a shared
conception
of what their
country
stood for.
There was an extensive debate on
this,
first in the Constituent
Assembly
and then
during
the
early years
of
independence.
The
result was what Nehru called the 'national
philosophy
of India'. It
included individual
liberty, equality
of
opportunity,
social
justice,
secularism,
the
spirit
of rational
inquiry
or what Nehru called a
scientific
temper, independence
of action and
judgement
in world
affairs of which
non-alignment
was a
contingent expression,
and so
on. India's acute
poverty
had to be tackled and that
required
economic
development,
but the latter was not an end in itself but a
means to a
democratic,
just, egalitarian
and humane
society.
The
founding
fathers and mothers of the Indian
republic
were convinced
that India could not be a cohesive nation state so
long
as it continued
to be scarred
by
vast economic and social
inequalities.
It is worth
II
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh / 5
noting
that the Directive
Principles
of the Constitution have a
strong
egalitarian
thrust,
with almost half of them concerned with the
distribution of wealth and
preventing
concentration of the means
of
production
in a few hands. The idea of the nation state
implied
not
only democracy
but also
equality
and social
justice.
The
symbols
of the Indian
republic
were meant to be evocative
of our
plural
civilisation and to
give
the new state a historical
depth
and
continuity.
The national
motto,
Satyameva Jayate,
is drawn from
the
Mahabharata,
and it reiterates the central
importance given
to
the
variously interpreted
idea of
satya
in our
tradition,
and connects
with
Gandhiji's emphasis
on
truth,
truthfulness and
satyagraha.
The
national emblem refers to Ashoka and the confluence of Hindu and
Buddhist influences. The colours of the national
flag
have a historical
and cultural resonance to
symbolise
our
religious pluralism.
Our
national anthem is a wonderful statement of our
identity,
and could
not be more different from those of other countries. It is non
triumphalist,
unlike that of
France,
Britain and
many
other countries.
It sketches the territorial
boundary
of the Indian state in such a
way
that the latter refers both to the
country's
natural
landscape
and
ethnic
diversity.
It sacralises the territorial
space by invoking
the
blessings
of the architect
(vidhata)
of the
country's destiny.
Rather
strikingly
the reference to vidhata can be read in several different
ways, including
the secular. It
appeals
not to
vishwavidhdta,
which
is
clearly religious
and refers to a transcendental
deity,
but to
Bharatbhagya
vidhata,
which could be a transcendental
deity,
an
unspecified
local
deity
of the kind that abounds in Hindu
mythology,
or
simply
an idealised masculine version of the more familiar
figure
of Bharatmata.
Its
indeterminacy
has led some to
suggest
that
Tagore
had
King
George
VI in
mind,
but that is absurd. None of the
subsequent
invocations,
such as
gaye
tava
yashgdtha,
and tava
shubhajishish
mage,
could
apply
to the British
monarch,
and
Tagore
himself
thought
the
interpretation
beneath
contempt.
The fact that such a
charge
could
be levied at
all, however,
shows that
Bharatbhagyavidhata
is not
necessarily religious
or even
denominational,
and could be read in
secular terms.
As India's first Prime
Minister,
Nehru threw all his
weight
behind his vision of India. He toured the
country
with
indefatigable
energy,
used
every
conceivable occasion to tell his
countrymen
what
their
country
stood
for,
wrote
long
letters to chief
ministers,
and
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
6 / India International Centre
Quarterly
symbolised
his national
philosophy
in his actions and
way
of life.
He won all the elections he
fought,
and each of these
tested,
reaffirmed and
legitimised
his vision. He took keen interest in Indian
culture,
especially through
not
exclusively
the
classical,
and set
up
several academies. He had a clear vision of the kind of world he
wished to see and India's role in it. He
gave
India a distinct moral
voice on the world
stage,
and backed it
up by
the
unique
moral
authority
derived from its
great
anti-colonial
struggle
and Gandhi's
leadership
of it.
Nehru's vision had its characteristic
strengths
and weaknesses.
It was
inclusive, secular,
culturally
sensitive,
based on the ethnic
and cultural
plurality
of
India,
and could be owned
by
all Indians.
