a brief comment

on the state of my beloved country on the day of her independence

Gandhi-centric films released around October 2 and August 15 like Munnabhai, Rang De Basanti, Chak De India and songs like Phir bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, run dizzily in your head. As the media co ntinues to reel under heady notions of patriotism and markets a historic day, the true colours of freedom have long faded and sold out to mean something else.

on the other hand, there is this which looks at it a different way, though it can get a little too patriotic for it’s own good.

The political culture of the republic consisted of the balancing of special interests, procrastination, equivocation, pandering, tokenism and selective affirmative action: in a word, democratic politics.

Gender, language, religious identity, class and caste were all pressed into India’s political mill, but no single identity or principle was used consistently enough to satisfy its champions.

It is a political culture that worked, approximately but demonstrably.

For example, when a “people” elsewhere asks for self-determination (the Kurds, the Eelam Tamils, the Basques) an Indian should ask, what for?

If the point of self-determination is to allow a “People” to become a hegemonic majority in its own right, an Indian is entitled to say that whatever its rhetorical power, self-determination does not seem like an emancipatory or interesting or original political idea.

If a state with a majority of Kurds or Tamils is to be premised on Kurdishness or Tamilness, better that it not exist at all because Indians know from their own history that pluralist democracies can be worked despite terrible violence and they also know where ethnic nationalisms lead.

The reason India is so important to the history and practice of democracy is its success in making a system of representative government work in a bewilderingly diverse country.

This achievement liberates the idea of democracy from specific cultural contexts and subverts a certain sort of political argument.

For example, to excuse the failed occupation of Iraq, some western opinion-formers cite the presence of three distinct communities, Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. A country odd enough to be home to such a variety of peoples is, in their minds, an artificial state with arbitrary boundaries, doomed to disintegrate.

Under this argument, Iraq cannot make it as a democracy or even a nation because it is too poor or too fractious or too diverse.

If India didn’t exist, no-one would have the imagination to invent it.

of course, this is ignoring a lot of (mostly violent) separatist movements that have sprung up from time to time all through the history of the nation, but it does make you feel good nonetheless :)

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