It
gave
democratic institutions
deep
roots in Indian self
consciousness,
held the
country together during
its critical
period,
nurtured dissent and
disagreement, inspired
millions,
and
gave
India
a distinct international
presence
that it
desperately
craved for. Its
limitations were
just
as
great.
It was
statist, elitist,
did little to
speed
up
India's economic
development
and tackle
poverty, paid only
limited attention to
primary
education,
healthcare and other basic
needs of the
masses,
and was
insufficiently
sensitive to rural India
and the
religious aspirations
of its
people.
Although
Nehru's successors tinkered with his vision and
modified it in
important respects,
none of them
provided
a well
thought
out alternative that retained its virtues and freed it of its
weaknesses. The Hindutva movement claimed to offer
one,
but its
vision was too
narrow,
religiously
and
culturally
exclusive, casteist,
and
culturally
confused to
carry
much conviction. It had no coherent
response
to
globalisation,
which it could not reconcile with the
swadeshi
spirit.
It talked of
making
India
great,
but had no idea of
how to
bring
this about other than
through military power.
It had
no coherent
strategy
on
tackling poverty, reducing growing
economic
inequalities, integrating
minorities,
giving
India a distinct
international
voice,
and
addressing
the
long-recognised
weaknesses
of Indian
society
and civilisation. For these and other reasons it could
not
enjoy
the intellectual and
political hegemony
that Nehru's vision
did.
Although
the frustrated electorate
gave
the
BJP
a
chance,
they
never
fully
trusted it with
political power,
and
increasingly
saw
through
its contradictions—which became
particularly
stark after
its defeat at the last election.
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh / 7
III
Not
surprisingly,
India has been
experiencing
an
agonising
crisis of
identity
for the
past
few
years.
The visions of Nehru
and the
BJP
are
widely challenged,
alternatives are not in
sight,
and there is an intellectual vacuum. The frustrations of the
Indian
people
are
beginning
to boil over.
Poverty
remains,
inequalities
are
increasing,
India counts for little in the
world,
and
China,
its
point
of reference since the
1980s,
is
by comparison making huge
strides on all fronts. It is in this context that a new view of India's
identity
has
begun
to be canvassed
by
an influential
body
of
people
cutting
across the usual
ideological
and
political
divide. This
view,
tentatively
mooted in the late 1980s and
gathering
momentum
since,
is assumed to be so self-evident that its criticism is limited to a few
'unpatriotic' fringe groups.
This new view of India's
identity
is
largely
a reaction
against
Nehru's,
and holds him
responsible
for
setting
off
independent
India
in a
wrong
direction. We would
expect
this line of criticism from the
Nehruphobic Sangh
Parivar;
but it is also shared
by Nehruphiles
and
his erstwhile associates and followers
who,
though
less
sweeping
and
self-righteous,
nevertheless feel that he was
perhaps right
for
his
time,
but is no
longer
relevant
today.
In
any
case the
argument
is
that Nehru's India was
poor,
an economic
embarrassment,
given
to
moralising
and
preaching
to the rest of the world while
ignoring
its
vital defence and other
interests,
isolated
by
its
non-alignment,
and
counted for little in international affairs. It is time to break with him
and concentrate on the two vital economic and
military
areas that
he had
ignored.
According
to this new view of Indian
identity,
India should see
itself not as a civilisation or even as a
culturally
embedded nation
state,
but as a state like
any
other. It should learn the art of
realpolitik,
acquire political power
which alone commands the world's
respect,
and use it to
promote
national interest. Political
power
comes from
economic and
military strength,
and India must aim to become a
great
economic and
military power.
This is what China is
supposed
to be
doing,
and India must follow suit.
Poverty
must of course be
eliminated,
but that is best done
by
a combination of the trickle down
effect,
some forms of rural and urban
employment
schemes,
rural
industrialisation,
further extension of
reservations,
globalisation,
etc.
Inequalities
and
injustice
will remain and even
increase,
but that
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
8 / India International Centre
Quarterly
should not
matter;
and in
any
case it is neither the state's business
nor in its
power
to do
anything
about them.
It is
argued
that if we are to be a
great
economic and
military
power,
we must be
integrated
into the
global economy, open up
our
markets,
liberalise and
deregulate
our
economy,
and in
general
do
all that is needed to ensure a free inward flow of
capital
and
goods.
We should also
forge
close ties with
great powers,
above all the US
with its control of or decisive influence in all
major
international
institutions,
and its
ability
to meet our nuclear ambitions. As
Condoleezza Rice
put
it with a shrewd
understanding
of India's
driving
ambition,
the US will "make
you great".
Some of our leaders
and most of our media
enthusiastically
welcomed this
patronising
and even
perhaps
offensive remark.
Hardly any
of them bothered
to ask how
greatness
can be
given by
others;
and whether a
country
that
acquires
it in this
way
does not remain
perpetually mortgaged
to them. It would seem that some of our leaders see
nothing wrong
in
becoming
America's
'poodle',
an
expression frequently
used to
describe
Tony
Blair's
Britain,
if that is the
price
to
pay
to realise our
ambition. Others think that if we can
play
the
game
of
realpolitik
smartly,
we will
get
as much out of the US as it
gets
out of
us,
and
eventually
we will
emerge
out of its shadow.
This view of India is
propagated by
a coalition of different
groups.
It has the active
support
of the
globalised
and
cosmopolitan
techno-managerial
elite. It is
supported by large
Indian business
houses with
global
markets in
sight,
and the ambitious middle classes
who want
foreign
consumer
goods,
benefit from
outsourcing,
welcome the
prospect
of
working
abroad,
and feel elated at India's
international status. It is also shared
by
influential sections of the
Sangh
Parivar who swear
by
the
policy
of
dam, bheda,
and danda
and
hope
that this will
inaugurate
Hindu India's
long delayed
suvarnayuga.
This vision of India also
enjoys great popularity among
large
sections of the
media,
and almost all the
major groups
of NRIs.
The fact that several influential individuals in the
government
and
bureaucracy
have worked in international
institutions,
or were
closely
associated with them and have a
managerial background,
lends this vision
friendly
ears.
It is
important
to note how
radically
this view of India differs
from those of Nehru and the leaders of our
independence struggle.
Unlike them it
places economy
at the centre of national
life,
promotes
military strength
and militarisation of the Indian
psyche, ignores
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh! 9
the moral core of Indian
civilisation,
has no sense of
history
and no
appreciation
of India's
ability
to introduce a note of
sanity
in a world
dominated
by
new forms of
imperialism.
Like them it too is born out
of a
desperate
desire to be
internationally recognised,
but its
methods could not be more different. It seeks international
recognition by conforming
to others'
norms,
whereas Nehru and
others
deeply
valued India's
autonomy
and
capacity
to set its own
norms. No
wonder,
directly
or
indirectly,
advocates of this new view
of India's
identity
dismiss Gandhi as a maverick who never
understood
power,
Nehru as a
moralising
fool,
Tagore
as a
sentimental romantic with little to
say
about
anything
other than
literature,
and so on.
The
appeal
of this vision of India as a
strong,
united and
widely
respected
economic and
military power
is
easy
to understand—
especially
to a
proud
and talented
people
who feel
undervalued,
bitterly
resent their centuries of
subjugation
and
marginalisation
in
world
affairs,
and
envy
the
way
their
big
but
equally
backward
neighbour
has
managed
to turn the corner. In some of
my
moods I
too feel the
pull
of it. However one must ask if this vision is
sufficiently
inspiring
and
noble,
and does
justice
to our
history
and
contemporary
reality.
The answer is a
qualified
no. Global
integration
is fine if it is
of the
right
kind and serves
emancipatory,
rather than
repressive
purposes.
And we should of course be friends with
every country,
especially
the sole
superpower, provided
that this does not
damage
our
autonomy,
use us as a foil to
China,
foreclose our
options,
and
prevent
us from
fighting
for a
just
and
non-hegemonic
world order.
IV
I
feel troubled
by
this
vision,
for several interrelated reasons.
First,
it is born out of fear and frustration: the fear of
being bypassed
by history
and overtaken
by
China;
frustration at not
being
recognised
and
respected by
others. It is
other-determined,
and does
not
spring
from autonomous choices based on a careful assessment
of the available alternatives.
Secondly,
unlike the earlier definitions of our national
identity,
this vision has not
emerged
from a
vigorous
and extensive
public
debate. We are
bounced,
even
perhaps frightened
and blackmailed
into it
by
false fears and skilful
propaganda.
It is
striking
that we
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
10/ India International Centre
Quarterly
have not been told the full details and
implications
of the
agreement
we have
recently signed
with the US on nuclear
matters;
and that
our
experts
are
deeply
divided about its
long-term consequences.
Not
surprisingly,
this vision does not
enjoy widespread support
in
the
country,
and even arouses
deep suspicions
than are bound to
increase as its
consequences
become clearer. No view of national
identity
can be built on such a basis.
Consider the recent
strong
reaction
against
the
appointment
of
foreign experts
on the
advisory
committees of the
Planning
Commission. The reaction was understandable because of the
widespread feeling
that such
appointments betrayed
a lack of
national
self-confidence,
and were
part
of the
larger project
of
compromising
national
autonomy
to reassure international
institutions. At another level this too
betrayed
the same lack of self
confidence. Nehru's India had the confidence to ask Mountbatten
to
stay
on and
help
clear
up
the mess he had
partly
created. Sardar
Patel asked British ICS officers to
stay
on to
help
stabilise the
country.
In recent
years
successive
governments
have asked NRI businessmen
and
professionals
for
advice,
and there is no reason
why
brown
foreigners
should be more
acceptable
than white. China has been
inviting
American CEOs and
university presidents
to run its
universities and industries without
worrying
about the loss of
national
autonomy
or
pride.
If our
political
establishment were to
inspire greater
confidence and be more
transparent,
and if its critics
were to be less
nationalistic,
the role of
foreign experts,
advisers and
even
managers
would
hardly
deserve to be a
subject
of
agonised
discussion.
Thirdly, suppose
we did become a
great
economic and
military
power by
2020,
or at least 2050. So what?
Military power
is
always
relative,
and cannot
guarantee security beyond
a certain
point.
We
would eliminate acute
poverty,
and that is to be
warmly
welcomed,
though poverty
is relative and will
always emerge
in new forms.
But if
inequalities
increase or
persist
in their current form as
they
certainly
will,
should we be
willing
to
pay
that
price, especially
as
they impact unevenly
in our
religiously, ethnically, linguistically
and
socially
divided
society?
In other
words,
economic
development
cannot be an end in itself. It is a
means,
and
requires
a clear moral
vision of what we intend to do with it. The dream of
becoming
another America with all its economic and social
problems
that
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh! 11
drives
many
of our middle classes can
easily degenerate
into a
political nightmare.
Fourthly,
the
proposed
vision leaves unanswered the
question
as to the kind of
people
we wish to be. Unlike most Western societies
in which middle classes
played
a
socially
and
culturally revolutionary
role,
ours remain
intellectually superficial
with limited interest in
ideas,
culturally
dilettante and
politically apathetic
to the
plight
of
their
underprivileged countrymen.
Recent
surveys suggest
that the
reading
habits of most of them remain
disappointingly
shallow. Few
read serious literature even in their own
languages
and
patronise
the
arts,
and
many
of them find even the
newspaper
editorials and
the
declining group
of serious columnists
intellectually challenging.
Few
display
a
strong
social
conscience,
the constant
complaint
of
the leaders of our
independence struggle,
and are embarrassed
by
the
widespread practice
of
untouchability
and the mindless
display
of wealth.
According
to recent
surveys
of
Gujarat
and Tamil
Nadu,
over
three
quarters
of the
villages deny
Dalits access to wells and
temples,
and harass them in all conceivable
ways.
The
story
in the rest of the
country
is
just
as shameful. Dhirubhai Ambani had 450
kilograms
of
pure
sandalwood for his funeral
pyre.
Crores of
rupees
were
spent
on Sharad Pawar's sixtieth
birthday.
Amitabh Bachchan's
birthday
celebrations were
just
as
extravagant.
Theme
weddings
with
huge
canvas
replicas
of the Sistine
Chapel
and
palaces
of
Udaipur costing
crores are
fairly
common
among
affluent middle classes—in utter
contempt
of the acute
poverty
that surrounds
them,
and without
the
slightest
desire to contribute even a fraction of this
money
to its
alleviation.
When President K.R.
Narayanan
in his
Republic Day Speech
spoke
of
"vulgar indulgence
in
conspicuous consumption"
shadowed
by
"sullen resentment
among
the
millions",
one would
have
expected
a national debate on what has
happened
to us:
why
we have become so coarse and
insensitive,
why
we are not
outraged
by poverty
and
degradation.
Instead the Indian
Express
lambasted
him for his "usual
lamentations",
and The Times
of
India dismissed it
in six
inches;
and most other
papers
did not even take notice of it. A
vision of India that does little to
encourage
a sense of social
justice,
compassion,
an active concern for the less
well-off,
a vibrant culture
and
maturity
of taste has little to be said for it.
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
12/ India International Centre
Quarterly
Finally,
this vision of India as
marching single-mindedly
towards
an economic and
military superpower
is narrow and exclusive. It
has no
place
for
large
sections of
Indians,
is consumerist in its
orientation,
morally uninspiring,
and lacks shared values on which
to unite all Indians. It is
hardly surprising
that it relies on the state
as the sole source of
unity
and order. The
poor
and the
underprivileged
cannot count on the state to redress their heart
rending grievances,
nor on their
morally
insensitive fellow-citizens
to
campaign
for them.
They
either suffer and
decay quietly
or direct
their
fury against
the
state,
which
predictably responds
with
violence. Since the state is
widely perceived
to be
corrupt
and in
thrall to vested
interests,
they respond
to its violence with their own.
The
state,
urged
on
by
the
frightened
middle
classes,
resorts to even
greater repressive
violence. Such a vicious
cycle
of
violence,
underplayed by
some of the
complicit
media,
has been the
pattern
for the
past
few
years
in
many parts
of
India,
and
augurs
ill but for
its
stability
and
democracy.
V
The
idea that India's
overarching
aim should be to become an
economic and
military superpower
then is
deeply
flawed. We
are not as bereft of
imagination
as it
assumes,
nor as devoid
of alternatives as it
implies;
nor so
desperate
for international
respect
and a seat at the
top
table that we should abandon our
autonomy—
to fall for what a coalition of interested
indigenous
and
foreign
groups
wants to sell us. The
cynical
world of
great powers
does not
respect
mimics;
and it has its own
agenda.
What then should we
do?
We need a clear vision of the kind of
country
we wish to
be,
and of our
place
in the world. That vision must have a moral
core,
and should
embody
the
principles
of individual
liberty,
social
justice,
equal opportunity,
and
fraternity
or a sense of
community
that are
articulated in the Preamble of our Constitution. Our economic
development
should realise and be
judged
and
guided by
these
goals.
This calls for a
democratic,
not a neo-liberal state that we are bent
on
becoming; carefully
monitored
global integration;
and a
regular
assessment of the
quality
of life available to all our
citizens,
especially
the
poor.
The state must
guarantee
basic welfare
provisions
to all its
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh! 13
citizens as a matter of
right, develop
their
capacities
to take
charge
of their
lives,
give
them a stake in the
country's development,
and
greater participatory
control over their work
places,
and
legislate
against
their
increasing exploitation
and
vulnerability.
While we must be able to defend ourselves
against
those who
wish us ill and
equip
ourselves
accordingly,
we need to make a clear
and
objective
assessment of the
likely
sources of
threat;
we should
appreciate
that a sensible and
generous foreign policy
devoted to
cultivation of
friends,
regional cooperation,
and
giving
a voice to
the
poor
and
oppressed people
of the world is a better form of
national defence than
military power,
or dubious
global
alliances.
The
way
in which we are
beginning
to internalise the American
terms of discourse and
way
of
seeing
the world is
deeply damaging
to our
identity;
it serves neither our interests nor those of the US and
the world at
large.
We led the
greatest anti-imperialist
movement in
history,
and well know how
imperialism
strikes roots and harms
both its victims and
alleged
beneficiaries. We should ensure that no
country
is in a
position
to dictate to the
world,
and should work
with others to build
up powerful global
institutions and a
system
of
international balance of
power.
While our current fears and frustrations are
understandable,
our
diagnosis
of their causes and our
prescription
of their remedies
are flawed. Nehru's vision had its weaknesses but it also had its
great strengths.
We need to
incorporate
its
abiding insights
into a
more
satisfactory
vision of India.
Going
a
step
further,
we need to
undertake a critical and careful assessment of our civilisational
resources. No
society
can
altogether
break with its
past, certainly
not ours in which the
past
is a constant
present.
We have much to
be ashamed of in our civilisation but also much to be
proud
of;
and
as a
people
we have both
great strengths
and weaknesses.
Our
strengths
include our
openness
to the world
(as symbolised
in ano bhadra kritavo
yantu vishvatah);
our
pluralist
attitude to life
(as
symbolised
in
ye yatha
mam
prapadyante
tarn tathaiva
bhajamyaham);
our
capacity
to take a relaxed view of and live with
multiple
identities;
our
composite
culture that has resulted from the
unplanned dialogue
and
day-to-day negotiations
of the various
cultures and
religion
that come to our
land;
and our
aesthetic,
erotic
and
philosophical heritage
that is so rich that few currents of
thought
in the world do not have
analogues
in ours.
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
14 / India International Centre
Quarterly
Our weaknesses include our
relatively rigid
social
order,
weak
social conscience in
passive
tolerance that allows different cultures
and relations to coexist in
peace
but without much critical
engagement;
and our
inegalitarian
and hierarchical self
consciousness that finds it difficult to detach individuals from their
social status and nurture the
spirit
of
equality.
We need to take a
calm and critical look at all
this,
consolidate and build on our
strengths,
finds
ways
of
overcoming
our
weaknesses,
and construct
a new vision of India on that basis. We realised the vital
importance
of this
great
cultural task of self-transformation over a
century
and
a half
ago,
and made some
progress
in that direction.
Sadly
we have
neglected
it in recent
decades,
and need to return to it with a renewed
sense of
urgency.
Any
new national self-definition must also take full account of
the Indian
diaspora,
which received little attention before or even
after
independence.
The
diaspora
of over
twenty
million,
spread
out in over
forty
countries and
precipitates
of different
periods
of
our
history,
is a
standing
reminder that for centuries Indians have
reached out to the world and it to them. Our karmabhumi is in India
as well as outside
it,
and India is to be found not
only
in its
territorial
boundary
but also in the little Indias dotted all over the
globe.
The
diaspora gives
us both a
unique vantage point
from which
to re-examine our
past,
and a
bridge
to almost
every part
of the
world.
The alternative view of our
identity
that I am
advocating
cannot
be fashioned in seminar
rooms,
the
prime
minister's
office,
the
planning
commission,
or an official
advisory body.
It can
only grow
out of a
vigorous public
debate.
Democracy
is not
just
about
voting
in an election nor about
protesting against injustices.
It is also about
deciding
what kind of
country
we wish to live in. If
people
are not
involved in the
process
of national
self-definition,
or if their
deliberations are distorted
by
misinformation and false
fears,
the
very
basis of
democracy
is undermined. Political freedom is not
just
about choice between available
alternatives,
it is also about
determining
the
range
of these alternatives.
We must reclaim the
country
from those who seek to
hijack
it
allegedly
in our
interest,
and ask ourselves what kind of economic
development
we
want,
whether
becoming
a
great
economic and
military power
should
really
matter much to
us;
what values we
cherish and would like to
project
to the
global
moral
conversation;
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Bhikhu Parekh /15
how we want to
position
ourselves in the world and
shape
it;
and
how we are to create a
free,
just, egalitarian
and inclusive
society
to
which the
founding
fathers and mothers of our
republic
committed
us in that
tryst
with
destiny
which Nehru so
movingly
invoked.
I am
grateful
to
my good
friend Dr. Laxmimall
Singhvi
for
inviting
me to deliver
the
lecture,
and to
Justice Lahoti,
Ashis
Nandy, Upendra
Baxi,
Pratap
Mehta and
Thomas Pantham for their
helpful
comments on it.
This content downloaded from 103.225.100.51 on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 06:34:23 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions